Sen. Maria Cantwell (D)
Elected: 2000, term expires 2012, 2nd term.
Born: Oct. 13, 1958, Indianapolis, IN .
Education: Miami U. (OH), B.A. 1980.
Elected office: WA House of Reps., 1986-92; U.S. House of Reps., 1992-94.
Professional Career: Owner, Cantwell & Assoc. PR firm, 1985-91; RealNetworks, 1995-2000.
Democrat Maria Cantwell is Washington’s junior senator and was elected in 2000. Cantwell grew up in Indianapolis, where her father, Paul Cantwell, a construction worker, served as county commissioner, a city councilman and a state legislator. As a child, Cantwell observed politics firsthand as her father dispensed advice to the union members, laborers and politicians who stopped by to talk politics. During her father’s stint as an aide to U.S. Rep. Andrew Jacobs, she awoke one morning to the distinctive Boston accent of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts downstairs. Cantwell graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1980, the first in her family to graduate from college. She worked in Ohio for television personality Jerry Springer’s 1982 campaign for governor. (In 2003, when Springer was considering running for senator in Ohio, she said, “I think people will be surprised by his intellect. There’s much more to him than his TV show.”) Then she worked for Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston’s presidential campaign, going to Seattle to set up a regional campaign office. The Cranston campaign went nowhere, but Cantwell loved the Pacific Northwest and decided to stay. She moved to Mountlake Terrace, a suburb in Snohomish County just north of Seattle, where she organized a coalition to build a new library. In 1986, at age 28, she was elected to the Washington state House.
|Maria Cantwell (D)||1,184,659||(57%)||($14,013,932)|
|Mike McGavick (R)||832,106||(40%)||($10,842,132)|
|Maria Cantwell (D)||570,677||(91%)|
|Hong Tran (D)||33,124||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (49%), 1992 House (55%)
In 1992 Cantwell ran for an open U.S. House seat and won a solid 55%-42% victory. In the House, she did not support President Bill Clinton’s health-care plan, and she was a strong supporter of abortion rights and of stands backed by environmental advocacy groups. But she lost her 1994 bid for re-election to Republican Rich White, 52%-48%.
Back in the Seattle area, she joined a start-up firm called Progressive Networks in 1995. Five years later, it had become RealNetworks, a leader in Internet-based audio and visual software. In late 1999, her stock was worth about $40 million, and she decided to run against Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. Gorton, Microsoft’s leading advocate on Capitol Hill, had an increasingly conservative record on environmental and economic issues. Cantwell was an answer to Democrats’ prayers. Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, who also was running, was widely considered too liberal to win. The real difference was money. Cantwell, who liquidated more than $5 million in stock, spent freely, while Senn was on television only during the last two weeks before the September all-party primary. Cantwell won 37% of the total vote, to only 13% for Gorton, with 44% of the vote, was ahead but short of a majority.
Cantwell said she would spend “whatever it takes” to win in the general election. At the same time, she made her support of McCain-Feingold-type campaign-finance regulation a major issue and refused to take contributions from political action committees or large donations known as “soft money” from the Democratic Party (though it put $640,000 into the state before Cantwell won the primary). She charged that Gorton was beholden to special-interest contributors, singling out his late-night amendment to open a cyanide-leach gold mine in Okanogan County. Gorton called Cantwell an old-style liberal Democrat who would have government meddling in health care, education and local environmental issues. Cantwell highlighted her experience in the high-tech private sector. Overall, she spent $11.5 million, $10.3 million of it her own money, to Gorton’s $6.4 million.
Gorton led on election night, but not by much. That year, 54% of the votes were cast absentee, and it took three weeks to count them all. The last two days’ worth of absentee ballots from heavily Democratic King County put Cantwell over the top by 1,953. A mandated recount left the margin at 2,229 for Cantwell, out of 2.4 million cast, the closest Senate contest of 2000. Cantwell carried only five counties: King, Snohomish, Thurston, which includes the state capital of Olympia, and two small counties in the west. Gorton carried eastern Washington 61%-36%, a lot but not quite enough to win. Cantwell’s victory created a tie in the Senate, until Vermont’s James Jeffords became an independent in May 2001 and gave Democrats a razor-thin majority. This race was a big loss for the Republican Party.
