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

WASHINGTON - The rising sun bathed the U.S. Capitol in postcard-perfect light early Thursday morning as U.S. Sen. Angus King walked to work from his two-room apartment a few blocks away. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks.

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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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"Isn't this amazing?" King asked, staring up in unabashed awe at the nation's political epicenter. "I mean, this is my office! I can't believe it! I can't believe it."

Only a few hours later, he was in tears.

Emerging from a closed-door meeting with grieving parents of children lost four months ago in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre, King dabbed repeatedly at his eyes with a tissue, an almost helpless expression on his face as he walked across his crowded -- and pin-drop silent -- temporary office suite.

Then, as if leading a funeral procession, he walked the parents down a long tunnel that connects Russell Senate Office Building to the Capitol. The Sandy Hook delegation continued on to the visitors gallery; King peeled off toward the Senate chamber, where he and 67 other senators overcame the threat of a filibuster and thus cleared the way to debate, at long last, a hotly contested package of federal gun-control legislation.

"That's the first time I ever cried on the job," said King, his eyes still moist, moments after the vote. "As I said to one of the parents on the way over, 'If I don't do another thing, I'm doing something important today.' "

Fourteen months ago, before Sen. Olympia Snowe shocked all of Maine -- and indeed the nation -- by announcing she would not seek re-election out of weariness with the partisan gridlock that has Congress in a state of near-paralysis, Maine's former two-term, independent governor had little doubt his days as an elected leader were long behind him.

Yet here he is, back in the fray in a place he last worked 40 years ago as an aide to then-U.S. Sen. William Hathaway, a Maine Democrat.

Only this time, King comes with no letter denoting party affiliation affixed to his last name. A seasoned politician, to be sure, he's at the same time a wide-eyed idealist in a place that thrives on cynicism, a man on a mission (or is it a fool's errand?) to help fix what ails the most powerful deliberative body on the planet.



Friday marked the 100th day of King's six-year term. In that short time, if a two-day visit last week was any indication, he has fast become part new kid on the block, part policy wonk, part builder of bridges across the Great Partisan Divide, part wide-eyed admirer of the larger-than-life sculptures -- starting with Maine's first governor, William King -- in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.

"If there were anyone that you had to cast, from central casting, to be a senator, that would be the guy," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during an interview in his palatial office just off the Senate chamber. (Rather than sit in, King opted to wait in the reception area.)

"I think he feels pretty comfortable where he is," said Reid. "He likes what he's doing. That's important."

Reid, who actually produced a copy of King's family travelogue, "Governor's Travels," from under a pile of papers on his desk, has good reason to sing the praises of Maine's independent junior senator: King, much to Reid's relief, chose in January to caucus with the Senate's majority Democrats.

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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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