OPINION: Our Senior-Junior Senator

By:  Kelli Scott
Source: The Wenatchee World

Two senators. Two very different styles.

Warren Magnuson was elected to the U.S. Senate from Washington in 1944. He was a workhorse, more interested in legislative wins than scoring national headlines. Maggie was known for his carousing, his hard drinking. He dated a string of glamorous women, including a beauty queen, an actress and an heiress, before marrying his second wife Jermaine in 1964. (Lyndon Johnson was his best man.) From his powerful perch on the Appropriations Committee, Magnuson brought millions upon millions of federal dollars home to Washington. Walter Mondale said of him:

"He is scrupulously fair with federal funds; one half for Washington state, one half for the rest of the country."

Then there was Everett's hometown hero, Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, elected to the Senate in 1953. Scoop was a straight-edge former prosecutor who made a name for himself going after bootleggers. Old-school state delegation staffers say Scoop was known to lecture Magnuson: "Maggie, you gotta live a better life!"

And yet, despite their many differences, Sens. Magnuson and Jackson served remarkably well together, leading Washington state into an unprecedented era of influence in Congress. Their ability to funnel appropriations and government contracts to Washington earned them the nickname the "Gold Dust Twins." Now, all these years later, the two men's legacies seem almost inseparable.

For all 28 years they served together, Sen. Jackson was the state's junior senator. That's how it works: The longer-serving senator gets the seniority. And yet, the word "junior" never fit Jackson. He was a powerhouse in his own right with an impressive legislative record. He fought for Boeing jobs, was a military hawk and environmental crusader, and he ran for president. It wasn't until Republican Slade Gorton unseated Magnuson in the Reagan wave of 1980 that Jackson was elevated to senior senator status. (Despite all that clean living, Jackson died just three years later.)

Today our junior senator is Maria Cantwell and, while she's not Scoop Jackson, she has earned the respect of her colleagues and some serious seniority in Congress. She now ranks 11th of all Senate Democrats. Cantwell has represented her constituents well for 16 years now, all the while serving as the junior to Sen. Patty Murray's senior.

Maria Cantwell, 58, grew up the second of five children in a working-class family in Indianapolis, the first in her family to graduate from college.

She was elected to the U.S. House in 1992, but lost her seat in 1994, so she returned to Seattle and became a tech entrepreneur, where she made her millions. She was elected to the Senate in 2000 as a pro-business Democrat, taking the seat from Gorton.

She is pro-choice and pro-trade. She is no ideologue. She is a high-ranking member of the Commerce Committee and the top Democrat on its Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. She pays attention to Washington state beyond the I-5 corridor, and knows Eastern Washington issues, including agriculture. Mike Wade of Columbia Fruit Packers called her "a long-time supporter of the agriculture industry," after a recent meeting with Cantwell in D.C."I think she genuinely gets where they're coming from," a retired Cantwell staffer told me about her interest in ag. She is focused on wildfire and forest health. She's pushing now for benefits and recognition for wildland firefighters.

As a lowly 20-something House staffer with absolutely no clout and a closet full of outlet mall skirt-suits back in the early '00s, I was in total awe of Sen. Cantwell. She had a reputation for being hard on her staff, for asking a lot of them. I was, I will admit, afraid of the woman. I was also a major fan -- the way she commanded a room, the way she refused to tolerate nonsense non-answers from her aides. There was no "I'm sorry..." before her statements. There was no sweetening her stances. For all this she was labeled tough, aggressive. And even though there were plenty of aggressive, sharp-tongued men in Congress, we did not talk about them in the same way.

Sen. Cantwell, like Sen. Jackson, has spent her career as our junior senator. And, like Scoop, she has proven herself to be far more than "junior."

On Saturday, Sen. Cantwell will attend a town hall meeting at the Wenatchee High School Auditorium. For all the details and to register for free tickets, go to cantwell.senate.gov/townhalls.