As a 50-50 U.S. Senate looms, spotlight shines on King, Collins

Good morning from Augusta, where a Politico story has us contemplating Maine having the two most powerful U.S. senators in the country. The story is built around the premise that the Senate, which is currently Republican-controlled, could end up in a 50-50 split between the major parties.

“That could be a nightmare in the making for whoever wins the White House,” reads the article. Cabinet nominees would have to run a partisan gauntlet — inevitably throwing a new administration into an early quagmire of controversy —  and the vice president would cast the deciding vote if Senate members deadlock.

But it could be a huge gift for Maine. Republican Sen. Susan Collins is already in a very powerful position because of her seniority and the fact that she is among the Senate’s most moderate Republicans. That means she occasionally votes against her party, which positions her to be a powerful swing vote.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is in a similar position, though he caucuses with and almost always votes with Democrats. In a 50-50 Senate, he could wield considerable power. When he took office in 2013, King generated a bit of political drama about whether he would caucus with Senate Democrats, then the majority, or Republicans. Two years later, the question of which party’s caucus King would join prompted a lot less speculation but still drew attention from some pundits. At the moment, he appears firmly aligned with Democrats. Facing re-election in 2018, King, who has built a political career on independence and building bipartisan coalitions, won’t want to be linked to the epic partisan gridlock that could define a 50-50 Senate.

That’s the other side of this coin. An evenly divided Senate could give just about any senator the opportunity to go rogue against his or her party and stop everything from legislation to Cabinet appointments to Supreme Court nominees. Collins indicated she isn’t going to play that game.

“I hope we’re not going to get into blocking Cabinet members for the sake of blocking them,” she told Politico.

Thanks to Collins and former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe — who was another relative moderate — little old Maine has enjoyed arguably oversized political power in the Senate before. At one time, both Snowe and Collins were ranked by some publications as being among the most powerful women in Washington.

What’s the benefit of that for Maine? Though there is a long list of our senators’ accomplishments that benefited Maine, by design they operate mostly at the national and international level, obviously. Still, having the political spotlight shone on Maine’s representatives once in a while is a good thing for a state whose reputation among people from away is rooted around lobsters,  snow and a governor whose outbursts often draw international attention. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Our roads are … good?: A new study by the Reason Foundation found that Maine’s highways ranked fifth best in the country in overall performance and cost-effectiveness. That’s a major increase from last year, when the foundation ranked Maine 16th. Maine was knocked in a few areas: The condition of our bridges ranked 38th and rural road land with was 35th. Spending on Maine highways, per mile, ranks 11th in the country.
  • Senior issues forum: The Bipartisan Policy Center will host host a policy forum Thursday in South Portland to discuss ways for Maine’s senior citizens to age at home. Among the speakers at the event will be Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who is expected to tout a bill he sponsored in July, the Senior Home Modification Assistance Initiative Act. Thursday’s forum begins at 9 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Portland at 363 Maine Mall Road in South Portland.
  • Anti-LePage rally: Opponents of Gov. Paul LePage are organizing a “LePage Must Go!” rally at 11 a.m. Saturday on the mall in downtown Brunswick. The rally is being organized by a group called “Mainers for Government Accountability.”
  • Presidential debate coverage: The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is Monday and we can hardly wait. The BDN will have aggressive and comprehensive live coverage, with reporters stationed throughout Maine and contributing to a live blog, which will launch about an hour before the debate’s 9 p.m. starting time. This is your chance to influence our coverage: What do you want to hear from the candidates or other people in Maine? Let us know with an email to

Reading list

Vote Reddle for ruler of the world

Members of my sixth-grader’s class were asked a couple of weeks ago to pick a stuffed animal and create a campaign for it to become ruler of the world. My son chose a plush dolphin named Reddle that has flames down its sides.

Reddle is definitely a liberal. He is promising to build an international monorail system that includes tunnels across the oceans that are made of clear plastic tubing (so you can see all the beautiful underwater creatures during your trip). In addition, the U.S. would hire more wardens to crack down on littering and submarines would be re-purposed to patrolling the world’s waters, looking for litterers and cleaning up trash.

The class is giving speeches today for their candidates and my son was going over his talking points on index cards on the way to school.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Maybe Reddle is so fast that he can jump from the Atlantic Ocean over the entire United States and land in the Pacific Ocean, pooping out diamonds all across the land. That’d earn him some votes.”

My son gave me one of those “wow, you’re a whack-job, Dad” looks, which I see frequently.

“He must be fast,” I argued. “He lives underwater and he still has flames down his sides.”

“I think his promises have to be kind of realistic,” said my son.

This kid has a lot to learn about politics. Here’s Reddle’s soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.