Former Independent Governor Angus King of Maine has decided to run for the US Senate now that Olympia Snowe is retiring. There has been much talk of where he stands on the issues, and which party he would caucus with. There has been a lot of speculation. At least as far as where he stands on the issues, I'd like to try to settle some of that here.
King worked for Maine Democratic Senator William Dodd Hathaway, who served for one term during the 1970s. King was a Democrat once, but left the Democratic Party.
Before being governor he worked in the energy industry.
In the 1980s King served as Vice President of a company which developed alternative energy (hydro and biomass) projects in New England. In 1989 King founded Northeast Energy Management, Inc. The company developed, installed, and operated large-scale electrical energy conservation projects at commercial and industrial facilities throughout south-central Maine.After being governor he went back into energy, specifically wind. He is regarded as being somewhat of an environmentalist, especially on green energy.
Governor King is also involved in a wind power utility company, Independence Wind, co-founded with Robert Gardiner. In August 2009, Independence Wind along with joint venture partner Wagner Forest Management won Maine DEP approval for construction of a proposed $120-million, 22-turbine, utility-scale wind power project along a prominent mountain ridge in Roxbury, Maine.Economic issues
Of the project King has said in part: ""However, the people who say wind is only an intermittent resource are looking for a one-shot solution. And my experience is that there are rarely silver bullets, but there is often silver buckshot. Wind is an adjunct source of energy. Ten percent, 20% can be very significant..." King is also interested in solar energy and in spring 2009 he endorsed the Maine Green Energy Project, a summer program for young people to learn to build and advocate for green energy in Maine.
Sometimes government is the problem—when nonsensical regulations constrain worthwhile activity, when taxes reach confiscatory levels, or when government officials are corrupt or just plain incompetent. But when your house is burning down, you don’t think the (government) fire department is the problem, or when a (government) police officer or judge puts away the bad guy who robbed your store, or when you drive on the (government) highway to work. And we certainly didn’t think the Army, Navy, Marines, and Army Air Corps were the problem when we and the rest of Western Civilization were on the brink of defeat in World War II. The point is that government is not by a long shot always the problem—and in many cases (admittedly, not in all) it is the only possible solution.Taxes
In fact, the two biggest disasters of the last few years—the financial meltdown and the Gulf oil gusher (as Bill Maher noted, calling this thing a “spill” is like calling World War II at “tiff”)—can both be attributed to not enough government. There’s not much doubt that the banking collapse was a direct result of insufficient regulatory oversight and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the depression-era law which prohibited commercial banks from also being risk-takers in investments like derivatives (a bi-partisan mistake in the late nineties). Likewise, it’s clear in hindsight that lax regulation of offshore drilling led directly to the disaster in the Gulf.
Note that the government in no way caused these disasters—they were unadulterated products of the free market—but insufficient government certainly allowed them to happen.
The fact is that in a complex globalized economy, dominated by huge corporations often with no national (or any other) allegiances, government is the only real protector we have, imperfect as it may be.
We know what the unfettered free-market looks like, by the way, because we gave it a full-blown try at the turn of the 20th Century. It looks like 15 year-old girls in textile mills ten hours a day, six days a week (right here in Brunswick); thousands of men dying in their forties from black lung disease in West Virginia; kids leaving school after the eighth grade to go to work (like all four of my grandparents); and a life of poverty if you were unlucky enough to get injured on the job.
The second notion that sprung from the Reagan era—which now seems to be the official core ideology of the Republican Party—is that taxes are always bad, always too high, and are always wasted by whatever level of government is collecting them. A formative experience for me in this regard occurred a couple of years ago at a Christmas party in a small town up (down?) the coast. I was talking to a nice lady who turned out to be a selectperson, and asked her what the hottest issue in town was these days. “Oh, property taxes, by far,” she replied immediately. So I followed-up, “What’s your mil rate?” “Nine mils,” was her indignant reply. Huh? In Brunswick, Portland, or Lewiston, people would kill for 9 mils (it’s more like 25 mils in those places—almost triple the level she was exercised about).The Auto Bailout
I tell this story not to justify the rate in Brunswick but only to make the point that whatever the local level is, it’s perceived as too high. Maybe this is good because it leads to a healthy concentration on controlling taxes, regardless of the rate, but it easily slides over into an all-taxes-are-bad-and-too-high-no-matter-what attitude which leads in turn to an inability for government to deliver the services people need and expect.
