ON FREE TRADE The expansion of free trade has resulted in "the hollowing out of the American economy," including a one-third drop in US manufacturing employment in the last decade. In product prices the US can't compete with countries that have extremely low wages, few environmental regulations, and harsh labor practices. Protectionism has its own problems, but "we should be much more aggressive about the price of admission to our markets" — demanding that applicants make progress on environmental and labor conditions, for example.
ON IMMIGRATION AND TOLERANCE After relating how his father once caustically put down a racist friend in Virginia — where King grew up — he condemns politicians who seek "to divide and exploit us by demonizing others," such as undocumented immigrants. And Muslims are rapidly being made into "the [boogie-men] communists of our age." He mentioned that his family hosted a Ghanaian Muslim foreign-exchange student who was "one of the most peaceful souls I've ever met."
ON REPUBLICAN SUCCESSES IN THE 2010 ELECTION Despite the Obama administration's rescue of the auto industry, its provision of "the biggest middle-class tax cut in U.S. history" in the stimulus legislation, the drawing down of the American military presence in Iraq, the lowest overall taxation level since 1950, and the stock-market rebound, the Democrats got thumped because President Obama let his opponents "define the narrative of his first two years." His advice to the president: "Americans like their leaders tough."
How Republican does all this sound?
"He's a practical, progressive, social-justice-sensitive, compassionate individual," said Democratic senate majority leader Barry Hobbins, an old friend from Saco.
In the interview, King didn't back away from his Bowdoin blogs, although he qualified some of them. He denied he had made a turn to the left since he had left the Blaine House. He hasn't changed, he said, but the Republican Party has gone to the right.
In any case, he's not an ideologue, he said: "I call them as I see them." He even went so far as to call himself a conservative. (Language note: It's testimony to the basic, Reagan-reconstructed reality of American politics that, in 12 years of covering the State House for the Phoenix, this reporter cannot recall an officeholder who admitted to being a liberal. Even those who accepted "progressive" frequently claimed they also were conservatives.)
King "absolutely" admitted to being an activist type, though, including being an environmental activist long before he was governor. On social issues, he mentioned he once made a TV ad promoting gay rights.
He isn't so much of an activist, however, that he subscribes to the agenda of the Occupy Wall Street militants. But he said he understood where they were coming from — the middle class has been stagnating for 20 years.
On economic issues, he said his vetoes of minimum-wage increases were "hard" to do. He had to balance the benefits to "the few" who he said would get them against Maine getting a reputation as anti-business.
On governmental regulation, he said the pendulum had swung too far to the right. The Glass-Steagall Act should be restored, he said, referring to the federal law that limited the ability of banks to engage in speculation. The act's repeal in 1999, many commentators believe, heavily contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.