PORTLAND – A group of Maine business leaders spoke up in defense of U.S. Senate candidate Angus King on Monday, saying a national business group’s TV ad criticizing the former governor is way off base.

“Whoever made that ad knows nothing about this person. They know nothing about his values and they know nothing about how this state works,” said Kevin Hancock, president and CEO of Hancock Lumber. “I actually think it will work for Angus. It just doesn’t jive with what everybody knows and remembers and believes about Angus.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce began airing the ad in Maine late last week as part of a national campaign targeting potential swing seats in the Senate. The chamber endorsed King’s Republican opponent, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

King, an independent, is the front-runner to replace Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

The chamber’s 30-second ad calls the former governor the king of spending and mismanagement, citing growth in the state budget during King’s tenure and the fact that Maine had a billion-dollar budget deficit after he left office in 2003. The ad ends by urging voters to oppose King because the state needs jobs.

Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s senior vice president and national political director, said the ad is factual.

“Instead of addressing his spending record as governor, King is looking to change the subject. Our ad … has obviously struck a nerve,” Engstrom said in a written statement.

King has criticized the chamber’s ad, but he did not attend Monday’s campaign news conference at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. The eight current and former business leaders who spoke did not challenge details in the ad about the state budget, but they said it was misleading to imply that King wasn’t a pro-business and pro-jobs governor.

“I think these ads are very misleading. He was one of the great governors,” said Dan Lafayette, owner of Lafayette Hotels. He said the state budget grew at the time because King “grew the economy.”

Lafayette, whose company owns the Holiday Inn by the Bay and a chain of other hotels and restaurants, said Maine’s tourism industry continues to benefit because the King administration stabilized the state’s tourism-promotion budget to avoid year-to-year swings.

King’s defenders said he improved the state’s roads and bridges, enhanced education and work force training, and communicated openly with the owners of large and small businesses.

Some in the group spoke about King’s personal efforts to bring the $1.2 billion National Semiconductor manufacturing plant to South Portland. The plant — which now is operated by Texas Instruments and employs about 500 people — was to be built in Texas until King stepped in and led efforts to speed up environmental permitting and train workers, they said.

“Without his commitment and his support, the facility would not be located in Maine,” said Paul Edmonds, former vice president of operations at National Semiconductor.

A few business owners said they launched or expanded efforts to export products because of King’s support or encouragement, which included leading annual trade missions.

“The business world truly went global during Angus’ term as governor,” Hancock said. King is now on the board of directors of Hancock Lumber.

“He gets it. He understands business,” said Lolisa Windover, general manager of Winderosa, a gasket manufacturer in Peru.

Windover said she is a member of the state and local chambers of commerce, but not the national group. “I’m really disappointed the U.S. chamber took this stance,” she said.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine’s regional chambers are separate organizations from the national group and have distanced themselves from the ad.

The Maine Small Business Coalition, meanwhile, criticized the ad and said the national chamber represents large out-of-state and multinational corporations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $400,000 to broadcast the ad throughout Maine. If the commercial proves successful and polls show Summers gaining on King, the chamber and other groups are expected to spend more on anti-King ads.

Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for King, said the campaign does not plan to counter with its own television ads “at this time.”

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

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