King of the Democrats

Let’s start with the obvious: Sen.-elect Angus King lied to you, and you shouldn’t be OK with it.

All throughout the campaign, despite the contrary being obvious to every human being on the planet, King insisted that he didn’t know what party he would align himself with.

Maybe he would cast a vote for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell instead of Majority Leader Harry Reid. Maybe he would refuse to play the partisan game in Washington at all. He just didn’t know, he said.

The reason for his little caucus game was obvious. When you are running for the United States Senate as an independent, you have to convince people you are being truthful.

The air inside the King bubble threatened to leak out if somehow it became clear he was a Democrat running as an independent, just for the sake of his own political expediency.

Given his two terms as Maine’s governor and his support for President Barack Obama, he already risked looking like a Democrat in sheep’s clothing. He had to reestablish his independence by play-acting his indecisiveness.

Except that King is a lot smarter than that. He knew exactly what he was going to be doing. He needed to caucus with a party, and the Democrats were his only choice.

The Senate is a complicated place, but a few things are quite clear. The first is that, above all, being in the majority matters. Bills (obviously) need a majority — often a supermajority — to pass the United States Senate. Being in the minority makes passing your ideas quite hard.

But more than that, the most important work in the Senate is typically done in the committees, where bills are reviewed, investigations into issues are conducted and key constituent work is done.

Who decides what committee you are placed on? The leader of the party you affiliate with.

King was never going to be able to “go it alone” and not affiliate himself. If he did, he would have no influence to advocate for Maine or any of its constituents.

No responsible representative would so recklessly abdicate their own influence.

But more than that, given their virtually identical stance on issues, the only natural home for King was the Democratic Party, and everyone knew it. This is why the Democrats abandoned their own Cynthia Dill and committed financial resources to help secure King’s win. That is how confident they were that he would vote for Reid.

And that is exactly what happened Wednesday. King said his decision to caucus with the Democrats was due simply to the fact that they were the majority, and he wants to be in the majority.

I do have to ask, would he have simply aligned himself with anyone who held the majority? Because if true (it isn’t), that would be disturbing.

He knew. They all did. We all did. Yet everyone played along, like it didn’t matter. It was a wink and a nod to the people who really knew. But you deserved to know where King really stood.

The irony is, if he had been upfront about what he really believed, what he really intended to do and who he really was, he probably wouldn’t have lost a single vote. Having the conviction to stand for something may have even gained him votes.

But for this supposedly independent voice for Maine, the acquisition of his own political power was more important than being forthright with the people of Maine.

That should be a troubling sign for how he will represent you in Washington, D.C. I would expect a pedestrian, partisan nonfactor in the Senate.

Maybe you are OK with him having lied to you because you prefer the Democratic agenda to that of the Republicans. Understandable, I suppose. But you shouldn’t be OK with it because that isn’t leadership. It is the very craven, unprincipled politics as usual that people so revile today.

If you excuse King because of the agenda he will pursue, you should have voted for Dill, who, for all her faults, cared less about her own power than advocating for what she thought was right.

I have no doubt King will spend the next six years trying to convince you that he is an important, independent voice for Maine. But ultimately that is the problem with King. It is about him, it isn’t about you.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.