The first thing that struck me when I read about the four U.S. Senate committees that Angus King will serve on after he is sworn in on Jan. 3 is that the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is not one of them.
King is replacing retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has served on the Commerce committee since she was first sworn in as a U.S. Senator 18 years ago. It has been an important appointment to Mainers for many reasons, not the least of which is Snowe’s role as the ranking member of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. As the subcommittee’s ranking member, she has taken a keen interest in issues that affect Maine fishermen.
It would be hard to argue that the Commerce committee is more important that the ones King plans to serve on - Armed Services, Budget, Rules and Intelligence – but it’s safe to say that many, if not most, of the thousands of commercial fishermen in Maine appreciate Snowe’s advocacy on their behalf and that of the state’s seafood industry.
This past summer, Snowe called upon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate whether blockades by Canadian fishermen of Maine lobster imports violated trade agreements. In 2010, she criticized Bumble Bee Foods after it decided, despite what had been recent assurances it had given to the contrary, to shut down the Stinson Seafood sardine cannery on Gouldsboro (which was the last such cannery in the country)
That same year, Snowe proposed creating a National Endowment for the Oceans that would fund research on the marine environment. And, among other things, she has been a vocal advocate for not putting too much financial or regulatory burden on Maine lobstermen when new rules aimed at protecting endangered whales have been adopted.
Snowe has taken on a lot of issues in her congressional career, and she is not the only member of Maine’s delegation to take an interest in and advocate for Maine fishermen. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Reps Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud all have weighed in on fisheries issues to varying extents and will continue to do so.
King, given his two terms as Maine’s governor, presumably understands the importance of Maine’s commercial fishing to the state economy (lobster alone generated $334 million in direct revenue to Maine fishermen in 2011) and is expected to follow suit. An independent, King has said he plans to caucus with Democrats, which is the majority party in the chamber, and so stands to have more influence than he would if he was a newcomer allied with the minority GOP.
But my sense is that, despite his political experience and his allegiance with the Senate’s majority party, as long as he’s not on the Commerce committee, he won’t be able to take on as active a role in advocating for Maine fishermen as Snowe did.