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Maine’s King Takes His Independence Seriously

Senator’s staffs show his devotion to bipartisanship

One look at the résumés of the staffers hired by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, shows his new Senate offices on Capitol Hill and in Maine feature an unusual degree of ideological diversity.

As a result, his staff will include individuals who worked on opposite sides of the 2012 presidential race in which President Barack Obama faced off against Mitt Romney.

“My philosophy of leadership can be summarized in one sentence: Hire good people, and take credit for what they do,” King said in an interview in his makeshift freshman office in the Russell Senate Office Building.

King said while he did not engage in a concentrated effort to have different political persuasions on his staff, it’s the same as what he did during his eight years as Maine governor.

“The selection of our staff without regard to party wasn’t — it’s not like it was an office policy. It was just what we did,” King said.

Intentionally or not, the office could have some of the atmospherics of a New England town meeting, which are not governed by partisan considerations.

“In Maine town meetings, partisanship has no role whatsoever, at least to my knowledge,” King said. He also noted that selectmen generally do not run for office on partisan tickets in Maine. That differs from even some other parts of New England.

“It’s just not who we are,” he said.

King will caucus with the Democrats and was implicitly supported by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in his bid for the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Republican Olympia J. Snowe. Nonetheless, King said that he would not be bound to support Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on individual votes. He has committed to extending the courtesy of keeping Reid’s office apprised of his moves, however.

King said the goal of his staffing decisions was “to have a reasonable mix between people from Maine that I’ve known and worked with for years … but also people with knowledge of Washington and particularly the Senate.”

To that end, King’s chief of staff is longtime confidante Kay Rand. She managed King’s Senate campaign and his two Maine gubernatorial bids. Plus, she served as his chief of staff in Augusta.

For legislative director, however, King and Rand looked for an experienced Senate legislative aide familiar with chamber operations. They found Chad Metzler, who had worked for Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl as staff director of the Aging Committee in the last Congress.

“Moving into the next Congress, it’s important that we proceed with a robust legislative agenda predicated on the principles of bipartisanship so that we may bring people together and accomplish the work of the nation — and under Senator King’s leadership, I know that we will do just that,” Metzler said in a statement praising his new boss.

Others, including King’s state director and the scheduler in the Washington office have had Republican political backgrounds. Some are former elected officials in the state.

“We have a former Democratic state senator, Elizabeth Schneider, who’s up in Bangor and a Republican state senator Chris Rector who’s in Augusta,” King said.

Both Schneider and Rector will work for King as regional representatives in the home state, King’s office said in a release.

“Frankly, I don’t even know the political affiliation of two-thirds of these people,” King said. “It’s never a question that we ask.”

King also offered an anecdote from his time as governor where, during an informal discussion about state-level judicial appointments, a fellow governor was startled that King picked lawyers to serve as judges without regard to party ID.

“You have to remember, I’ve done this before. I was governor for eight years, and I found that being able to appoint people … without regard to party was a huge advantage,” King said. “If you limit your choices to one party, you’ve eliminated two-thirds of the talent pool at the outset, and in my view, these jobs are … enormously dependent upon the quality of the people you have working for you, and to eliminate two-thirds of the talent pool just strikes me as silly.”

King faced questions about his staff and cabinet composition during his time as governor of Maine, when reporters would ask for a partisan breakdown of the cabinet and King’s office wouldn’t always know. King and Rand conceded that in at least one case, they had incorrectly guessed the partisan affiliation of an appointment.

“It’s not in my nature to exclude people or their ideas because of their political party. I just have never thought that way,” King said.

“The impulse to denigrate and dislike other people because of their political persuasion has never been one that I’ve understood.”

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