Washington: Senior Senator|
Sen. Patty Murray (D)
Last Updated September 23, 2003
Patty Murray is the senior senator from Washington, first elected in 1992. Murray grew up in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, the daughter of a disabled veteran. She graduated from Washington State University in 1972, married and stayed home to raise her children. In 1980, when she was in Olympia trying to save from budget cuts a parent education class she was teaching at Shoreline Community College, a state legislator told her gruffly, "You're just a mom in tennis shoes; you can't make a difference." As she had said later, "Almost every woman I've ever met in politics got into it because she was mad about something." But like many committed public employees, she won her fight; then she ran for the Shoreline School District board, lost, was appointed and then elected, and served as president. In 1988 she challenged a Republican state senator, knocked on 17,000 doors and won the seat. Her first great cause there was extending a family leave bill to include leave for a parent whose child is sick or dying; she threatened to put the proposal on the ballot, and won the issue. Then in late 1991 she decided to run against U.S. Senator Brock Adams, who was under a cloud from charges of sexual harassment and later decided not to seek reelection.
Amid a crowd of better-known conventional male politicians, Murray, with her flat accent and "mom in tennis shoes" line, attracted most of the attention and most of the votes. In the all-party primary, her main Democratic opponent was former Congressman Don Bonker, who had narrowly lost a Senate nomination in 1988. But Murray won 28% of the total vote to Bonker's 19%. Meanwhile, three well-known Republicans vied: Congressman Rod Chandler won 20% to 16% for state Senator Leo Thorsness and 11% for King County Executive Tim Hill. Murray sprinted to a big lead in polls, and in November won 54%-46%. Her margins over Chandler were similar to Bill Clinton's over George Bush, except in eastern Washington, which Clinton nearly carried but where Murray ran 10% behind.
In the Senate Murray has had a largely liberal voting record. In her first years she refused to see Washington industry lobbyists; in a scathing Seattle Times profile in 1996, Robert Nelson wrote of Murray, "Colleagues, lobbyists and former staff members view her as indifferent to issues that can't be explained through anecdotes about her family and neighbors." She got a seat on Appropriations and became involved in Washington issues: seeking funding for cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, trying to preserve the undammed Hanford Reach of the Columbia as a wild and scenic river. Murray defended Microsoft against the antitrust case brought by the Clinton Justice Department; she criticized Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's decision in November 1999. Murray was one of the Senate's strongest proponents of PNTR with China--a position strongly backed by Boeing; she also favors relaxing export restrictions on encryption technology. In January 2001 she mediated a 45-day strike by the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild against the Seattle Times.
When Democrats gained their Senate majority in June 2001, Murray became chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. By December 2001 her appropriation had $190 million of projects for Washington, more than twice as much as in 2000--$20 million for the Sounder Commuter Rail between Tacoma and Lakewood, $9.5 million for Puget Sound transit hubs, $12.6 million for repair of Seattle's earthquake-damaged Pier 36. John McCain, in his campaign against what he considers pork barrel spending, singled out two items for abuse: $3 million for the Odyssey Maritime Project, actually a Seattle museum (the owner gave the Senate campaign committee Murray headed $25,000) and $4.65 million for the Coast Guard to purchase a fast boat built by Guardian Marine International which it hadn't requested. Her appropriation also included money for the Air Force to lease up to 100 Boeing 767s over 10 years, to replace aging KC-135 tankers at a potential cost of $26 billion. McCain called this one of "the great rip-offs in the history of the United States of America" and "war profiteering." In July 2001 she and ranking minority member Richard Shelby sought to restrict Mexican trucks in the United States. Under the NAFTA treaty ratified in 1993, they were supposed to be able to venture beyond a 20-mile border zone in January 2002. Murray and Shelby argued that Mexican trucks were unsafe and called for requiring them to undergo inspections and weigh-in-motion scales on the border and to obtain insurance from U.S. licensed insurers. This was a big priority for the Teamsters Union, long a major presence in Washington. The House had passed an even stricter bill, but the Bush administration threatened to veto the appropriation if it stayed in. In conference committee in November, under threat of veto, Murray and Shelby compromised by relaxing their inspection and insurance provisions.
