Larsen’s first political steps toward D.C. look promising

Just as the nation enters an exciting time of political change, the Northwest corner of Washington is seeing its own promising changing of the guard.

When Congress reconvenes after the first of the year, Rick Larsen, a Democrat, will become the 2nd District’s representative, replacing Republican Jack Metcalf, who is retiring after an long and honorable political career.

Like President-elect George W. Bush, Larsen is talking about bipartisanship and cooperation. The Snohomish County Council member also brings fresh energy, which could prove useful at a time when the district is looking for federal partnerships in addressing transportation, environmental and economic issues.

For all the challenges facing the region and the nation, this is a hopeful time. New ideas and new energy can make for strong performance by both the next administration and Congress. It’s particularly hopeful that both President-elect Bush and many in Congress seem to be on the same page about working together.

Policy differences will certainly remain. But as House Speaker Dennis Hastert and many other Republicans in Congress are suggesting, there are substantial areas of agreement as well. The speaker suggested Thursday that tax cuts for married couples and heirs of estates should be pursued quickly, an idea that, depending on the details, will surely draw agreement from many Democrats. Another promising area for drawing rapid bipartisan support surely includes an improved military budget.

Larsen suggests that with energy issues looming, Bush might also consider supporting pipeline reform, a matter of importance to this area because of the Olympic Pipe Line disaster last year. Having talked about his environmental record in Texas, the new president might well be able to make improvements to both public protection and energy supplies by seizing the pipeline issue.

Of course, Bush and freshman members of Congress will walk into a city where bitter partisanship and gridlock have become widely accepted facts. Significant forces will be arrayed against making the tough choices involved with bipartisan compromise. The newcomers in Congress recognize the challenge, Larsen said, but they remain interested in pursuing less divisiveness. Larsen noted that freshman Democrats elected a liaison to the incoming Republicans. The GOP’s newcomers are responding with their own appointment of a liaison to the Democrats.

As Larsen prepares to take office, it’s impressive that he has stayed on top of his county council duties. Looking ahead, he has appointed a very able group of aides to lead his congressional staff in D.C., Everett and Bellingham. House Democratic leaders can do both the district and Larsen a favor by giving him good assignments from among his top three committee choices — transportation, military and banking. Indeed, it would be in the party’s interest to give him assignments to key committees, since his election race was one of the most hotly contested in the country.

It’s an unfortunate fact that much of American government has been turned into perpetual political campaigning. That’s a very real problem for Congress and, particularly, new House members. Larsen will serve his district best if he can keep his focus on both the spirit of cooperation signaled by President-elect Bush at the national level and the needs of his constituents at home. It’s a tough balancing act but Larsen’s first steps are promising.

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