The King and Me
Crash Barry’s Angus beef
By Crash Barry
Despite what his campaign will try to tell you this year, Angus King is not a populist or an environmentalist. And he wasn’t a very good governor. King’s a lawyer/banker/plutocrat one-percenter who tries to mask his cold corporate values with folksy charm. The U.S. Senate is already full of phonies like King. We don’t need to elect another one.
King bristles at the notion he’s an elitist. “I don’t drink wine, I don’t know what brie is, I bowl every Thursday night and my idea of fun is to go RVing,” he told the Bangor Daily News last March. “If that’s an elitist, this country is in trouble.”
This country is in trouble, but King’s not the man to save it. For one thing, he’s a sucker for shiny, high-tech toys, paid for with piles of public money, that never pan out as promised (e.g. laptops in public schools, wind farms). For another, his predictions and pronouncements tend to turn out dead wrong: listing wild salmon as an endangered species will wreck traditional Maine industries (it hasn’t); MTBE is an ecologically safe gasoline additive (it wasn’t); aquaculture will create thousands of Maine jobs (it didn’t); call centers will keep Mainers employed now that manufacturing is gone (please hold … wrong again!).
When Sen. Olympia Snowe decided not to seek re-election, I had a hunch King’s ego would propel him into the race, so I purchased the domain names anguskingforsenate.com and angusforsenate.com. Not in hopes of selling the domains to his campaign. But because I know what the dude’s about. For most of his two terms as Maine’s governor I worked as a print and radio reporter, covered dozens of his gubernatorial and campaign events, and once drank beers with King and political columnist Al Diamon. I accompanied the governor on a daylong sail aboard a schooner in 1997. I apparently made him uncomfortable on that trip by asking pointed questions about the state’s progress with court orders dealing with the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill; my calls to the governor’s press office were ignored from that day onward.
(Full disclosure: In 1997, while working as a bartender and freelance writer, an environmental activist recruited me to be the paid spokesperson for a group opposed to the Compact for Maine’s Forests. The Compact was a “compromise” ballot measure, supported by King and the paper industry, designed to draw support away from a citizen-initiated measure to ban clearcutting. Late in the campaign, a rich dude from Connecticut contributed $800,000 to defeat the Compact, and the media blitz paid off — the Compact was narrowly defeated at the polls. That rich dude was S. Donald Sussman, who went on to marry Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and buy the Portland Press Herald. Click here to listen to me tell that tale.)
Once he announced his candidacy for Snowe’s seat, I started blogging on the Web sites to shine some light on the real Angus King. Since then, people keep asking me: “Why do you hate him so much? What’s your grudge, man? Is it because he’s a multi-millionaire with four homes?”
No. I’ve got nothing against the rich, but when wealthy individuals want the privilege to represent us in Congress, voters deserve to know what they’ve done to make all that money. Besides his substantial stake in a wind-power project in Roxbury — which he sold in March (for an undisclosed sum) shortly before a Congressional committee released a report questioning the $102 million federal loan guarantee the project got — you’d think the guy’s been retired since he left office a decade ago. The bio on his real campaign Web site (angus2012.com) makes no mention of the extensive corporate endeavors he’s undertaken in the interim.
King’s also being deliberately dodgy about his political views. A former Democrat turned independent, our “green” governor chose to vote for George W. Bush in 2000 instead of Al Gore. He has endorsed President Obama’s re-election bid this year, but refuses to say which party he’d caucus with if elected to the Senate, leaving open the possibility he’d cast his lot with Republican senators determined to block every initiative Obama puts forth.
“Nobody will tell me how to vote — except the people of Maine.” That’s King’s campaign catchphrase, but what does that mean? Will he conduct a poll before casting every yea or nay?
King doesn’t value the voice of the people. As governor, he opposed most citizen-initiated ballot measures and grew to despise the referendum process. In 2000, he tried (and failed) to make it harder for Mainers to get questions on the ballot by pushing a proposal to increase the number of required signatures and set quotas of support from every county. “Government by referendum is not the system we have in this country,” King told the Associated Press at the time. He said Maine’s referendum process was appropriate for the early 20th century, when the Legislature was more beholden to special interests.
