The most important race in the 2012 election might not be the quest for the White House. The control of the Senate appears up for grabs this year, and the effectiveness of the next administration is limited by which party holds the majority.
It is possible that the margin for gaining the Senate majority is one seat. Today, Angus King, the Independent former governor of Maine, is heavily favored to win that state’s open Senate seat. Right now he has not declared whether he will caucus with the Democratic or Republican parties for the sake of determining the majority. I say for the good of the country he should maintain this position through the election. Here’s why.
If the margin in the Senate ends up being exactly one seat, Senator-elect King would be in a great position. King should, on behalf of the American people, demand three things in exchange for his vote to swing the majority:
1. Filibuster reform,
2. A vote on a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, and
3. the Senate Majority leader post.
The third one is primarily a check against any shenanigans to undermine the first two. Just these three items would make it much easier to enact subsequent pro-small-d democratic reforms that would make America’s democratic republic more responsive to its citizens again.
Is King likely to take this bold position? He is aware of and concerned about the defects of the current election process.
For example, he signed off on an amicus brief submitted in a Supreme Court case concerning Arizona’s public financing system which included a plan for triggered matching funds, Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. The brief stated:
Amici believe that a robust public financing system is vital for democracy, so that candidates’ dependence on private funders does not render government beholden to those with the deepest pockets, so that a variety of voices may be heard by the public, and so that public service and participation in public debate do not become inaccessible for all but a privileged few.
Governor King contributed significantly to both his campaigns, funding slightly over 50% of the first. Maine’s Clean Elections Act, which is very similar to Arizona’s, including a matching provision similar to the one challenged here, was passed by referendum during his first term, going into effect during his second. Governor King initially had some concerns about taxpayer-funded public financing. However, having had a close-up view of its effectiveness, and having seen no chilling effect on political speech, he has come to believe that it is one of the most important ways to protect democracy from the power of special interests.
King agrees with policy goal of the bold move, so the question left is: Does he have the guts? Maybe some Mainers out there can give us some insight about King’s intestinal fortitude. If it is still unclear that he would, maybe someone should start an online petition to pressure him to stand up for the rest of us and repair our American form of democracy.