When I spoke to Senator Angus King on Wednesday morning, he was in Aroostook County in northern Maine, en route to a meeting in Van Buren to discuss border issues. He had just finished a meeting on the potato industry—before 9 a.m.—and had plans to travel to Rockland and coastal Maine the following day.

Since being sworn in on January 3, King’s schedule has been nothing if not hectic. Each month, he spends three or four weeks fulfilling his legislative duties in Washington, and then spends the subsequent week in Maine. 

“That’s the Senate’s schedule, they don’t call it vacation,” King said. “I think they call it ‘district work period.’ You come back and travel the state and go to meetings. The first week [back] in February, I had 29 meetings in five days.”

After exactly four months on the job, King—who is an Independent but caucuses with the Democrats—has found that being a senator involves more responsibilities than he expected.

“This job is really two jobs at once. The one job is the official job you’re paid for, going to hearings, learning about the issues—the civics book version of what a senator is supposed to do,” he said. “On top of that is a huge amount of constituent services. I’ll bet you I see between 50 and 100 people from Maine a week.”

When he’s in Washington, King reaches out to constituents with his weekly Capitol Coffees, which he holds on Wednesday mornings. He said about 10 Mainers came to the first coffee but attendance rose to around 100 at the latest event.

“I stole the idea from Joe Manchin from West Virginia,” King said. “We’re in temporary offices and so far, we’ve had to borrow space from another senator or committee, but in a month we’ll have our own office.”

King delivered his maiden speech on the Senate floor on April 24, following the tradition that freshmen senators lay low and do not speak publicly during their first few months in Washington. The speech was professorial and showcased King’s expansive knowledge of political science and political history. 

As he stepped to the Senate lectern, King said, “I rise today in some humility because I rise in the footsteps of one of Maine’s greatest senators, Olympia Snowe,” whose seat King ran for after Snowe announced that she would not seek re-election.

“In the midst of the campaign,” King said, “I also realized I was not only succeeding Olympia Snowe but George Mitchell [’54] and Ed Muskie, two of the greatest legislators of the 20th century.” 

In his speech, King referenced Mark Twain, Billy Moyers, James Madison, and British philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Lord Acton. He posed the questions “why have a government?” and “how do you control the government once you create it?,” which he called the basis of political science.  

“I take the job seriously,” he said in an interview with the Orient. “I go to the hearings. Sometimes I’m one of half a dozen senators at a hearing out of 20 senators” that sit on the committee, and “I think at least some senior people have noticed that.” 

This is not the former governor’s first time in Washington. He joined the Senate as a staff member in January of 1973, 40 years before he rejoined it as a Senator.

“I didn’t go in totally naïve about how the process worked,” King said. “I think it’s still not a functional process; we could certainly do a lot better. But I went in with my eyes open.” 

King serves on the Armed Services, Intelligence and Budget Committees, and has been “deeply involved in foreign policy” as a result. 

“It’s fascinating and scary because of all the threats we face,” he said. “That’s been a real experience…in the sense of understanding better what our challenges are.”

King’s lack of party affiliation does not appear to hurt his authority as a senator. When he went to Washington, he worried that he would be marginalized or “pushed to the edge of things.

“Instead, I’ve really had an opportunity to be in the center of a lot of the issues,” he said. The budget debate exemplified that for King.

“I worked on, and we got passed, a procedural change that would have the federal government have a two-year budget instead of a one-year budget,” he said. The amendment to the budget will still need to be voted on by the whole Senate but King is confident that it will succeed. 

“I had a very substantial input into the budget…we had probably a dozen meetings,” he said. “I feel like I made some contributions to the deliberations.”

King has also been working on the Marketplace Fairness Act, which requires internet merchants to charge sales tax. 

“Hopefully we’re going to pass it next week when we get back, though there are some determined opponents,” he said. “To me, it’s important because it’s fair to our local merchants.” 

“It hasn’t been all positive,” though, King said. He was frustrated by “the failure to pass meaningful gun control legislation,” referring to a vote in April, when the Senate rejected a bill that would have expanded criminal background checks for people purchasing firearms. 

“That was very disappointing and somewhat surprising. I thought we had more bipartisan support,” he said.

Despite this “setback,” as King called it, he appears to be as positive about the Senate as ever. 
“I’m enjoying this job,” he said. “I’m exhilarated by it. I’m humbled by the opportunity.”