While most Americans have quietly hoped Republicans and Democrats will come to their senses and drop their relentless party advocacy, another vision that would end partisan gridlock dances in our heads. What if half a dozen independents were elected to the Senate? What if that number grew to a dozen or 20 in a few years? What if 50 were elected to the House of Representatives? Is this a pipe dream or a real possibility?
More to the point, if it were to happen, it would undoubtedly smash apart the bloc voting that too often characterizes the big decisions made by Congress. Instead of party line votes, more concessions would be made by Democrats and Republicans to win favor with the independents. More coalitions would form around issues.
Former Gov. Angus King’s entrance into the Maine Senate race inspires such fantasies. And it’s not as crazy as it may seem. Even as just one senator, an independent of Gov. King’s intelligence, vision and personality could throw a wrench into the body’s political machinations.
Bernie Sanders, the independent, self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont, and Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator from Connecticut who became an independent to save his seat are not the prototypes that a Sen. King would follow. Mr. King could, as he suggests, become “a broker for common sense.” Such deal-making would not be self-aggrandizement but a way to move the country forward.
Should he win, the former governor will be 68 when he takes the oath of office. At the end of that first term, he would be 74, and perhaps be content to retire. Such a self-imposed term limit, if he were to choose it (and, of course, if he were to win) would liberate Mr. King to act on principle.
While it’s true that Mr. King once worked for a Democratic senator from Maine, and that while governor he leaned to the left on social issues, safety net programs and the environment, these positions do not define him. His opposition to the referendum that would have banned clear-cutting in Maine illustrates his modus operandi. He could have ignored it, fought it or embraced it, but instead, Gov. King worked to created a third alternative which aimed to stop poor logging practices while also sustaining the industry.
Mr. King supported George W. Bush in the 2000 election. And he rankled Democrats in the Legislature by leading efforts to downsize state worker numbers. Mr. King also has extensive business experience that should win him some support from Republicans.
As governor, Mr. King was very much of his time — for most of his eight years in office, from 1995-2003, the economy boomed. He built a rainy day fund, but also expanded MaineCare eligibility.
With which party would he most often vote as senator? Probably the Democrats. But Sens. Lieberman and Sanders have not been shy about blasting Democrats on certain issues, and Mr. King would be likely to join that chorus.
While governor and attending the national governors conference in Washington D.C., Mr. King recounted how he would “caucus” at the Red Lobster with independent Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura while Democrats and Republicans withdrew to their separate meetings. The two governors and their wives enjoyed dinner while the others plotted political strategy. We could do worse than send a senator with those priorities to Washington D.C.