During the economic boom years of the 1990s, King repeatedly raised the specter of job-loss to justify his pro-business, anti-labor decision-making, much to the chagrin of the working poor and unions. King vetoed proposed increases to the state’s minimum wage that would have set it higher than the federal minimum, claiming such a move would kill jobs and scare away business. In 1999, for example, he vetoed a proposal to boost the minimum to a whopping $5.15. But in 2001, he surprised everyone by flip-flopping, saying it was time to increase the wage to stay in line with other New England states that already required employers to pay more than the stagnant federal minimum.
Also in 2001, King proposed boosting the next gov’s salary by 70 percent, to $123,500, but he was rebuffed by the Legislature. During his time in office, King earned an annual salary of about $70,000, plus benefits. That wasn’t enough, he said, to attract qualified people to the job, even though governors also receive an annual $27,000 pension for life. (King has collected about a quarter-million dollars from the state retirement system since he left office.) Plus, as King and his predecessor, Jock McKernan, have proven, it’s wicked easy to parlay gubernatorial experience into high-paying gigs on corporate boards.
Even though King lived in Brunswick instead of the Blaine House during his two terms, taxpayers still had to pay to keep the heat and lights on at the governor’s mansion. We also had to pay for state troopers to drive this environmental leader to and from work. The daily Brunswick-to-Augusta commute added over 132,000 miles to state vehicles during his time in office. It would be virtually impossible to compute the carbon impact of the state police escorts that followed King on all his Harley rides around Maine.
In 1999, King and U.S. Attorney Jay McClosky were vocal opponents of Maine’s first medical marijuana law. King, who admits he got stoned a couple times while he was a student at Dartmouth back in the ’60s, has repeatedly expressed skepticism of cannabis’ value as medicine. He was also worried that allowing sick people to legally use reefer would send a mixed message to kids. Luckily, voters ignored King and overwhelmingly approved the measure.
King’s opposition to medical marijuana wasn’t his first foray into pot politics. Early in his first term, he suspended the unpopular helicopter flyovers of western Maine, which he characterized as “expensive and intrusive.” Mainers had been outraged by the sight of Vietnam-era Hueys hovering over farms and homesteads, scaring humans and livestock, in search of guerrilla ganja. His decision was applauded by pot growers and property-rights activists alike. Then, 18 months later, he reinstated the flyovers because he was worried more kids were toking up, police seizures were down, and McClosky assured him the feds would pay for flights using newer, quieter aircraft capable of surveillance from higher altitudes. Guerrilla growers responded by changing their own tactics, making it even harder for the high-flying narcs to spot their crops.
In 1996, Purdue Pharma started to heavily promote the wonder-drug Oxycontin to Maine doctors. By 1997, it became obvious that addicts were abusing the opiate, especially in Washington County and other rural parts of Maine. This kicked off a rash of home invasions and pharmacy hold-ups that continues to this day. Meanwhile, King’s public health initiatives were focused on the considerably lesser evils of soda consumption and teen smoking. It wasn’t until 2001 that McClosky sounded an official warning that Maine had a pill problem. (A couple months later, McClosky quit his government job to take a big-money gig with Purdue Pharma.) In mid-2001, King signed a bill intended to make it more difficult to forge prescriptions. Like the pot flights, this tactic was also futile. Opiate abuse had already become an epidemic. These days, it’s a plague. More Mainers die from pill overdoses than car crashes.
If the wild Atlantic salmon goes extinct, it’ll be King fault. He spent a considerable amount of gubernatorial time, money and energy trying to keep the feds from designating the wild Atlantic salmon as an endangered species. His argument: the federal government’s science was junk; “wild” salmon didn’t exist, because they’d been breeding for years with Franken-fish that escaped from Maine’s disease-plagued salmon factories. King also contended that listing the salmon would destroy the state’s blueberry, aquaculture and paper industries through excessive environmental regulation.
