Keep King’s seat independent

By Sam Patten | Nov 16, 2020

When news trickled out late Nov. 13 that President-elect Joe Biden is considering nominating Maine Sen. Angus King as director of national intelligence, a flurry of speculation followed about whom Gov. Mills would pick to fill King’s seat until the next election.

Of course, the whole exercise is super conditional, but it’s still fun nonetheless.

Two names — both women — leap to the forefront. Sara Gideon, of course, as we’ve heard much from her in the last year and she’s gone though the most costly vetting process in Maine history.

To the extent of seniority matters, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree seems an obvious choice. Both women have run against, and lost to, Susan Collins, but that shouldn’t matter, as this is a different seat.

Arizona’s Martha McSally is a recent example of a governor appointing someone who ran for the Senate and lost the Senate anyway. Following the death of John McCain in late 2018, Doug Ducey — who himself was just elected governor — tapped McSally, who went on to lose against astronaut Mark Kelly earlier this month.

Was she haunted by the specter of illegitimacy, or does an astronaut just trump a fighter pilot? Only Arizonans can say for sure.

Pingree has a longer political pedigree when it comes to Democrat politics. I remember her first election to the state Senate back in the early 90s; she had the first local campaign I’d seen to have a “steering committee,” which suggested at an early stage she had her eye set on bigger things. Having represented District One in Congress for over 20 years, promoting her seems logical. Plus, she and Mills occasionally ride the same ferry to North Haven.

An Augusta insider suggested Secretary of State Matt Dunlap might be the best positioned, but he’s from District 2, like Collins. Maine is not Nigeria, but unspoken power-sharing between north and south exists.

Some Portland elites are murmuring about USM President Glen Cummings, but it’s been a long time since Tom Allen and the world has changed. Who else do the Democrats have in their front bench? Many of the most promising ones are too young.

Thinking beyond obvious partisanship, shouldn’t the governor also be mindful of King’s mandate? He was elected as an independent, after two terms as an independent governor modeled on Jim Longley. Sure, King caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, and for all practical purposes is one. But his brand is still distinct. Mainers value political independence.

How could this imperative factor into Mills’ array of potential picks?

To my mind, there are two choices. MPBN’s Mal Leary is one. Like King, Leary is a household name because of public broadcasting. While he has never been a politician, he lives in Augusta within sight of the State House dome.

He also has a beard. Currently, the only U.S. senator to sport a beard is Ted Cruz, who could use a barbate counterweight in the form of Mal.

Then, there is independent state Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship, who does not have a beard, but could probably grow one if necessary.

Unaffiliated with either party, Evangelos represents a district that stretches from Waldoboro to the islands in Penobscot Bay, combining Lincoln and Knox counties. He has been a town manager, a small businessman and a dogged champion of his constituents.

His pragmatic approach to public service is a distinctly Maine one. If you haven’t guessed, Evangelos would be my pick because I think he might even be able to do some good until such a time as the choice could be put before the people.

Biden may not end up picking King for DNI after all, though I think he could do worse. As someone who has railed against the recent politicization of intelligence in America, I would like to think Angus would be more likely than many to address this problem. But if he does, the question becomes quite real.

Yes, Gov. Mills, most people say Chellie or Sara. But I encourage you to think outside the box, as many of us do.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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