Angus King is a man without a party.
But for the 49-year-old lawyer-businessman-television host who recently abandoned his lifelong association with the Democratic Party, the independent route is perhaps the most viable avenue to the Blaine House.
One of three announced candidates for governor — Rep. Sumner Lipman, R-Augusta, and Lewiston Mayor James Howaniec, a Democrat, being the other two — King has hit the campaign trail 1 1/2 years before the general election with a slow but steady trot.
It was only within the last few weeks that King left the Democrats for both moral and political considerations. The 1994 gubernatorial election, he said, will be unlike any other. Sure, there will be crowded primaries next June, but the time is ripe for an independent candidate to cut a swath through next year’s political jungle.
“The Democratic Party as an institution has become too much the party that is looking for something from government,” King told the Bangor Daily News editorial board Monday afternoon.
So far, the issues agenda of the man who for 17 years on “Maine Watch” gobbled up unprepared politicians is unpolished, but King’s broad plan concerns a complete transformation of the way Maine conducts its governmental business.
And the Perot influence is there, as well, as King points to his charts to buttress his case: the rise of state spending vs. inflation, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the high taxes paid in Maine compared with Boston and Manchester, N.H., and, of course, the cost of Workers’ Compensation.
Together, he says, these factors, when combined with the state’s attitude toward economic development and the lengthy environmental permitting process, repel business, which is the cornerstone of a state’s economy.
“The problem is, we are losing that base,” King said. “Everything else depends on that, in terms of the economy.”
One of the obstacles to genuine reform, as opposed to the nickel-and-dime approaches taken by Augusta in recent years, is the development of a professional political class in Maine — that is politicians whose primary concern is to stay in office, King said.
“And I won’t die if I don’t win,” said King, who was raised in Alexandria, Va., graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia Law School, and moved to Maine in 1969 to work for Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc.
If he does win, King imagines himself as a policy-wonk, hands-on chief executive, a governor who will roll up his sleeves and chat up department underlings.
“I’m a great advocate of government by walking around,” said King, who worked on the successful effort to remove billboards from Maine highways and the Land for Maine’s Future referendum.
Now for the numbers. Based on previous independent campaigns — James Longley for governor in 1974, Sherry Huber and John Menario for governor in 1986, Jonathan Carter for Congress in 1992, Ross Perot for president in 1992, and so on — King figures there’s a core independent base that gives him a starting point of 25 percent of the vote. Assuming he needs 40 percent to win, that’s not a bad starting point, he says.
“I honestly think we’re in uncharted territory,” he said.
Although his background is diverse, King acknowledges he is now known by much of the electorate as a talking-head host of a public television show often ignored by “Joe Sixpack.” That, he said, has its advantages and its disadvantages.
“I’m having to overcome that perception,” he said. “I just have to answer that by performance.”