Name the automaker that came within an inch of going out of business less than two years ago but was saved by federal intervention led by Barack Obama. General Motors, again. Had it not been for the President’s intervention (read bailout), the company would be gone now and about a million extra people would be out of work.Capitalism and Regulation
Fortunately, more by pragmatic trial and error than by adherence to a particular ideology, we evolved a third way: capitalism with rules, like minimum wage and child labor laws, protections for organized labor, and environmental protection. The market dictated none of these; to the contrary, the public—through the government—put them in place precisely because the market wouldn’t. And it worked. These rules had the effect of shaving off the rough edges of an undeniably productive system and in the process saved us from most of the social and political unrest that engulfed much of the rest of the world in the first half of the 20th Century.Free Trade
The fact is that the cures always came from an outside force—usually the government but occasionally organized labor, which imposed change through regulation or negotiation. Child labor laws, minimum wage and hour laws, occupational safety, clean air and water rules, securities laws, and compulsory education together wove a web which allowed capitalism to function (actually flourish) but protected it (and us) from its excesses.
Of course, reasonable people can differ about the appropriate level of regulation—where crucial protections end and frivolous over-regulation begins—but making these decisions is what politics is all about. There is no doubt that excessive regulation really can add unnecessary costs and impede competitiveness (especially in a globalized economy), so every new restriction—and some old ones—must be weighed in terms of both their costs as well as their benefits.
But today we seem to be in a moment where the need for any regulation is in question and the market has been elevated to mythic status as the ultimate arbiter of all economic (and implicitly, social and cultural) decisions. And this isn’t all; the apostles of unregulated markets want to go beyond just getting rid of those pesky rules, they want to dismantle or at least neuter the institutions which make the rules, the only institutions with the power to provide counter-weights to the not-so-positive impulses of the market.
And what have been the results of this deal over the past couple of decades? Nothing less than the hollowing out of the American economy. It now appears that the financial boom of the nineties was largely fake—little real value was created (but a lot of people got very rich without producing anything)—and it papered over (literally, in many cases) the real story of the last twenty years, which is the stunning decline in U.S. manufacturing. Between 2001 and 2009, we lost over 42,000 factories (you read that right, it’s factories) and more than five and a half million manufacturing jobs, representing an amazing 32% decline in manufacturing employment in less than a decade.Cultural/Civil Liberties Issues
Obviously, this isn’t just about trade. Technology itself, for example, eliminates jobs by making workers more productive. But it’s hard to argue that trade policy didn’t have a lot to do with it when the identical products that were once made here are now made offshore, often under the same label. Just here in Maine, Hathaway Shirt, Cole Haan, Bass and Dexter shoes, as well as countless small wood processing mills come easily to mind.
This came home to me in less abstract terms the day I went to the closing of the Hathaway Shirt factory in Waterville. (I always felt that if I got to go to the celebrations—ribbon-cuttings and such—I should also go on the not-so-fun days as well). After reassuring the workers that we would provide training and transition support and that better opportunities were around the corner, I went down the line of the soon-to-be-jobless workers shaking hands. Most were downcast but reasonably cordial, until I got to one woman toward the end of the line. She refused my offered hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Why should I shake hands with someone who let them ship my job away?”
I had no good answer, and I still don’t.
This should go a ways towards reassuring Democrats that a man who is often described as "socially liberal, but fiscally conservative" is not in fact Right-leaning on economics, at least by American standards. But how "socially liberal" is he?
Maine Right to Life is convinced he's "pro-abortion":
But even if the proposal were to get through the Legislature, it would face opposition and possible veto by pro-abortion Gov. Angus King.He did play up the image of a "fiscal conservative, social liberal" himself.
King portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative who is liberal or moderate on social issues, such as his support for legalizing gay marriage. He said people who believe he is a "secret Democrat" are mistaken, noting that as governor he vetoed far more Democratic bills than Republican bills.King in fact championed and signed an anti-discrimination bill barring discrimination against gays and lesbians on jobs, housing, public accommodations, and credit.
King supported National Governors' Association's positions in regards to:
supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.
opposing drug legalization.
Another example of how on all issues he should not necessarily be seen as leaning left, for example, on privacy:
One of the more controversial initiatives of Governor King was a law requiring all school employees – including volunteers and contractors working in schools – to be fingerprinted by the Maine State Police, and to have background checks conducted on them. The program purported to protect children from abuse by potential predators working within the schools, but met with strong resistance from teachers' unions, who considered it a breach of civil liberties.Given the totality of this, I would like to know what you think. I also encourage you to read all of the linked sources for context and more of King's thinking.