We must disenthrall ourselves

Former Maine Gov. Angus King announces his independent candidacy for the U.S. Senate Monday night March 5, 2012, after giving a lecture on leadership at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Former Maine Gov. Angus King announces his independent candidacy for the U.S. Senate Monday night March 5, 2012, after giving a lecture on leadership at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Buy Photo
By Angus King, Special to the BDN
Posted May 18, 2012, at 4:25 p.m.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and so we must therefore rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves — and then we shall save our country.” —Abraham Lincoln, Dec. 2, 1862

Though clearly not as immediate and catastrophic as the Civil War, we are certainly in stormy times — a fragile economy with millions searching for jobs, a crushing burden of debt being passed from our generation to the next, an energy policy based on the vain hope that the cheap oil that has sustained us for the last century is inexhaustible, a health care system whose cost threatens to overwhelm both our public and private purses and still leaves tens of millions uninsured; these are just the top of the list. And all of these issues are serious, all complex and all are getting more difficult to fix as time goes by.

But at the very moment when these daunting challenges are bearing down, the tools we have to deal with them — principally the U.S. Congress — are themselves broken. It’s as if we are rushing to put out a fire, only to find a knot in the hose. But it has not always been like this. In the 20th century, the Congress worked — haltingly, slowly, sometimes reluctantly — for Social Security, Medicare, mobilization for world war, interstate highways, pension reform, environmental protection, civil rights, periodic tax reform, nonpartisan foreign policy, not to mention the simple stuff like confirmation of presidential appointees and a host of lesser issues.

But not any more. The whole system seems to be paralyzed by a toxic brew of hyperpartisanship, name-calling, blame-passing, big money and the astonishing idea that compromise is a dirty word.

My candidacy for the U.S. Senate as an independent is based upon two simple ideas: that we can’t begin to address the nation’s challenges if the tools the framers gave us (like the Senate) are themselves broken and that the rigid partisanship which has overtaken the Congress in the last 20 years is at the heart of this problem.

If I am elected to the Senate, I will work with both sides of the aisle as I did as an Independent governor. In my experience, no individual or party has a monopoly on the truth. Good ideas and creative solutions come from all over the place and are usually the product of open debate, discussion and, finally, compromise between competing views. Indeed, the Constitution itself is the product of just such a compromise.

As governor, I forged compromises on tax cuts, budgets, prescription drugs and workers’ compensation reforms when strong ideological resistance in both parties could have easily created a stalemate. For example, at one point I refused to sign a bill enacted by the majority Democrats concerning prescription drugs that probably would have been found unconstitutional. Instead, we worked with leaders in both parties to create Maine Rx, a law that reduced drug prices for Mainers by taking advantage of Maine’s purchasing power but which also withstood the inevitable legal challenges. If we had mirrored the rigid partisanship on display in Washington, problems like these would not have been solved, and Maine would be the poorer for it.

Much has been made of which party caucus I will join if I’m fortunate enough to be elected this fall. The answer is that I will make that decision when I get there, based upon the facts on the ground (like what the partisan balance turns out to be and what joining a caucus actually requires) and one overriding criteria: what will make me the most effective senator for Maine.

My preference is to remain as independent as I can for as long as I can. If I can fully participate in the activities of the Senate as an independent, that’s where I’ll stay, voting my conscience and with my best judgment for the interests of Maine. If the rules end up requiring some affiliation with a caucus for full participation (like committee membership, for example), then that’s what I’ll do — but a big part of my decision will be based upon which caucus will allow me the most independence and the minimum of party control.

I don’t want anybody telling me how to vote except the people of Maine. It’s that simple.

Angus King is a former governor of Maine and candidate for the U.S. Senate.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/18/opinion/we-must-disenthrall-ourselves/ printed on September 23, 2014