He was wrong on all counts. Despite his costly delays and legal maneuverings, the fish were listed as endangered. In 2002, scientists reconfirmed the genetics: contrary to King’s assertions, wild Atlantic salmon were indeed a distinct and unique species found only in Maine. The scientists also said the salmon-pen escapees were not a factor and were genetically different — weaker and more susceptible to disease — than the native wild population. The industries King warned would be doomed still exist today. Sure, there are destructive fruit flies in the monocultural blueberry barrens, and pesticide-resistant sea lice in the salmon cages, and a long-term glut in the global paper market. But you can’t blame those problems on the wild Atlantic salmon.
King often claimed aquaculture could solve Maine’s unemployment woes. At one point, he predicted fish farms could potentially employ 7,000 Mainers. According to the latest figures, only 834 people work in that field these days. For five years, I lived in Eastport, the state’s aquaculture capital, and watched as corporate overlords installed robots to replace humans, while dosing Passamaquoddy Bay with antibiotics in failed efforts to eradicate disease. Now poisons used by the lone fish-farm company — a Canadian behemoth — are showing up in lobsters. Good thing King’s pet growth industry didn’t materialize as he hoped. Otherwise our bays, coves and tidal estuaries would be clogged with cage sites and fish feces.
Governor King shepherded $60 million in tax breaks through the Legislature for General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works’ corporate parent, to help pay for the shipyard’s modernization. In other words, Maine taxpayers subsidized the world’s fourth-largest defense contractor to put Mainers out of work. In 1997, just before the robotic transformation of the yard, there were about 7,500 employees. A decade and a half later, despite contracts to build many more floating weapons of mass destruction, the workforce has been reduced by 2,000.
During his first gubernatorial campaign, King proposed dumping the much-maligned Cartest emissions-testing program, which was intended to help Maine meet federal clean air standards. After Cartest was eliminated, King announced plans to use gas reformulated with the additive MTBE to meet a federal mandate to reduce emissions. Many environmentalists, including Department of Environmental Protection staffers, warned that the additive was causing groundwater problems in other states and was thought to be a carcinogen. But King listened to the petroleum industry instead, which favored the fuel.
Five years later, King had to ask the feds to allow Maine to stop using the fuel because MTBE was being blamed for contaminating drinking water in thousands of wells. Ironically, critics of emissions testing opposed the original program on grounds that it was too costly. Thanks to fuel surcharges and exorbitant clean-ups costs, MTBE ended up costing much more than Cartest.
During his millennial State of the State speech, King heralded call-center creators like the credit-card giant MBNA. These corporations were spurring the state’s economic rebirth, he said. King praised EnvisioNet by name, calling it “probably the greatest entrepreneurial success story in recent Maine history.” The company had 1,000 employees answering telephones in three locations. Within a year-and-a-half, EnvisioNet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Three years later, Bank of America purchased MBNA and 3,000 Mainers working in Mid Coast call centers lost their jobs to telephone jockeys in India.
King is especially proud of his first-in-the-nation laptop program, which he claimed would “radically transform education in Maine.” Well, he was certainly was right about that. If King hadn’t paved the way by giving laptops to every seventh grader, nobody ever would have had the gumption to give Auburn kindergarteners iPads.
I have yet to see any quantifiable evidence that laptops have improved the educational performance of Maine students. I have seen articles about big repair bills school districts are now saddled with every year, like the $56,000 the Camden-Rockport district had to pay out in 2011. I’ve also read about administrators abandoning Internet filters because those darn kids keep bypassing them to watch porn and cyber-bully other students, as happened in the Berwick schools. Then there’s the estimated $100,000 worth of extra electricity student laptops suck up every year, and the fact that every MacBook ends up in a consumer-electronics graveyard after a few years of rough-and-tumble service.
Gotta wonder if the $200 million spent so far on the laptop program would have been better spent on, say, teaching kids how to read. As the Bangor Daily reported last month, in 1994, the year before King took office, over 40 percent of the state’s fourth graders were reading at their grade level, according to national test results. Last year, fewer than a third were that proficient — a “radical transformation” indeed.
When his eight years as Boss of Maine came to an end, King packed the wife and his two youngest kids in a 40-foot RV and hit the road, leaving a depleted Rainy Day Fund and a billion-dollar budget gap for Governor John Baldacci and company to clean up. While Mainers struggled with the state’s debt and the worsening economy, our eco-conscious ex-gov was growing a beard and motoring around the country, towing an SUV behind his private bus, getting about nine miles to the gallon. He blogged about this adventure and then turned that material into an extremely boring book called Governor’s Travels: How I Left Politics, Learned to Back Up a Bus, and Found America.
