Sunday, March 9, 2014
FREEPORT – The courtship of Angus King began even before the votes were counted Tuesday night.
Independent Senator-elect Angus King speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Freeport: "We're tired of fighting, we're tired of bickering, we're tired of blaming . . . and we want some problems solved."
Independent Senator-elect Angus King hugs his wife, Mary Herman, after speaking at a news conference on Wednesday in Freeport.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called to congratulate Maine's new senator-elect and wasted no time inviting the politically independent freshman to form an alliance with Democrats. In fact, Reid told reporters Wednesday in Washington that he had spoken with King "on several occasions" during the past day.
"We've had some very pleasant conversations and he is going to make a decision concerning what he is going to do," Reid said.
King said in a news conference Wednesday in Freeport that he will decide whether to align with Democrats or Republicans after a trip next week to Washington, D.C., to meet with key senators. Leaders of the two parties decide committee assignments, so even independents have to choose a side.
As of late Wednesday, Republican leaders had not made their pitch to King. While he is widely expected to choose the Democrats, the subject is sure to come up in meetings with Republican leaders, too.
No matter what he decides, King insisted Wednesday, he will be remain an independent voice in the highly partisan Senate.
"I'm going to vote my conscience," he said, his eyes red and voice gravelly after watching election returns late Tuesday and rising early Wednesday to thank shipyard workers at Bath Iron Works.
King spent the day after his election doing media interviews and taking congratulatory calls, including one from President Obama.
The 68-year-old former governor won Maine's three-way U.S. Senate race with 53 percent of the vote, which he said Wednesday clearly shows that voters want an alternative to partisan gridlock.
"I think Maine sent a real message to the nation last night. The message is: We're tired of fighting, we're tired of bickering, we're tired of blaming ... and we want some problems solved."
At the same time, however, he now must navigate his way into a culture that is tightly controlled by the two parties he campaigned against.
"The fundamental dynamic of the Senate and House is party, and so a member who is outside the parties pretty much needs to make a home in one of the parties just as a way of making his or her way through the chamber," said Cary Covington, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
Independents historically agree to join a party's caucus, which means they attend weekly meetings to discuss party priorities and strategy and they implicitly agree to support the party on critical votes, such as overcoming filibusters, Covington said. "What's more important is they feel like, look we'll take care of you when you need help and you take care of us when we need help."
King might have been in a strong bargaining position without such an alliance if the election ended up in an evenly split Senate and he got to determine which party has majority control. "If there was that kind of situation, there would be bidding war for King," Covington said.
Democrats won at least 54 of the 100 seats, however, which means the party does not need King to retain control of leadership posts and committees. His influence is diminished as a result, Covington said, although he still will be seen as a potentially important vote on divisive issues.
King acknowledged on Wednesday that he would be going to Washington with a lot more clout if the parties had split the other Senate seats, 50-49.
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