King jumps on trial balloon for national unity government

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Former independent governor derides politics driven by the extremes, seeks middle ground

LEWISTON – Trying to move politics back to what he calls the broad middle, former Gov. Angus King has joined a national effort to find, nominate and support a unity ticket for the 2008 presidential election.

The nascent political movement, called Unity08, has begun its search for a bipartisan or independent presidential ticket to challenge the Republican and Democratic parties for the White House two years from now.

“We’re worried about the future of the country and we’re worried about the current political structure’s ability to deal with it,” King said during a conference call Tuesday. “What we’re presenting is a third option.”

King, pointing to what he described as an unhealthy partisanship that has taken hold in both major parties, said the country’s leaders have become crippled by an inability to rise above the extremes.

“Our party politics have become more polarized and our candidates have been driven away from the center and toward the base,” King said.

“Right now we’re polarized and paralyzed. And what that means is that we can’t deal with the serious issues we face.”

Although Unity08, which was unveiled publicly Tuesday, presents a broad set of goals, many details on how it plans to achieve them haven’t been worked out.

In fact, Unity08 has asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion on exactly what it is. It’s organized as a 527 group, which refers to the section of the tax code that recognizes nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organizations. King said the group will not accept money from corporations or from political action committees and has raised about $100,000 so far.

The group hopes to build an online community with millions of members and leverage it into a state-by-state effort to get its ticket on the ballot. A number of important technical issues have not been resolved, and the rules of any campaign for the nomination have not been written.

“We believe that it can be done securely and in a solid fashion,” King said. “Can I tell you exactly how this is going to work today? No.”

The group says it has three goals:

• To elect a unity ticket consisting of a president and vice president from different political parties or an independent with a bipartisan team;

• To allow the American public to chose the candidates in a virtual, online convention;

• And to influence the two major parties to adopt elements of the Unity08 agenda.

The Democratic and Republican parties get side-tracked too often by issues on the periphery, King said. Instead of dealing with the real issues, like how best to compete with the rising economic power of China and India, they spend their time attacking each other on wedge issues.

“The parties are constantly trying to trap each other and gain advantage,” King said.

During a call with reporters, King sounded the part of a candidate trying to capture the imagination of voters and make the jump to national politics.

He said, however, he isn’t running.

“I think a lot about this. I feel passionate about it,” King said. “But why would anyone want to leave Maine to live in Washington?”

“We’re trying to create a mechanism by which a leader can emerge,” he said. “Right now, we don’t know who that is.”

“I really think there’s a nerve out that there that’s ready for this,” King said, adding later, “This is new stuff, but I think the problems require new thinking.”

Unity08 divides issues into two categories, crucial issues and important issues, and calls on politicians to focus on the first. Under crucial issues, it lists education, energy independence, deficit spending, global terrorism, health care and nuclear proliferation. Under important issues are abortion, gay marriage and gun control.

“Who’s not for education, being competitive and health care?” asked Julie Ann O’Brien, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party. “It’s how you get there that’s the issue. … It appears that they are steering clear of the controversial issues, but eventually you have to address those.”

O’Brien said she learned of Unity08 after being contacted by reporters, and found the group curious.

“I don’t really get it,” O’Brien said. “At first blush, I’m quite surprised that Gov. King is lending his name to this. … Perhaps it’s a way for Gov. King to be on the national stage. I’ve always thought he would be on the national stage at some point.”

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