My trolls like to disparage me as a Darcy Burner fanboy, but I’m much more pragmatic than most folks imagine, for while other local bloggers had quickly lined up behind Darcy by the early fall of 2005, I insisted on waiting until after I saw who else might jump into the race.
In fact, I didn’t merely wait, but rather proactively reached out to then Republican state Rep. Fred Jarrett, urging him to challenge incumbent Dave Reichert… as a Democrat. And Fred’s thoughtful response not only deepened my respect for him, but ultimately convinced me that Darcy’s relative youth was an asset, not a liability:
I’m honored you’d make such a suggestion. Thanks. The truth is that I’m too old to run for Congress. It would be a waste of the state’s time. We need someone at the oldest in their early 40s (early-to-mid-30s would be best) to be Norm Dicks’ replacement. Notice what his seniority has done for the state, or better still, look at how the South has been able to dominate national legislative policy through their “seniority strategy.” All of Robert Caro’s books on LBJ demonstrate this in spades.
I hope that Fred doesn’t mind me publishing our private correspondence these years later, but his words of advice came back to me on news of Rep. David Obey’s retirement, and the likely elevation of Washington’s own Rep. Norm Dicks to the chairmanship of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Like it or not, a substantial segment of our state’s economy has long been dependent on our national military-industrial complex. Turn up your nose at such “pork barrel politics,” but that Air Force tanker contract for example, it’s gonna create jobs — either here in blue Washington, or to a lesser extent in red Alabama — and whatever the technical merits of Boeing’s bid, our aerospace workers would be at a severe competitive disadvantage without a powerful congressional delegation to back them up.
Likewise Washington is constantly competing with other states for billions of dollars of federal grants for education, health care, transportation, and other critical services and infrastructure projects. Again, it’d be nice to be more high-minded about it, but that wouldn’t get us very far in such an adversarial appropriations process.
So while Dicks might not be my favorite member of our state’s House delegation, he’s by far its most powerful, and thus we all have a selfish stake in his ascension to the Appropriations chair, and in assuring that Democrats maintain control of Congress. That’s something voters in WA-03 might want to consider as they fill the open seat down in that swing district; if Democrats lose control of the House, Dicks will lose much of his ability to help his colleagues bring home the bacon. And we all love bacon.
The same, by the way, holds true for Sen. Patty Murray. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the chair of its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, Murray has played a key role in securing federal dollars for vital local projects. Billions of dollars for Hanford cleanup? Thank Sen. Murray. $813 million to finish the Link Light Rail tunnel from Westlake to the UW? Sen. Murray has been Sound Transit’s “chief patron.” The federal dollars needed to fix the failing Howard Hanson dam? It’s Sen. Murray who is leading the charge in the other Washington.
It takes years to build up that kind of seniority and power. Decades. Sen. Murray is one of the most powerful Democrats in the U.S. Senate. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that she could even be Majority Leader come January, 2011. So lose Sen. Murray and Washington state stands to lose billions of dollars in desperately needed federal money. That’s just the way the system works.
And that’s why, for example, I expect the Seattle Times to endorse Sen. Murray this November, regardless of her opponent. And I’ve proven pretty uncanny in predicting Seattle Times endorsements.
Yeah, sure, the economy sucks, and it’s always cathartic to send politicians a message. But Washington state simply does not have that luxury when it comes to senior congressional leaders like Rep. Dicks and Sen. Murray, and the Democratic majority that grants them their power. Thus wherever you stand ideologically, it is hard to argue that a Republican wave this November would be in the interest of Washington state.