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Commentaries and editorials

Stakes are Especially High Going Forward

by John Webster, editorial board
The Spokesman Review, December 6, 2000

Who will replace Slade Gorton as the Northwest's leading power broker in Congress?

Maria Cantwell's defeat of Sen. Slade Gorton leaves the Pacific Northwest hearing the echo of an old political refrain: The king is dead. Long live ... um, well, long live who?

Like former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Sens. Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson, Gorton led the Northwest's congressional delegation, using seniority and position to influence federal policy crucial to our region. He did a lot of good for working people, especially in less wealthy areas, and he'll be missed.

Just as U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt did not replace Foley as speaker, Cantwell not step immediately into Gorton's informal but important role as a power broker.

The change comes at a time when federal policy has huge consequences for the Northwest's future. Consider the issues: Salmon restoration. The cost and supply of electricity. Trade with the Pacific Rim. Microsoft's collision with antique antitrust laws. Federal farm programs and the sagging farm economy. Federal transportation funding. Forest policy.

Often, though not always, the Northwest's common interests have prompted its congressional delegation to unify rather than fight along party lines. The way things work in Congress, a divided region can get steamrollered while a unified congressional delegation commands some respect. But unity is no accident; it takes strong leaders, who know the issues, to build it.

Who will lead the delegation now? Only time can answer that question. But a look at the remaining members points to several possibilities. Rep. Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Bremerton, has the most seniority and a spot on the House Appropriations Committee. In the Senate, Republican Larry Craig of Idaho serves on Appropriations and has an active interest in energy policy and natural resource issues. Nethercutt also serves on Appropriations, and will help in the coming rewrite of federal farm policy.

Meanwhile, Cantwell herself faces a considerable challenge. She won a majority of the votes in only five of Washington's 39 counties: King, Thurston, Snohomish, San Juan and Jefferson. Her victory hinged on numerically rich majorities in just three areas: Seattle, Olympia and Everett. In other, less-populous counties, Gorton led the voting by margins that approached 2-to-1 or higher. Now, however, Cantwell must represent the whole state, including the many counties whose voters felt she did not understand their concerns. To her credit, she pledges to spend time in those areas and learn more about their needs. We wish her well and hope she succeeds at building a broader base of support.

From Microsoft's headquarters to the jeopardized farmers and aluminum makers, there is a lot at stake in the knowledge and effectiveness of the Northwest's congressional delegation.

John Webster, for the Editorial Board
Stakes are Especially High Going Forward
Spokesman Review, December 6, 2000

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