By The Herald Editorial Board
Voters when considering the record of a long-serving incumbent can and do rightfully ask: “Fine, but what have you done for us lately?”
For U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. — who with the completion of her fifth term this year will join Everett’s Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson with 30 years of service and, should she win a sixth term, will challenge Sen. Warren G. Magnuson’s state record 36-year title — the answer serves as her endorsement for that sixth term as senator.
Murray, 71, has shown herself as a productive and pragmatic legislator and a trusted leader in the chamber who diligently maintains connections with constituents and the state as a whole to guide her work and deliver on the needs of the state and its residents.
Her challenger is Republican Tiffany Smiley, a 41-year-old Pasco resident, who has worked as a triage nurse and has advocated for veterans’ health care and related issues. An interview with The Herald Editorial Board was scheduled with Smiley, at which she read a statement but then left without taking questions.
Murray’s recent term has been marked by periods where the Democratic Party was in the minority in the Senate during the four years of the Trump administration, then in the majority — albeit the slimmest of such — during the Biden administration.
Among the leaders of the loyal opposition during President Trump’s term, Murray participated in successful efforts to protect the provisions and programs of the Affordable Health Care Act from efforts of Republicans and Trump to weaken it when they couldn’t repeal it.
Murray, then the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, worked for bipartisan action, often with the committee’s chair, then-Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on legislation including reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as Apple Health for Kids in Washington state. Murray now serves as that committee’s chair.
With Democrats in control of both House and Senate since January 2021, Murray and Democratic colleagues have been able to adopt a raft of essential legislation, including:
The American Rescue Act, which by funding vaccine production and distribution; providing resources to safely reopen schools; and distributing funding to state and local governments, tribes and businesses, helped bring the covid-19 pandemic under control and eased its economic harms;
The Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which made badly needed investments in road, bridges and transit, water systems, ports and airports and broadband internet;
The Pact Act, ensuring health care for veterans exposed to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals from burn pits and other sources;
The Chips and Science Act, to facilitate the U.S. production of computer semiconductors, address supply-chain problems and support scientific research; and
The Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide grant funding and support for action on climate change efforts, authorized Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for a list of medications and enroll more Americans in the Affordable Care Act.
That level of production is not likely to be equalled in the next Congress. Even if the Senate maintains its Democratic majority, current projections favor Republicans to retake the House majority.
Still, Murray, in her interview with the editorial board promised to continue work on priorities, including those left out of this year’s legislation, including child care and paid family leave; additional environmental efforts; addressing the student loan debt crisis by lowering the costs of higher education; and especially, protecting access to abortion and contraception.
Child care, Murray said, remains a priority because of the lack of child care centers and the costs involved for families are keep people out of the workforce at a time when businesses are desperate for skilled workers. Murray is seeking federal grants that will help communities build and reopen child care centers, make sure child care workers are paid adequately, then address the costs of that care by capping its cost at 7 percent of a family’s income.
On abortion access, Murray said she intends to work to protect access to women’s heath and reproductive care, especially as states like Washington, where abortion remains legal, are already seeing an influx of patients coming in from states where that care has been banned or severely restricted. As well, protections from prosecution need to be put in place for health care providers who, for example work in Washington, but live in Idaho, she said.
Also to Murray’s credit was her work this year with Gov. Jay Inslee to commission a report that looked at the feasibility of removal of the lower Snake River dams in southeastern Washington in order to ensure the future survival of salmon, moving the discussion past years of impasse.
“This take-down-the-dams, don’t-take-down-the-dams debate has just been a 10-second sound bite debate for far too long,” Murray said. The report considered what would have to be replaced — and at what cost — not just in terms of electricity production, but also regarding freight transportation and irrigation.
The report found — and Murray and Inslee agreed — that removing dams is an option for protecting salmon and other fish, but not until the benefits of the dams are replaced. But that needs to be backed with a commitment from federal and state leaders to begin that work now so that option can be employed if — and more likely, when — needed. Murray recognizes that work must begin.
The refrain is common that both parties in Congress are in need of younger leaders to revitalize politics and better represent constituents. No doubt, Sens. Jackson and Magnuson later in their careers, heard those comments, too. Yet voters, noting their influence and effectiveness continued to return both men to office. Sen. Murray’s legislative record and the confidence in her leadership shown by her colleagues places her in their company and should earn Murray the continued support of Washington state’s voters.
About the board’s interviews
Readers will notice little detail in this editorial regarding Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley, her policy positions or her relevant experience. That was not the preference of the board, yet Smiley left us little choice.
We initially invited both candidates to participate in a joint interview, either in person or remotely. Because of the Senate schedule, an in-person interview with Murray was not possible, nor did the Murray campaign agree to a joint interview with Smiley. The board does not require candidates to commit to joint interviews. When possible that is our preference, but more important in consideration of an endorsement is that we have an opportunity to interview all candidates running for a position.
Smiley’s campaign was notified that the interviews would be separate, and a remote interview with Smiley was scheduled. However, when Smiley logged on to the planned online interview, she read a prepared statement that was critical of Murray — as expected of a challenger — and critical of the editorial board because we had agreed to separate interviews.
Smiley, after reading her statement, quickly left the remote meeting. She took no questions and provided no further information on her positions, priorities or experience. That is, of course, her choice. We don’t expect — and certainly cannot demand — candidates answer our questions. The interviews and our recommendations regarding candidates are, however, a service we provide to readers and we offer candidates an opportunity to share their responses for our readers’ consideration.
And in the end, it is the readers who make the final decision regarding our recommendation. We make endorsements to provide readers information they can use to select the candidate that best represents their concerns. There’s no expectation that readers will agree with our perspective. In fact, we’ve had readers tell us that they use the board’s endorsements by voting against candidates we recommended.
And that’s a fair use of those endorsements. But readers are denied even that when candidates decline an interview, or walk out without answering questions.
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