Maine U.S. Senator Angus King spoke with the Franklin Journal on March 25 about some of the issues that impact the region, what he’s working on in Congress, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what makes Franklin County special. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — It’s been nearly 10 years since Angus King won the election to serve as one of Maine’s U.S. Senators following an eight-year tenure as the governor of Maine.

In his time as governor and an independent senator (caucusing with Senate Democrats), King has advocated for legislation supporting the agriculture industry, economic development in Maine, abortion rights, etc.

He’s called for reforms to the filibuster, the end of the trade embargo on Cuba, passage of the voting rights bills and gun-control expansion.

He’s also served alongside Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He’s shared the same positions as Collins — and he’s differed.

Beyond his senatorship, King has been a part of the Franklin County community as a frequent Sugarloaf visitor for 30 years, he said.

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King was the guest on the 400th show of Mt. Blue TV’s “Talkin’ Maine with the Bowtie Boy” hosted by former state Sen. Tom Saviello on March 25.

Following their conversation, King sat down with the Franklin Journal to offer his position on some of the issues that impact Franklin County, how he is working in Congress to better the lives of his local constituents and what is happening in Ukraine.

Costs have been increasing due to a smattering of reasons including inflation, supply chain issues, workforce shortages, sanctions, etc. What is the root of these issues and some of the ways it impacts consumers, particularly those in Maine?

“The two most serious problems facing Maine right now are inflation and a labor shortage.

“Inflation is happening to some extent because people are being paid more. Why are they being paid more because there’s a shortage of workers supply and demand.

“Inflation is being caused by a lot of different things. Number one, supply chain shortage of ships. Shortage of truck drivers. Shortage of … some parts: the biggest one is computer chips; that’s what’s driven up the cost of automobiles. Then you got food.

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“It’s too easy to just say inflation. You’ve got to talk about meat, food, produce, and of course, the high price of gasoline gets translated into everything that needs to be shipped.

“The other thing that’s killing us in Maine is electric prices. That’s because of natural gas. Sixty percent of our electricity in Maine comes from [imported] natural gas … through pipelines.

“About five years ago, [Maine] started exporting natural gas, it was zero in 2015. Now it’s about 15-20% of our production. Okay, what does that mean? There’s less supply. What happens? Domestic prices go up.

“So the price for natural gas has doubled in the last six months. And I feel like … Paul Revere. I keep saying when we [export gas], this is going to kill us, the consumers.

“[Maine having natural gas] is one of our major advantages. And nobody’s listening because the gas companies have the power.

“And then on top of that comes Ukraine, which added another 40 or 50 cents. If you pull out Russian oil, call it 10% of the world’s supply, the price is going to go up. And that’s part of the price of the war.

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“You’re going to hear a lot of nonsense about it is Joe Biden’s fault. It isn’t.

“The pandemic recession goes way down [crashes] deeper than the [2008 financial crisis]. And then [demand recuperates] and we’re back within 18 months of where we were before. So what happens when demand dies like this is people cut back on producing things. It came back so fast that they couldn’t keep up … Demand came back faster than supply.”

What are you doing in Washington to support Mainers and ease financial burden amid rising costs?

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I think a lot of this is going to slow down as the supply ramps up. And in fact, gas has gone down a few cents in the last week.

“I’m beating on the oil companies to produce more oil, which will give us more gas.

“I’m working on legislation to expand the meat production.

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“And the other area is helping healthcare. We’re going to move on a bill, I think in the next couple of weeks to cap insulin costs at $35 a month for out of pocket costs. That’s a big deal and I think we’re going to get that. And then we’re going to bring a bill to the floor, hopefully in the next month or so, to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices to get volume discounts for seniors.

“I’m approaching it one issue at a time.”

Amid rising costs, it’s getting more difficult to live off of social security. This is particularly impactful in an area like Franklin County, which has a large population of senior citizens living on fixed incomes. Can you talk about the future of social security – which seems more uncertain by the day – and how you’re addressing it in Congress?

