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August 11, 2014

Politics & Co.

Augusta is relatively quiet this time of year, but that doesn't mean politicians or those who follow policy matters have shut down.

There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there’s an ‘I’ after King

Earlier this year, at the Mainebiz “On the Road” event in Skowhegan, I had the chance to meet Elizabeth Schneider McTaggart. Some of you might remember her as a four-term state senator representing much of Penobscot County. She's a Democrat and now works as a field representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). She asked if I'd be interested in meeting King, who is a junior member of the Senate but also served two terms as Maine governor. I leapt at the chance.

In this age of partisan politics, I have been interested in how someone gets elected, not once, but three times as an Independent.

My opportunity arrived recently at a lunch with King at Cloud 9 at The Senator Inn in Augusta. In addition to King, the lunch included McTaggart; Chuck Hays, CEO of MaineGeneral Health in Augusta; Kim Vandermeulen, CEO of the Winthrop manufacturing firm AMI; another King field rep, Chris Rector, who served in the state Senate as Republican representing most of Knox County; John Burns, an intern for King who is from Kennebunk and attends American University.

We spent much of lunch discussing business: MaineHealth's new site, Vandermeulen's post-recession expansion and a host of small or growing businesses — Eldertide Farm & Maine Medicinals in Dresden; C&L Aviation in Bangor; Barrels Community Market in Waterville; Maine Harvest in Brunswick; and Axiom Technologies in Machias, among others.

In a lull in the conversation, I blurted out my pressing question, “So, how did you get elected as an Independent?”

His staff jumped in with some answers. It's a smaller media market, meaning buying campaign ads is cheaper here than it would be, say, in New Hampshire, where you have to buy from Boston television stations. King in some cases faced candidates who were not as well known or who may not have run the strongest campaigns. King has the apparent advantage that he listens well and is not afraid of a routine of cross-state treks, often on snowy roads. He was famous for saying on the campaign trail, “If you like the system as it is, I'm not your guy.”

After listening a bit, King tapped me on the arm and offered this anecdote.

Not long after he was first elected as governor, which was in 1994, he attended the annual National Governors Association meeting in Washington. The governors were invited to the White House. King described looking around in awe. The trumpets announced the arrival of President Bill Clinton.

“We started through the receiving line and when I got to President Clinton, he grabbed my hand to shake it,” King recounts, reaching to shake my hand. “He looks at me and the first thing he says is, 'How did you get elected as an Independent?'”

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