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Sen. King should be challenged for failing to represent interests of young Mainers


Sen. King should be challenged for failing to represent interests of young Mainers

Nov 02, 2023 | 5:06 am ET
By Em Burnett
Sen. King should be challenged for failing to represent the interests of young Mainers
U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) walks in the U.S. Capitol during a vote on July 21, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

When I was younger, I loved any story about kids teaming up and solving a big problem together. There was this powerful sense of justice to it all. 

People don’t take kids seriously. On a societal level, we belittle and infantilize them and their opinions. So I loved the stories about children taking control and especially proving the adults wrong. I still do. 

There’s a generational truth connected to my continued reverence of this sort of narrative. We felt powerless as children and we are still powerless now. The same people in charge when I was a kid are still in charge now. What’s changed, really?

Like many issues, generational grievances take a little nuance to discuss, because ageism is a real thing. Older workers especially are discriminated against and questioned for their fitness to do the job. Taking away people’s autonomy is not something to be lightly suggested, especially given the violent ways our country’s health system operates. But it’s also true that older generations in this country maintain a stranglehold on power and wealth, worsening existing economic differences between age groups. In 1989, the Baby Boomer generation, then with an average age of 34 years old, owned 21% of the country’s wealth. Today’s millennials (whose average age is my age, 34) own just 5% of the wealth of the country. 

In this context, I find it curious and kind of insulting that U.S. Sen. Angus King decided to run for re-election at the age of 79. If ever there was a moment that demanded new ideas and leadership, it’s now. Next year’s election would have been a great time for older leaders like King to pass the torch and allow for fresh perspectives.

But bringing up King’s age seems to create this reflexive argument about the ability of older people to work and serve the community. Those are good conversations to have. But why are we only having them when a millionaire U.S. senator decides to cling to power? When discussing ageism, we don’t need to pretend like it’s an issue of age justice to allow an octogenarian access to the nuclear codes. 

Age isn’t just about fitness or mental capacity. When we talk about someone like King, it’s also about power and longevity in politics. It’s about his relevance and the ability to best represent a million other people.

King likes to present himself as a moderate — a no-fuss kind of politician who likes to tout his independence. While he doesn’t count himself as a member of either party, he’s squarely aligned with the corporate center of both the Republican and Democratic parties. He’s not independent in the sense of calling out the power structures or meaningfully challenging them. He’s independent in the sense that to him, there’s always the option of switching allegiances or allying with insurrectionists if the Democrats get a little too “progressive.” He’s bipartisan. King has been a reliable vote, along with most other members of Congress, for defense spending and bloated military budgets. But while Republican Sen. Susan Collins got plenty of heat for her support of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and her obviously flawed excuses for voting along with her party on most issues, King rarely gets the same kind of scrutiny.

Last year, King, with Collins’ help, blocked an important Wabanaki sovereignty bill in Congress, one backed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and tribal leaders. Just last week, King joined Collins in supporting legislation to let veterans bypass background checks in accessing lethal firearms. Despite his support for the $700+ billion of forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses, King does not support the same forgiveness for student loan borrowers. Instead, he has advocated for more moderate, piecemeal, and means-tested solutions to the problem that directly affects roughly 180,000 Mainers.

King has, along with nearly all of his colleagues and the entire Maine federal delegation, been silent on the unfolding civilian genocide in Gaza. 

Looming large above his record and legacy is of course his stance opposing an assault weapons ban. As Maine experienced the horrific violence of a mass shooting last week, we watched as Golden changed his long-held position against the same ban, admitting his failure and pledging to work to get these weapons out of civilian hands. King made no such promises, made no reflections and offered no apologies. 

Given all of that, I refuse to believe that a 79-year-old millionaire is the best option our state can offer to represent us in the U.S. Senate. While it’s accepted as common knowledge within cloistered political circles that a figure like King can’t be challenged, it’s worth noting that young voters aren’t all that young anymore. People half King’s age and younger make up a sizable chunk of voters here, even in the oldest state, leaving open the possibility that someone more in touch with that voting bloc could easily pose a threat if given the chance. 

Millennials like me may not have the wealth, homes, or guaranteed future of older generations. But we do have passion, the wisdom of recent history, and a deep well of generational rage on our side. Entire revolutions have been powered with those same ingredients — winning an election is entirely within reach.