Six months later, King returned to Brunswick and hung out his “ex-gov for hire” shingle. If his RV had been a NASCAR hot rod, it would have been so plastered with stickers he’d have a hard time seeing through the windshield.
King joined the boards of Lee Auto Mall, the industrial engineering company Woodard & Curran, the Hancock Land and Lumber consortium, and, apparently without irony, The Nature Conservancy. He was named a partner at the high-powered law and lobbying firm Bernstein Shur. Bowdoin College hired him as a distinguished lecturer, and Bates College hired him to teach a course on leadership. King became part of the investment team of Wheelock Partners, an outfit that purchased a Massachusetts bio-tech company specializing in peptides.
Also in 2003, King became a partner in Leaders, LLC, a Portland-based mergers and acquisitions firm, working with the company’s clients in “developing and executing” strategies, according to its Web site. Sounds like a Down East version of Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, where debt-heavy corporate takeovers and layoffs are the currency of the realm. (King’s son, Angus III, has worked at Bain & Company, the Boston-based consulting firm that begat Bain Capital. He went on to become vice president of mergers and acquisitions at First Wind, a wind-energy company based in Portland.) Leaders specializes in helping energy companies like Irving Oil gobble up gas stations. In effect, King has worked to help Big Energy get bigger. Small wonder this job isn’t on his campaign resume.
Here’s another part of his resume you have to deep-Google to find. In 2004, King joined the board of directors of W.P. Stewart, a Bermudian global investment firm advising the mega-rich. Because the company is based off-shore, its filings with federal regulators aren’t as detailed as those submitted by American companies, so King’s role, and his compensation, don’t seem to have been publicly disclosed. I did discover that he served on several sub-committees of the board, meaning some extra cash in addition to his annual director’s fees and pay. Amid an internal economic crisis at Stewart, it appears King helped make hard decisions like selling the firm’s $17 million jet. Must have been hard to justify the jet’s expense when the company was being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange due to plummeting value. Annual reports indicate the ship had been sinking for a while. When the corporation was restructured a few years ago, King and a couple other directors were apparently shown the door. Sometimes the business world just ain’t fair.
King landed on his feet and into a chair at a board closer to home, which makes some details of his relationship with the Bank of Maine (formerly the Savings Bank of Maine) easier to examine. In 2010, having served on the bank’s board for seven months, King took home $21,500 in cash, plus stocks worth another $18,000. Not bad for a half year of part-time work. Plus there are frequent conference calls; participating in those pays an extra $750 each. The numbered drudgery of banking must be boring to an Idea Man like King. And it can’t be fun to mop up the financial mess the bank was in shortly before he joined the board. A federal document from last year lists $70 million in troubled assets on the bank’s books. The bank’s former president and directors are being sued by a bank in Connecticut that claims it loaned Savings Bank of Maine $18 million on the strength of financial information that turned out to be bogus.
Luckily, King has pals on the bank board to help, including Rob Gardiner, his partner at Independence Wind. They both voted to approve a benefits package worth over a half million per year, plus tons of stock, to the Bank of Maine’s new president — the same dude who recruited them to join the board. To be fair, the new guy’s compensation package wasn’t just salary. It also included a monthly $2,500 housing stipend and $1,500 car allowance.
King and Gardiner’s Independence Wind is hardly independent. It’s entirely dependent on over $100 million of federal loan guarantees — the subject of that ongoing Congressional investigation. You’d think two strident capitalists with deep financial connections wouldn’t need Uncle Sam’s backing. As King wrote in 1992, “Risk is the basis of all human progress.”
