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Angus King, former governor of Maine, is a regular guy.

“I was on an airplane Monday, and people were surprised I was riding in coach,” King said in a cell-phone interview while running errands near his Brunswick home. “I’ve never flown first class — why start now? I work. I take out the trash. It’s a normal life.”

Since his second term as Maine’s governor ended in 2003, King has been busy with his normal life. Many people remember his road trip across the United States. “It was a great family trip,” King said. “I left the day after I left office. We saw 33 states and did 15,000 miles.”

“Instead of worrying about whether the Legislature would pass a bill, I worried about if the next town had a gas station,” he continued. “When we got to Yellowstone National Park, a herd of buffalo walked in front of us. It was stunning.”

The trip provided King a chance to put Maine’s problems in perspective. “We all tend to look around and think our problems are unique and worse than anyone else’s,” he said. “I really saw that Maine wasn’t the only state with problems. There are coastal towns in Oregon struggling, just like in Washington County.”

It’s one reason King knows the next governor will have a huge challenge. “The only two things the governor can do without input from others are pardon criminals and set the annual herring quota for the state,” he said. “The governor can set an agenda and provide direction, but ultimately everything involves working with the Legislature.”

While King has met with several of the gubernatorial candidates, he chooses not to endorse any one of them. “I had a great challenge working with the Legislature as an independent, because I didn’t have automatic friends,” he said. “I had 186 skeptics. I came into office very aware of that and didn’t have illusions that I could make decisions unilaterally and get away with it.”

King is most proud of the advancements his administration made in conservation, technology and education. The laptop program he championed in 2002 still garners international attention.

“I’m not sitting around, and I’m not in a rocking chair,” he said with a laugh. “In a couple of weeks, I’m going to Israel. I’ve been invited to speak with the minister of education in Israel, and I think they also have me scheduled to go to Greece. Everybody wants to know how to implement a laptop program. Australia is doing one with the whole country — forget about just a state. It’s very exciting.”

“People in Maine aren’t really aware that we’re leading the world in this,” King said. “Everybody wants to know how we did it.”

The former governor said some places have been less successful than Maine in introducing laptops to students because they ignored a key element in the overall vision. “We spent a lot of time training teachers in how to use the technology successfully,” he explained. “That’s my message.”

Other accomplishments King cited as important ones during his administration included: the state’s first official Web site went online in 1995; the port at Eastport was completed and additional work was done on the port in Searsport; and more than 700,000 acres in Northern Maine were protected from development, thanks to a campaign known as the Pingree Forrest Partnership.

“It was privately funded, but I was very much involved,” King said. “One of the best parts was that it was all done in partnership. The state was often a key player, but a lot of it involved working with private groups.”

The protected land could easily eclipse Baxter State Park and is described as being larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.

These days, between international speaking engagements, being a board member of several nonprofits, and throwing his weight behind the wind-power initiative, King teaches a course called “Leaders and Leadership” at Bowdoin College.

“It’s case studies of real people: Eleanor Roosevelt, Joshua Chamberlain, [Abraham] Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr.,” King said. “I’ve learned a huge amount. Often in politics, we think the job is done when the bill is passed, but in reality it’s about how things are implemented. Execution is just as important as vision.”

That’s why he believes the next governor should consider various viewpoints. “A leader must create an atmosphere among his or her team where they can speak up and offer different opinions,” King said. “It’s a very important principle. No leader can do it alone. … If you have a team that’s intimidated, you might as well not have a team.”

Looking back on his career, King appreciates what he’s accomplished, in both the public and private arenas. “I’ve made almost every one of Molly and Ben’s [his children] soccer and lacrosse games and maintained that contact with my family in a high-profile, intense job,” he said. “I feel very good about that.”

King fondly recalls an article that ran in The Portland Press Herald about his life prior to his inauguration. “They interviewed my sister, business associates and my former wife,” he said. “She said what I thought was very insightful: ‘Angus has always liked to fix problems, whether it’s a broken clock or a law that isn’t right.'”

“Being governor for me personally was the perfect job,” King added. “There’s no end to problems.”

King believes solving small problems early on helped him tackle larger ones later in his political career. It’s a simple lesson that he believes is relevant to everyone’s life, especially the next governor’s. “I tell my students, ‘You’re preparing for something right now, you just don’t know what it is. The key is to be ready for it when that moment arrives,’” King said.

In the moment, King marvels at the little things in life. “I’m walking by a Little League game right now,” he said over his cell phone. “The coach is throwing overhand. I like pitching underhand for 6- and 7-year-olds. Hitting the baseball is hard.”

In moments like this, King admits to one problem that has haunted him since childhood. “I never could hit a curve ball,” King said.

Perhaps some problems are too mysterious to fix, even for a former governor.

Dan Harrington is a freelance writer who lives in Augusta.