Cantwell Works to Erase Craig Follyby Joel Connelly
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 25, 2007
Sen Larry Craig will live in popular memory and late night comedy for turning a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport restroom into a tourist attraction and broadening our understanding of the phrase "wide stance."
Northwest conservationists will remember Craig, R-Idaho, as the agribusiness ally who tried to mess up recovery of decimated Columbia and Snake River salmon runs.
Last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., set out to undo Craig's last gambit -- his furtive backdoor bid to use a federal spending bill to dictate water flow for Snake River fish.
Cantwell's initiative shows, on an obscure but important issue, changes wrought by America's voters when they flipped control of Congress in 2006.
Even were he not about to quit the Senate, Craig would no longer be part of its "college of cardinals" -- powerful chairs of Appropriations subcommittees.
Ditto with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, under FBI investigation for a home remodeling project on which work was done, and bills paid, by a major oil field services company.
Cantwell has asked Senate and House Appropriations chairmen to remove "controversial and unnecessary language" that Craig inserted into a bill funding resource agencies.
The language directs the Interior Department to implement "without further delay" a controversial Bush administration biological opinion on upper Snake River water issued in 2005.
In 2006, U.S. District Judge James Reddin ruled that the opinion violated the Endangered Species Act. A new biological opinion is due at the federal court by the end of October.
What does this mean in language spoken by Americans, and not by those disguising secret deals in appropriations bills?
"The Craig language would put an unfair burden on the communities of Washington state to protect and restore these fish," Pat Ford of Save Our Wild Salmon explained.
By deleting it, responsibility gets spread to all parties in the region -- including upper Snake River irrigators in Idaho -- for measures needed to solve the Northwest's salmon crisis.
And the Interior Department doesn't get stuck with Congress telling it to implement something a judge ruled illegal.
When Republicans were in the majority, Craig exercised lots of clout over the West's public lands and waterways. He pushed through bill language abolishing the Fish Passage Center that keeps count of salmon runs on the Columbia River.
Sens. Cantwell and Patty Murray, D-Wash., chose not to spend their capital as part of a 45-member minority.
With Democrats in power now, however, Cantwell can turn to a fellow Washingtonian, Rep. Norm Dicks, chairman of the Appropriations' Interior subcommittee in the House.
In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is chairwoman of the Appropriations' Interior subcommittee. "DiFi" is sponsor of legislation to preserve Northern California's wild rivers and restore chinook salmon to the San Joaquin River.
Cantwell proved a master of defense in the Senate, before the Democrats won a 51-seat majority in November.
She is best known for blocking Stevens' bid to amend a defense authorization bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
"Uncle Ted" vowed he would campaign against Cantwell. He sponsored a pricey Anchorage fundraiser for her GOP challenger ... who had to return $14,000 because it came from executives of a company being investigated for bribing Alaska politicians.
One more sign of changing times: The state of Alaska has abandoned its famous "bridge to nowhere," a $398 million federally funded span that would have linked Ketchikan to nearby Gravina Island, site of its airport.
Stevens and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, yet another lawmaker under FBI investigation, championed the project.
Defense is masterful, but victory lies in the other direction. With clout that comes with being in the majority, Murray and Cantwell ought to start spending their built-up capital.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has single-handedly held up Senate approval of long-delayed (and House-passed) Wild Sky Wilderness legislation.
Murray is a member of the Democratic leadership. If time on the Senate floor is needed to pass Wild Sky, she should use her clout to secure it.
Our two senators should find federal dollars to station a rescue tug year-round at Neah Bay. Thick fogs at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and congested shipping lanes, are not confined to winter months.
Cantwell will soon find herself in a lead role as the Senate debates whether to give more federal backing to new energy sources, or carry on subsidizing the carbon economy. The country's energy policy needs to be liberated from the oil, coal and nuclear industries.
The Senate received a blood transfusion in 2006.
Several of its reactionary and intellectually challenged members -- Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and George Allen, R-Va. -- went down to defeat.
More need to be sent where they just went. Craig and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., are on their way out. Stevens will -- it is hoped -- get frog-marched out of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.
Political tides are turning. We can hope for protectors of the West and fewer strumpets of the oil, timber and mining industries -- more Cantwells, fewer Craigs.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs