MACHIAS — The election for governor might still be a year away, but at least one Blaine House hopeful is confident that political lightning can indeed strike twice.
In an interview here Friday, Angus S. King Jr., an independent from Brunswick, said the climate is ripe for Mainers to elect their state’s second independent governor. More important, King believes he’s the right person at the right time for the job.
If he’s right, King would follow in the footsteps of James B. Longley, a political dark horse who, in 1974, charged past Libby Mitchell in the final weekend of the campaign to become Maine’s first independent governor.
“The circumstances today are very similar to when James Longley was elected the year after Watergate,” King said. “Maine people have a lot of common sense. They know when their government is conning them.”
King began the first day of a two-day campaign swing through Washington County by meeting workers at KelCo Industries in Milbridge before moving on to Machias where he toured Maine Wild Blueberry Co. One of his last stops Friday was at Babcock Ultra Power in Jonesboro.
While he may not be a household name, King said he was pleasantly surprised at his reception by workers at KelCo.
“They knew who I was, which, for me, was a positive sign,” King said. Admitting that voter interest in independents was most likely a carryover from Ross Perot, King observed that “people are responding to independent candidates.”
Running as an independent is an advantage, King said. “For one thing, you don’t have to pass muster with any special interest groups.” King reaffirmed his campaign promise to refuse all PAC contributions.
Asked how Democrat Joseph Brennan’s recent entry in the race might affect his election chances King replied, “I’m running my campaign like I run my business: without worrying about my opponents.” Later, King emphasized the importance of “doing instead of being” governor. Said King, “I don’t want to be governor — I want to do something as governor.”
Among the changes King hopes to bring to Augusta are welfare reforms and changes in the state’s education funding formula, now based solely on state valuations of Maine towns.
He criticized the present welfare program as an “all or nothing” system which, by its design, fails to provide incentives for welfare recipients to become self-sufficient.
King said he favors a system in which welfare recipients could return to work without risking the loss of all assistance. “There should be steps,” said King, “so that someone working at a job paying only minimum wage might have to accept some reduction in certain benefits but can at least keep (Medicaid). That’s especially important for women with young children. They shouldn’t be penalized for being willing to work. As it is now, they either receive everything or nothing, there’s nothing in between.”
On the issue of school funding, King said that the funding formula “needs to be based on something other than property values.” “Income should be a factor in the overall formula,” he said. “Too many Mainers are property rich but income poor.”
Too often families with little or no income are being forced to sell or give up long-held family property because they can no longer afford the taxes, especially along the coast, King said. If income is taken into account, valuations would became more in tune with the local economy. As a result, the change would benefit poorer rural school districts by providing a more equitable share of state education support.
King proposes that legislators be required to complete by Feb. 1 portions of the annual state budget that directly affect local budgets. He cited the 1993 budget sessions in which the state’s final education spending package was not passed until summer, long after most annual town meetings had been held.
Unable to set local tax rates or send out tax bills, Maine’s cities and towns, were fiscally handcuffed as a result of the delay which King blames on “poor planning” by the state.
“The government in Augusta hasn’t been working,” King said. He argued that the same government that forced communities to develop and implement local comprehensive plans, itself lacks a long-range plan. “There is no comprehensive plan for the state,” King said. “I would get that process started.”
Developing new industries in which Maine’s resources are used in products made and exported in finished form also is improtant, he said.
“Why should we ship our raw lumber south so they can make furniture out of it, which is then sold back here?” King asked. King emphasized his point by loudly blowing a little wooden whistle. “A cord of raw wood might sell for $120, but that the same cord of wood made into little wooden whistles like this, represents $22,000.”
King sees Maine’s future in development of its resources into home-grown industries and in service activities. “There’s no vision, no plan in Augusta. Everything is on a two-year cycle.”