The Universal Notebook: The King who would be senator
The first thing I did When U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe announced she would not seek re-election is send a common e-mail to former Gov. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to say, “I sure hope the two of you don't split the vote and let a Republican slip into office with 30-odd percent the way Paul LePage did.”
I’d be proud to have either King or Pingree representing Maine in the U.S. Senate, but I’m really pleased that Pingree decided not to run and to hold on to her 1st Congressional District seat. I also hope that former Gov. John Baldacci doesn’t decide to run for the Senate, as the same risk exists. Progressives, independents and moderates in Maine will not soon forget the Libby Mitchell-Eliot Cutler spoiler phenomenon that left us with the least common denominator as governor.
Although I think King will be an able and effective voice for Maine in the U.S. Senate, I somehow doubt he will be the voice of reason and diplomacy that will restore the bipartisanship Washington so badly needs. Though the two parties have drifted left and right, the Republican Party has been pulled so far to the right that it has become the enemy of reasonable solutions. As Snowe discovered, anyone who attempts to stand in the middle and seek compromise ends up marginalized and vilified by the GOP.
If a Sen. King, as an independent, decides to caucus with the Democrats as he should, he will immediately alienate the Republicans. Heaven forbid he should decide, for whatever reason, to caucus with the Republicans. Then he’d be betraying the people who elected him. In fact, if I had my druthers, I’d like to see King suck it up and run as the Democrat he is.
The thing about Republican extremism is that it has forced both Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins to go along to get along, sometimes voting against things they actually believe in. Snowe, for instance, actually filibustered a small business bill that she herself had introduced, voted against Environmental Protection Agency regulations and for eliminating funds for Planned Parenthood and Title X.
To her credit, Snowe did vote to defeat the onerous Blunt-Rubio amendment that would have allowed employers to decide what health services employees received based on their own personal prejudices. Coverage for contraception, HIV/AIDS screenings, mammograms, childhood vaccinations, and prenatal care for single women would all have been up to the moral whims of the boss. Incredibly, Collins voted for Blunt-Rubio. That millstone around her neck could sink Collins. Don’t ever let a Republican tell you her party is against big government infringement on personal liberties.
The Republican Party is the party of the rich, but as we have seen in the (well-deserved) savaging that Mitt Romney has received from his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, Republicans will turn on the wealthy like rabid dogs if it suits their purposes. Had Snowe chosen to stand for re-election, she no doubt would have faced a barrage of questions from the left and the right about how she got to be one of the richest members of Congress. Answer: federal student loans made both Jock McKernan and his wife rich.
Pingree will face two-faced criticism from whoever runs against her over the fact that her husband, Donald Sussman, is a successful and wealthy man, just the sort of guy who ought to be a Republican but, gratefully, isn’t.
And King is going to get it both from Republicans and Democrats both for being wealthy and for being a wind power developer. Wind power is a divisive issue among progressives and environmentalists, some supporting it as a clean, renewable energy source, some opposing it as a noisy eyesore. Conservatives oppose wind power both because they are tools of big oil and because they tend to view alternative energy as a liberal plot to siphon off tax dollars.
Just for fun, let’s start counting the number of times Republicans mention King and Solyndra, a favorite right-wing whipping boy, in the same breath. The California-based manufacturer of solar cylinders went bankrupt after receiving $527 million in loans from the federal stimulus program.
What killed Solyndra? The free market. Cheap competition from China. Isn’t failure the option Republicans prefer? But King, like President Obama, is going to have Solyndra hung around his neck. I imagine they will both win, but it could be nasty.