Sen. Patty Murray (D)
Elected: 1992, term expires 2010, 3rd term.
Born: Oct. 11, 1950, Seattle .
Education: WA St. U., B.A. 1972.
Family: Married (Rob); 2 children.
Elected office: Shoreline Schl. Bd., 1985–89, Pres., 1985–86; WA Senate, 1988–92.
Patty Murray is the senior senator from Washington, first elected in 1992. Murray grew up in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, one of seven children of a disabled World War II veteran. She graduated from Washington State University in 1972, married and stayed home to raise her children. In 1980, she was in Olympia trying to save a parent-education class she was teaching at Shoreline Community College, which was the target of budget cuts. A state legislator told her gruffly, “You’re just a mom in tennis shoes. You can’t make a difference.” As she said later, “Almost every woman I’ve ever met in politics got into it because she was mad about something.” She won her fight over the parents’ class, then ran for the Shoreline School District board. She eventually was chosen board president. In 1988, she challenged a Republican state senator, knocked on 17,000 doors and won the seat. Then in late 1991, Murray decided to run against U.S. Sen. Brock Adams, a Democrat who was under a cloud following charges of sexual harassment. He ultimately decided not to seek re-election.
|Patty Murray (D)||1,549,708||(55%)||($11,556,148)|
|George Nethercutt (R)||1,204,584||(43%)||($7,726,296)|
|Patty Murray (D)||709,497||(92%)|
|Warren Hanson (D)||46,490||(6%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (58%), 1992 (54%)
Amid a crowd of better-known, conventional male politicians, Murray, with her flat, Midwestern-style accent and “mom in tennis shoes” line, attracted most of the attention. In the 1992 all-party primary, her main Democratic opponent was former U.S. Rep. Don Bonker, who had narrowly lost a Senate nomination in 1988. But Murray won 28% of the total vote to Bonker’s 19%. She then sprinted to a big lead in polls against Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Chandler, winning 54%-46% in November.
In the Senate, Murray has had a largely liberal voting record. In her first years, she was criticized as too staff reliant, but she grew into the role of senator and eventually moved into leadership roles in the Senate Democratic Caucus. She won a seat on the Appropriations Committee and immersed herself in Washington state issues. She was one of the Senate’s staunchest proponents of normal trade relations with China, a position strongly backed by Boeing. When Democrats gained their Senate majority in June 2001, Murray became chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. She delivered for the state, and then some: $190 million in projects, more than twice as much as in 2000. She has continued to deliver large sums for her state, earning appreciation from the folks at home, no doubt, but also a reputation as one of the Senate’s worst pork-barrel spenders. The Washington watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense dubbed her the “Queen of Pork.” Murray is unapologetic about using her Appropriations seat to steer funding to her state, arguing that lawmakers, not bureaucrats, should make funding decisions. “Earmarks are how those of us who live 2,500 miles from the nation’s Capitol ensure projects critical to our state are funded,” she said. In 2005, she defended Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska by threatening to drop targeted projects from her appropriations bill if Democrats supported an amendment to strip “pork” from spending bills.
Murray also has worked to remove restrictions on abortion and has prevailed in the Senate on legislation allowing abortions in military hospitals. With Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, she waged a fight with the Bush administration over the approval of over-the-counter sales of the Plan B contraceptive. They threatened to put a hold on the president’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, then dropped the hold when the administration assured them the FDA would make a decision. When the FDA again postponed its decision, citing regulatory complications for sales to teenagers, they were incensed. “This is not only a broken promise to us, but another frightening example of politics trumping science at the FDA,” Murray said. Murray and Clinton again threatened to hold up appointments at the FDA, and in 2006, the agency gave its approval to Plan B sales for women 18 years and older.
On defense issues, Murray voted in 2002 against using force in Iraq and has been a vociferous critic of the Bush administration’s war policy, accusing the administration of failing to plan for the full cost of the war. In 2007, she managed the Senate floor debate on the Iraq War supplemental funding bill. Murray also is one of the Senate’s most persistent advocates for veterans’ funding. She has sponsored bills for more benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops called up to active duty and successfully fought for more health-care funding for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Republicans initially rejected her attempt to add $2 billion for veterans’ health care, but relented and added $1.5 billion after it was revealed that the Veterans’ Administration was using dated cost estimates and expected a shortfall. Conservative Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania conceded, “We were in error. Senator Murray was right.” She also advocated specialized care for soldiers returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, a common hazard for troops exposed to roadside bombings. And she and Republican Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri co-authored a provision in 2008 to provide $75 million for housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
Murray strongly backed the Air Force’s controversial proposals to either lease or buy KC-767 aerial refueling tankers from Boeing. The European consortium Airbus wanted to bid on the contract, which Murray said would be “the outsourcing of our national defense.” In March 2008, she said she was considering legislation that would require military equipment to be manufactured exclusively in the United States. On another issue of interest back home, Murray’s longtime efforts to create a Wild Sky wilderness area near Washington’s Skykomish River came to fruition in April 2008, when Congress passed her bill designating 106,000 acres as wilderness.
In the 2002 election, Murray chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which put her in charge of recruiting candidates and raising money for the party. She nearly doubled the committee’s fundraising, bringing in $158 million during the cycle, and her recruiting efforts were mostly successful. But the results were disappointing, to say the least. Democrats lost more seats than they won that year, and they lost their Senate majority. Still, Murray’s efforts got high marks. In 2004, Democratic Leader Harry Reid appointed Murray assistant floor leader, and after Democrats won back the majority in 2006, her colleagues elected her Democratic Conference Secretary, the fourth-ranking position in the leadership.
Murray has won re-election twice by impressive margins. In 1998, she was challenged by U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, a Republican and a strong opponent of abortion and of free trade. Murray raised far more money than Smith and won 58%-42%. In 2004, she faced Republican George Nethercutt, another U.S. House member, who in 1994 earned a reputation as a giant killer by defeating Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. But the former mom in tennis shoes had become a hardball fundraiser: An aide put out the word to lobbyists that the senator would regard contributions to Nethercutt as hostile, even if contributors gave to her too. Murray raised $11.5 million, much more than Nethercutt’s $7.7 million.
Nethercutt campaigned vigorously, and big-name Republicans came in for him. He tried to put his own stamp on one of Murray’s efforts to create the Wild Sky wilderness. He had never supported it, but in 2004, he had sponsored the bill in the House and persuaded the chairman of Resources at the time, Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who had bottled it up, to allow a vote on it. But Pombo insisted on eliminating 13,000 acres of low-level forest, and leaders of environmental groups strenuously objected. In September, Nethercutt ran an ad featuring Murray’s controversial 2002 comments on Osama bin Laden’s good works and speculating about bin Laden’s popularity in some corners of the world. The Seattle Times denounced the ad, but Nethercutt responded, “I defy her to find a day-care center that Osama bin Laden has built.” Yet the ad did not seem to move votes, and he remained well behind in the polls.
Murray also ran attack ads, charging that Nethercutt had missed House votes, characterizing him as an extreme conservative, and referring to his opposition to abortion by showing a woman being booked in jail on an abortion charge. On Election Day, Nethercutt reduced Murray’s 1998 margin, but not by much. She won 55%-43%. It was almost as if the election had been held in two states: Nethercutt carried every county east of the Cascades, and Murray carried all but two counties to the west.
Only in her 50s, Murray is young enough to advance far up the chain on Appropriations. And she is well positioned to one day become the first woman to chair the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.