In the 111th Congress (2009-10), Cantwell chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources’ Energy Subcommittee. An energy bill passed by Congress in December 2008 contained a provision by Cantwell giving the Federal Trade Commission authority to fine companies or individuals that manipulate petroleum markets. She has an interest in environmental issues as well. She spearheaded an effort that removed an amendment inserted into a federal spending bill that she contended would hinder efforts to restore wild salmon populations in Northwest rivers. She has also advocated establishing an office within the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee efforts to clean up pollution in Puget Sound. She co-sponsored a bill to extend tax credits for wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy, which was included in the $700 billion bailout of the financial-services industry in 2008, although she voted against the final version of the bailout anyway.
In 2005, Cantwell waged a series of floor fights with then-Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that antagonized the powerful Alaska senator. Republicans narrowly rebuffed attempts by Cantwell in March and November to remove ANWR drilling from a budget bill. Stevens retaliated by introducing a bill that would expand oil-tanker traffic in the environmentally sensitive Puget Sound. Washington politicians of both parties protested the move, and a furor erupted when emails from BP were leaked that showed the oil giant, a Stevens contributor, had worked with Stevens for a year to open Puget Sound to more tankers that docked at BP’s Cherry Point refinery. Cantwell did little to defuse the conflict. She sponsored a bill that would require more tugboats to escort tankers into Puget Sound and send the bill to oil companies. The final battle over ANWR came in December 2005, when Republicans attached an ANWR measure to a defense spending bill. Cantwell worked the phones to round up votes among moderate Republicans to thwart it. Of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and go to final resolution of the bill, they got 56 votes. Stevens was incensed and suggested there would be political retribution: “I hope the senator from Washington likes my visits to Washington state, because I’m gonna visit there often,” he said.
Cantwell also has a seat on the powerful Finance Committee, which she got in 2006. In July 2007, she was the only member of the committee to vote against legislation aimed at preventing currency manipulation by foreign countries, saying the legislation would be viewed as protectionist. In 2008, she secured passage, also in the financial-services bailout bill, of a measure to temporarily extend the deductibility of state sales taxes, a popular tax break in Washington. Cantwell had helped pass the original legislation in 2003 with Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. It allows taxpayers to deduct state sales taxes as well as state income taxes on their federal income-tax forms; Washington, like Texas, has a sales tax but no income tax. In 2004, she tried to add to the corporate tax bill an extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans agreed to allow a vote on her amendment only if Democrats agreed to limit debate on the bill. Because of Senate rules, the amendment required 60 votes, but it got only 59.
A strong supporter of campaign-finance regulation, Cantwell had campaign-finance problems of her own. To fund her 2000 campaign, she had sold $5.6 million of her RealNetworks stock and had borrowed $3.8 million from a bank using the company’s stock as collateral. That enabled her to run the last-minute ads that surely were essential to her victory. The Federal Election Commission ruled in January 2004 that she had violated the law by failing to disclose the terms of the loans, but it evidently saw the offense as minor because it took no action against her. Paying off the loans should have been easy; Cantwell’s net worth at one point was around $40 million. But RealNetworks, like other high-tech firms, saw its stock price plummet, from $80 in spring 2000 to $6 in spring 2001. Suddenly she owed far more than the collateral was worth. She negotiated another loan that would come due December 2001, guaranteed by the DSCC. By the end of 2004, she had reduced the debt to $2.5 million. With $435,000 in cash, she was able to pay off the remaining $130,000 in bank loans.
Cantwell’s narrow victory in 2000 placed her high on the Republicans target list for 2006. National Republicans recruited Mike McGavick, chairman and chief executive officer at Safeco insurance. He was a smart, successful businessman, with moderate positions, personal wealth and speaking ability. He also had political smarts, having managed Gorton’s 1988 campaign and served as his chief of staff. But McGavick also acknowledged that he had been charged with drunken driving in 1993. Cantwell faced lingering discontent from liberals in the party for her 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution. But the earlier, well-publicized dustup with Stevens helped the reserved and cautious Cantwell, allowing her to show she could stand up to Stevens and the oil lobby in defense of Washington’s environment. “Cantwell never had it so good until she had it so bad with Stevens,” Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter wrote in January 2006. Stevens withdrew his tanker bill in March 2006, saying McGavick had persuaded him to pull the bill. When McGavick attended a fundraiser in April in Anchorage hosted by the Alaska delegation, the news made the front page of the Seattle Times.
McGavick poured $2.5 million of own money in race, but in the end he was still outspent $14 million to $10.8 million by Cantwell. In a Democratic year in a Democratic-leaning state, she won 57%-40%.