After Gorton, where’s NW clout?


Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Democrat Maria Cantwell’s victory over three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton will cost the Pacific Northwest its most powerful politician since Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield retired from the Senate in 1997.

Gorton, R-Wash., sparked disdain from environmentalists, Indian tribes and organized labor, who often accused him of ignoring their needs.

But even his critics had to concede Gorton was a power in the region. He was considered the go-to politician when it comes to securing money for salmon recovery, promoting international trade, protecting the region’s cheap power and defending Microsoft.

Gorton, the region’s senior senator, also had close ties to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and held slots on influential committees, including the chairmanship of the interior subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Pacific Northwest political watchers and lobbyists are already recalibrating their political compasses and trying to determine who will replace Gorton as the region’s chief power broker in Washington, D.C.

But even before Gorton’s defeat, observers said the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation was rebuilding after the departure of a long line of political titans, including Hatfield; Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore.; Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash.; Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash.; House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash.; and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman, D-Ore.

The post-Gorton years on Capitol Hill might require the region’s lawmakers to unite to protect Northwest interests.

Lance LeLoup, a political science professor at Washington State University in Pullman, said the idea of a regional power broker is outdated.

Magnuson’s era, in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, was ripe for power brokers because lawmakers closely followed orders from senior members. But in a closely divided Senate where members increasingly act as free agents, a freshman could have as much influence as a senior member, LeLoup said.

Observers nonetheless have their eyes on a handful of veterans who could influence Northwest issues in the post-Gorton era:

  • Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., senior member of the Pacific Northwest delegation, one of the most senior Democrats of the House Appropriations Committee and the ranking Democrat on the interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

    On the interior subcommittee, Dicks will have a say in distributing tens of millions of dollars for public lands, energy and salmon.

  • Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. The Gorton loss means that for the first time in at least two decades an Idahoan will have more seniority and clout than any senator from Washington or Oregon.

    Craig has a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and takes an interest in energy, salmon and forestry issues.

  • Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Wyden is closing out a successful 106th Congress, where so far he single-handedly fended off attacks on Oregon’s law legalizing physician-assisted suicide. He also managed to pass, with Craig’s help, a rural-county aid bill that will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Pacific Northwest for years to come.

    But Wyden’s name can hardly be mentioned without Smith, since the two have forged a partnership across party lines with weekly lunches, joint town meetings and alliances.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray had what some observers call a disappointing first term, but she made headway on a key regional issue this year: pipeline safety. She will gain more clout in 2001 if she is appointed chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. And she will be the only senator from Washington or Oregon with a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., got the term-limits monkey off his back with a win in November. He had a successful 106th Congress, where he gained attention for advocating trade with Cuba. He and Dicks are the only House members in the region with seats on the House Appropriations Committee.

  • The name of Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., has come up in discussions about a Bush Cabinet. The Commerce Department, one of the posts she has been mentioned for, oversees salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon’s senior House member, has keen interest in energy and resource issues and is one of the top defenders of the Bonneville Power Administration.

  • Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has a seat on the powerful House Rules Committee, which helps set the agenda for House floor action. The post puts him in position to influence House Republican leaders.

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