Cantwell will chair Senate Indian Affairs Committee

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., will chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in the new Congress, according to committee assignments released on Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Cantwell will continue to serve on three other Senate panels.

Support from Indian tribes helped Cantwell win election to the Senate in 2000 over incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in the country’s closest Senate race.

The Cantwell  appointment means that both Washington senators will be addressed as “Madame Chairman” come January.  Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will be the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Murray has chaired the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, but will relinquish the post when she takes over Budget.

The committee list for the new Senate, in which the Democrats will have a 55-45 majority — including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats — brings another significant appointment for the Northwest.  Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, gets a coveted post on the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Murray is already a senior member and subcommittee chair on Appropriations.

Cantwell has a heavy workload.  She already sits on the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I am proud of my work with Washington state tribes on issues such as self-determination, education, health care and environmental issues including salmon restoration,” Cantwell said.  “I would be proud to serve as the first female chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.”

Cantwell took more than 60 percent of the vote in November as she won a third term.  She was elected to the Senate in 2000 by a margin of less than 3,000 votes over Gorton.

Gorton had chaired the Indian Affairs panel, and angered tribes with legislative proposals  would have put limits on tribal sovereignty on reservation land.   Led by W. Ron Allen, chairperson of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe — and a former president of the National Congress of American Indians — Indian Country raised a six-figure war chest to defeat Gorton’s bid for reelection.

Environmental groups, which invested heavily in several 2012 campaigns, had reason to cheer over the Senate’s new committee lists.  Two of their favored candidates, Sens.-elect Hartin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) won seats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

And, to the delight of Wall Street critics, Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren will sit on the Senate Banking Committee.