Politics

April 14, 2013

King’s first 100 days: ‘The hardest I’ve ever worked in my life’

Remaining wide-eyed in a place that thrives on cynicism, Maine's independent senator makes an impression on both sides of the aisle.

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 2)

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In the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, Maine Sen. Angus King waits to begin a remote interview with TV news host Chris Matthews of MSNBC after a vote in the chamber Thursday.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Maine’s independent senator arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. King lives about four blocks away and walks to work every morning.

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But if the politicking occasionally wears him out, King's aides and fellow senators unanimously attest, it is the legislative work that has him behaving like a man 10 or more years younger.

"He's very interested and eager -- and not just with the talking points, but with how we get down to where the decisions are actually made," said Chad Metzler, a veteran of almost 20 years on Capitol Hill, who serves as King's legislative director. "He's one of the smartest and more erudite members I've run into ... We have high confidence that when he goes out there, he knows what he's talking about."

"He's certainly an intelligent man," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "And I like that very much. There's so much infighting down here that it's nice to see somebody come here to do what he thinks is right. I couldn't be higher on him."

Like the 10 other current senators with previous experience as governors -- he recently hosted all of them, at his own expense, to a Maine lobster dinner inside the Capitol -- King often finds himself balancing the art of senatorial bonhomie with an impatience to get things done.

Concerned after six weeks on the job that the Budget Committee was spending too much time dithering on when and how to draft its version of a federal budget (an accomplishment that had eluded the Senate for four years), King decided to go ahead and build one himself.

"So we got in touch with all the people down here in Washington -- you know, the think tanks," he said. "And we had two or three long and substantive meetings to design our own budget."

Kay Rand, King's chief of staff, worried such a step might be perceived as too bold an overstep for a newcomer like King. Yet much of King's work, she notes, found its way into the spending plan approved last month in an all-night session by the full Senate -- including $100 billion for research and development and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

"He's brought a lot of great ideas to (the budget)," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Budget Committee. "He comes in, he listens, he learns, he participates, he's got great ideas. I find him a really valuable member of our committee."

Not to mention a candid critic of the status quo. At one point during the marathon budget deliberations, King asked the Republicans across the committee table: "Let me just stop and ask a question -- I'm new here. If we accept some of your amendments into the budget, are you going to support it?"

The query hung in the air for several seconds. Finally, the Republicans said no, there was no way they'd line up behind the budget with or without their amendments.

Replied King, "So what the hell are we doing here?"

That same frustration colored King's reaction to earlier negotiations over the Senate's oft-used filibuster rules -- his call for "talking filibusters" in which senators must actually hold the floor to prevent a vote was left out of what many considered a watered-down set of reforms.

"I'd call it a disappointment," King said. "I wanted to do more."

Conversely, as he waded into the hot waters of post-Sandy Hook gun legislation, King found himself roundly criticized by many gun-control advocates for not wanting to do enough: While he supports universal background checks for gun buyers, limits on high-volume magazines and outlawing "straw purchases" that put guns in the hands of convicted felons, King decided not to support calls for an assault weapons ban. He concluded, after meeting extensively with advocates on both sides, that such firearms are functionally no different than most semiautomatic hunting rifles.

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Additional Photos

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Nathan Little, 10, of Lewiston, who was visiting Washington with his mother, Jackie, and 8-year-old sister, Kristen, reacts Wednesday after Sen. Angus King asks him what kind of work senators do. King wrote a note for his teacher, explaining that Nathan should be excused from school since he was helping King with his work in Washington.

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Shortly before a vote on the gun-control debate in the Senate on Thursday, Sen. Angus King speaks with some of the parents of victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December.

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Joined by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., left, Sen. Angus King participates Thursday in a weekly radio program sponsored by WGAN radio. It was one of several media events that followed the Maine senator’s already lengthy workday on the Senate floor.

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Sen. Angus King speaks with Mainers Jimmy Carrier, left, and Bob Hamer on Wednesday during Capitol Coffee with Angus, a weekly session King holds for his constituents in Washington, D.C.

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Sen. Angus King addresses members of his staff in their cramped, temporary office space in a basement room of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Wednesday. The group of almost two dozen aides is hoping to move into bigger quarters by midsummer.

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In a TV studio in the basement of the Capitol, Maine Sen. Angus King waits for the start of an online meeting with students at Bucksport High School on Wednesday. He spoke to the teens about his experiences as a senator over the past three months and answered their questions.

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The senator strolls past a larger-than-life statue of William King – Maine’s first governor – in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Thursday. For an unabashed student of history, there simply is no better place on Earth to report for work each day. Says the 69-year-old senator: “The circumstances call forth the energy.”

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During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., listen as Gen. Philip M. Breedlove answers questions as part of his confirmation process. The freshman senators bonded quickly after arriving in Washington. Both are former governors and they serve on two committees together. Breedlove is nominated for the post of commander, United States European Command, and supreme allied commander, Europe.

Staff Photographer

 


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Today's poll: Angus King

Do you think Sen. Angus King has done a good job in his first 100 days in office?

Yes

No

View Results

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