“Social Security is the difference between poverty and being able to get by in a lot of places in Maine. It is a huge part of our economy.

“Here’s the problem with Social Security: as we’re going right now, in 2034 … it’s going to be broke. And unless we do something about it, benefits will have to be cut at something like 20%. Obviously, that’s unacceptable.

“I’m working with Bill Cassidy, who’s a Republican senator from Louisiana, on a plan to shore it up to make it actuarially sound for 75 years. We’re going to be talking about our proposal in the next couple of weeks.

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“The good news is this year [people collecting social security] are going to get a significant cost of living increase (COLA) – 6%, maybe. I’m not saying that’s going to solve everybody’s problems, but it will make some difference.”

Can you talk about the expansion of broadband in rural areas like Franklin County?

“Help is on the way. This has been my pretty much my highest priority since I was elected. This year $75 billion, enough to wire the whole country was passed … in the American Rescue Plan Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Maine’s gonna get half a billion dollars, which should be enough to provide high-speed internet to everybody in Maine. And looking back, that may end up being my most important contribution.”

What will broadband expansion look like?

“Maine has set up something called the Maine Connectivity Authority. And they’re going to work with communities, with providers, everybody.

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“My favorite model is to have a group of communities get together like a utility district build the wires and then lease it to whoever wants to use it. Then you have competition.

“One of the problems is if you only have one provider, they can name their price. So we’re trying to encourage a system that allows competition and the capital costs will be underwritten by this federal grant.”

Franklin County of course has a lot of farmers. It’s an integral part of our economy and the region’s history. Studies show that the local agricultural industry has been struggling for a number of years. What are some of the issues impacting the agriculture industry? And how can we ensure the survival of agriculture in Franklin County and statewide?

“For the first time in my memory, the average age of farmers in Maine is going down. There are a lot of new, younger farmers.

“We lost contracts for a lot of our organic dairy farms. But a company has come in and fixed that.

One of the biggest problems facing farmers in Maine right now is PFAS [per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances]. And the state and federal government have to step up.

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“The state is doing a massive testing program that just started so we’ll know in about a year where the problems are. And then we are gonna have to address them. On a governmental level, [PFAS contamination] is a very serious problem for our farms because it got there through sludge spreading in the 80s, which nobody knew was a problem.”

Due to PFAS contamination, it seems inevitable that more and more farmers are going to have to halt planting and selling their produce from contaminated lands. Is that something you’ll be addressing in Congress?

“We already have started [addressing PFAS]. The leader on this has been Jeanne Shaheen, Senator of New Hampshire because a lot of it first manifested itself around military bases. So [Portsmouth International Airport at Pease] was one of a few of the first places where it showed up.”

Can you talk about the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

“The Europeans are united and the Ukrainians are determined. And [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is extremely dangerous because he’s trapped. And we have to be very careful to support the Ukrainians but not mistakenly start a world war. It’s a very dangerous model.”

What do you think makes Franklin County and its people special?

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“Franklin County is an absolutely gorgeous place. It has the mountains and hardworking people.

“Farmington is a special town because it’s in this sort of recreational heaven, but also has the university which adds an element to the town of a good economic base.

“I just think [Franklin County] is the best of Maine. It is a nice kind of microcosm of what Maine has … I’ve always had a lot of affection [for Franklin County]. We’ve been coming to Sugarloaf for 30 years.

“I used to practice law up here. My first job in Maine was in Skowhegan and part of my territory was Franklin County. I’d come over here from time to time.

“One of my favorite stories was coming over to the Probate Court [in Farmington]. I was in the basement of the courthouse sitting there – I was this young, fresh, 26-year-old lawyer.

“And this old guy comes in in wool pants and suspenders and a flannel shirt. He sits down and we’re chatting back and forth. And I’m looking at my watch. And I said, ‘when is Judge Earl Wing going to get here?’ He said, ‘Son, I am Judge Wing.’

“I remember that very well.”


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