But over the years, King’s energy priorities have shifted like … well, you know what. In the mid-1980s, when he was vice-prez and chief counsel of Swift River Company, he proclaimed that hydro-electric power was the best bet for dependable juice. By 1988, he was all about conservation and founded Northeast Energy Management, a company that brokered conservation deals between large-scale electricity users and Central Maine Power. As he told an interviewer from Bowdoin, “about half” of the advice he gave involved “simply changing light fixtures.” Five years later, he sold out to Central Maine Power and made $8 million. (He spent over $1 million to narrowly win the governorship in 1994.) In 1996, King supported plans to repair Maine Yankee’s busted tubes and get its reactor back online, long after almost everyone else had realized it was time to shut the nuke plant down. By 2000, he was championing gas-fired power plants, “representing jobs, over a billion dollars in new tax base, and the reasonable likelihood of cheaper electricity for our homes and businesses.” And, of course, in 2007 he decided to get into the wind business.
In his travelogue, King claims the inspiration to become an industrial wind farmer came from an almost spiritual moment in the Californian desert. “We couldn’t count them all, but there seemed at least a thousand [wind turbines], silently turning against the blue of the sky. They looked cool.” Again, King is being disingenuous. He makes it seem as though he hadn’t been involved with industrial wind before. He fails to mention Kennetech Wind Company. Early in his first term as governor, a ginnormous $240 million proposal for a western Maine wind farm was brought before the Land Use Regulatory Commission. The 600-turbine project was being pushed by longtime King pal Christian Herter. (The pair worked together at Swift River in the mid-1980s, when their attempts to rebuild the derelict Bangor Dam were defeated by fishermen and environmentalists.) During the LURC permitting process, King’s Conservation Commissioner, Ron Lovaglio, pushed for the project’s approval and allegedly silenced two LURC staffers who expressed grave concerns about the project. Ultimately, LURC rejected the proposal. Good thing, too, since Kennetech went bankrupt a couple years later. Besides, the turbines they planned to install, mere hundred-footers, would have been antiquated before they started spinning.
Independence Wind is a subsidy scam that has divided communities and families and will ultimately result in higher electricity prices for most Mainers. The 22 turbines in Roxbury will only generate about 40 percent of the power the company promised they would deliver. And there are other issues wind supporters don’t like to discuss, like the incessant low-frequency noise from turbines. Or how eagles have been known to fly into turbine blades. Or how turbines kill bats by changing the air pressure in their flight path. Or how Big Wind plans to put 1,900 turbines atop ridge lines across Maine, making entire mountain chains off limits to hunting and public access, since a 500-foot buffer zone is required by law. And due to the fickle nature of wind, every turbine connected to the grid needs a back-up power source — usually gas-fired generators — to kick in when the breeze stops blowing.
I have no doubt this industrial wind farm will end up a visual blight, a forest of rusting towers. When the turbines break and the blades stop spinning and the tax credits expire and the equipment can no longer be depreciated, then whatever limited-liability corporation ends up owning the farm will dissolve. Thousands of turbines across America have been abandoned in this fashion.
King’s supporters are bound to complain that I’ve portrayed their hero as the devil. Well, I’m not saying he’s all bad. I applaud his support of gay marriage and abortion rights, long before those positions were politically acceptable. And I’ll give him credit for leading us through Y2K with nary a disaster, save the little glitch that referred to all new cars as horseless carriages. Plus, he did help protect a lot of open land while he was governor. And while he initially threatened to veto legislation to require insurers and employers to offer contraception coverage, he reconsidered the next day after his wife, Mary Herman, got e-mails and calls from angry women across the state. In King’s days as a young lobbyist, he was involved in the passage of the bottle bill and outlawing billboards, two Maine traditions I totally love. And King works hard every day to preserve the memory of Abe Lincoln by quoting the 16th president whenever a microphone is handed to him. Plus he likes dogs. And he adopted two kids, which I find admirable.
But blasting mountain tops in order to make big bucks and dissing the salmon and the working poor in order to please Big Biz negates all his good work. He doesn’t deserve another chance to screw things up. And considering all his ties to special interests and business groups, if King did became a senator, he’d be stymied by so many potential conflicts of interest that he may as well never leave his office to vote.
