WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — There's been a lot of news coming from the nation's capitol, including legislation to support businesses and national parks. I caught up with Maine's Independent Senator Angus King to talk about some of the recent work happening in Congress. When the Senator isn't in Washington D.C. he's at home in Brunswick, which until Wednesday was in a strange position, unable to open in the county of Cumberland, while just next door in Topsham and Bath, businesses were reopening.
"Of course there’s been a lot of frustration," says King. "This has been really tough on the tourism industry. The thing I was hearing [from business owners] just three weeks ago was the problems with the PPP program. The program was sort of one-size-fits-all and it didn’t help the hospitality businesses. Fortunately we were able to get through a bill - again, on a bipartisan basis - that made a lot of changes that really fits the bill to make it more useful to our businesses."
"But you’re right, when you draw lines for us, the river is a line between Sagadahoc County and Cumberland County and so businesses in Topsham and Bath can open up but not in Brunswick. Hopefully we are starting to have... I got to say, I’m still worried about the future of this virus. We are not over it. Some people around here are acting like, 'Let’s just change the subject.' The virus doesn’t care whether we change the subject, the virus is still going and I think at last count 22 states saw the trend of cases of hospitalizations still up, so I think we still have to take care."
A lot of the re-opening has been at the helm of states themselves, do you think the Federal Government is doing enough to steer us in the right direction?
"I think the decision to allow states to decide what worked for them was the right decision. As I say one-size-fits-all rarely fits all. So having the governors make those types of decisions… The problem is, I think the Federal Government let the governors down by not putting in place a really vigorous testing and tracing program, because that made the governors sort of fly blind. They’ve had to make these decisions about re-opening without the tools necessary, and that’s where I think the Federal Government really fell down on this. We all sacrificed, we all stayed home, our businesses had these huge impacts that they had for two or three months; that was the time when the Federal Government should’ve been really gearing up the infrastructure for testing and they really haven’t done it. It’s expanded somewhat, and the state has had to [step up]."
"Governor Mills has made a deal with IDEXX to expand testing in Maine, but this is something the federal government should have done. They have the tools and I think they put the governors in a terrible position. I can’t imagine having to make that decision between damage to your business that you can see and feel, and the risk to Maine peoples' lives; talk about an agonizing decision. I know Governor Mills has really thought hard about that, she’s tried to do it by the science, and everybody’s mad at her, maybe that means she’s doing the right thing?"
Rob and I are fans on 207 of your photos on Instagram and you had a really poignant one the other day about Ulysses S. Grant, and that statue, and you talked about the process to change the army bases. Where does that stand?
"The very day that I made that post happened to be the day that we had an Armed Services Committee meeting on the National Defense Act, which is the big annual bill that we do every year that controls what goes on in the military; and actually on a bipartisan basis that committee adopted an amendment that said we are going to change those names. If you stop and think about it, there’s not a base named after Grant. I posted the picture of General Grant's statue in the rotunda, the man that saved the Union; that won the Civil War; and was the scourge of the Ku Klux Klan when he was president. He doesn’t have an Army base named after him, but we have 10 bases named after Confederate generals who breached their oath to the United States when they left the US Army, and they took up arms against their country."
"What sense does this make? It really doesn’t. We’ve got medal of honor winners, we’ve got Joshua chamberlain; General Grant; we’ve got some great heroes; Eisenhower; George C. Marshall, let’s name those bases for people we can be proud of, and not send young people who have just taken an oath to support the Constitution to get their training at a base named for a guy who breached his oath."