King should do Mainers and favor drop out of the race. It’s not too late for him to change his mind. After all, he doesn’t have to turn in his petitions until June. In fact, he could craft a way to abandon ship and still look good. He could say politics had changed too much. That the $3 million-$5 million he thinks it will take to win is an affront to all those voters who are tired of money’s corrupting influence on politics. That at the ripe age of 68, with plenty of money in the bank, he’d prefer to spend his last years on earth with family rather than fussing with politicos in D.C. He could return the donations and good wishes, then retire gracefully to his front porch.
If Crash Barry ever gets elected to the U.S. Senate, he promises to caucus with the Neo-Agrarian wing of the New Acadian Party.
King Responds (More or Less)
In an attempt to flesh out Angus King’s resume, The Bollard asked his campaign to provide a list of his corporate and non-profit board service. I also requested an opportunity to discuss King’s work with Bernstein Shur, Leaders, LLC, and W.P. Stewart, among other questions. Shortly before our deadline, the campaign responded with a list of King’s board service, answers to some questions and written comments about King’s work with Leaders and W.P. Stewart.
If elected to the Senate, would King have to recuse himself from votes on energy-related issues due to his son’s position as an executive at an energy company? “Angus will abide by the Senate rules governing conflicts of interest as they apply to particular issues as they arise,” was the answer.
Will he release his personal income tax returns? “Well before the election, Angus will file detailed federal disclosure statements that describe his assets, income, and debts along with other extensive financial information,” the campaign wrote, noting that Senators Snowe and Collins release those forms. The federal statements provide vague information. For example, income level is indicated within wide ranges of wealth. And it’s not possible to determine what percentage of that income the politician pays in taxes.
We wanted to know whether King felt there were viable options to meet federal emissions mandates other than using gas with MTBE. “There were no other viable options,” the campaign wrote, and continued with a fairly lengthy overview of the situation. “We examined all options with stakeholders from the business and environmental community to fill the Cartest gap in Clean Air Act compliance — to avoid the job-busting sanctions,” King wrote. “The feds were threatening draconian sanctions. These included the loss of all federal transportation funds and job-killing constraints on Maine’s industry — just as we were trying to ramp up our economy.”
Economic concerns, it seems, were the driving factor in King’s decision to allow the fuel additive in Maine.
“When we found MTBE in water supplies at levels of concern, we immediately took action to eliminate the mandate for [the] fuel and to work with fuel suppliers on a cleaner formula.
“We went to the regional air organizations, Congress, and EPA and shared the results of our study and Maine’s intention to drop the [gas additive] program. EPA again threatened sanctions, but we were not willing to jeopardize Maine’s water supplies … We persuaded EPA to allow a less intrusive auto emissions testing program — and other measures they had previously rejected — to avoid the job-killing sanctions.”
The campaign’s brief comment on King’s work with the mergers and acquisitions firm Leaders, LLC is
more spin than substance. “Leaders, LLC is a Maine-based consulting group that advises small businesses in sales or acquisitions,” the campaign wrote. “As a recent example, Leaders, LLC helped Hussey Manufacturing of South Berwick buy an out-of-state business and move a new product line to Maine from Chicago. This has led to the addition of 70 new jobs in Maine since last September.”
As Barry noted, Leaders specializes in facilitating the sale of energy companies, not manufacturing businesses and products. Surely the Hussey deal represents only a small fraction of the deals King’s helped broker over the years.
And regarding W.P. Stewart, the King camp had this to say: “Angus was on the board of W.P. Stewart (he left in May, 2009), an international investment advisory firm which had been based in Bermuda (and had an office in Maine) but which relocated back to the U.S. in early 2009. A decline in the firm’s assets under management in 2007-08 led to a reduction in the company’s market capitalization below the New York Stock Exchange minimum ($25 million), which resulted in an automatic delisting. The company is still in business, with over $1.5 billion in assets under management, and its stock is publicly traded on the OTC market.”
That’s the “over-the-counter” market, in which companies are not required to provide the type of detailed financial information the Securities and Exchange Commission mandates, among other differences with the NYSE.
The campaign’s list of King’s board service indicates that he stepped down from the Bank of Maine’s board in April of this year. And he has served on the board of Goold Health Systems since 2010. He also left The Nature Conservancy’s board this year, but remains active on the boards of three other non-profits, including the Maine International Center on Digital Learning, which he founded and helps fund.
— Chris Busby