Murray and Olympia Snowe have long sought to have abortions allowed in military hospitals; they lost by narrow margins in May 1999 and June 2000, but prevailed 52-40 in June 2002. They also co-sponsored a bill to create a national sales tax holiday during the 10 days after Thanksgiving 2001; the federal government would reimburse states $6.5 billion for lost revenues. Murray clashed with the senior Republican from Washington, Representative Jennifer Dunn, on the issue of federal judges. Murray and Republican Slade Gorton had had a bipartisan panel to select judges but Dunn, when Republicans had the Senate majority, rejected that approach. She set up her own panel and either (Dunn's version) invited Murray and Maria Cantwell to participate or (Murray's version) simply named her own nominee, whom Murray and Cantwell blocked.
In December 1998 Murray was named vice-chairman of the DSCC and in December 2000, when no one else seemed to want the job, she succeeded Bob Torricelli as chairman. Torricelli had set records in fundraising and helped Democrat gain five seats and get within reach of a majority. Murray nearly doubled Torricelli in fundraising and brought in $158 million during the cycle. She also did a fine job of recruiting candidates. But she did less well at the polls. Democrats took only one seat from Republicans and lost three to them--and the Senate majority. After the election Murray said, "We need to not feel we lost, as everyone likes to portray at this point. Had we not had those two plane crashes"--one which killed Democratic nominee Mel Carnahan in October 2000 and the other which killed incumbent Paul Wellstone in October 2002--"we would still be in the majority."
In December 2002, at a meeting with an honors class at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Murray, who voted against the Iraq war resolution in October, was asked about Osama bin Laden. She said, "We've got to ask, 'Why is this man [Osama bin Laden] so popular around the world? Why are people so supportive of him in many countries … that are riddled with poverty?' He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that. How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?" Republicans and conservatives in the media immediately criticized this comment in harsh tones. Murray aides, playing defense, pointed out that the State Department website said that bin Laden had in fact built roads, tunnels, hospitals and storage depots in Afghanistan, but could not point to other countries except perhaps Sudan where he had done such good works, nor could they point to any day care centers he had built. For several days Murray refused to comment and then, rather than defend the substance of her remarks, she complained that she was being criticized. "What is important is that we have to have thoughtful debates and discussions in this country and raise questions and answer them without being pulled into some right wing media frenzy. That is truly frightening to me."
All this prompted some Republicans to speculate that Murray might be vulnerable when she comes up for reelection in 2004, even though she won reelection by a solid margin in 1998. Her opponent that year was Congresswoman Linda Smith, another mom in tennis shoes--a strong opponent of abortion, backer of campaign finance regulation and opponent of free trade, a favorite of Ross Perot who was mistrusted by the Republican leadership. In the all-party primary (California's was ruled unconstitutional in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court) in September, Smith won the Republican nomination with 32% of all votes; Murray won 46%. The all-party primary used to be a good predictor of November results, and these numbers made it look like a close race. But the primary came when Bill Clinton's numbers were at their lowest that year, before release of the Starr report, when they jumped back up. Murray campaigned as a public official who had addressed issues of importance to Washington voters--"apples to aerospace, high-tech to Hanford, saving salmon to educating kids." She raised far more money than Smith, who spent much of her money on direct mail rather than TV ads. On Election Day and before (about one-third of Washington's votes that year were cast by absentee ballot) Murray won 58%-42%, winning 63% in the Seattle area and 55% in west Washington; Smith carried the east by only 51%-49%. After the November 2002 election, Murray said that she was "absolutely, positively" running again. Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, often mentioned as a possible opponent, took herself out of the race in April 2003. Also frequently mentioned as a candidate was Congressman George Nethercutt.
Update: September 23, 2003
On July 30, 2003, Nethercutt announced he will not seek reelection to the House and will run against Murray in 2004.
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202-224-2621; Fax: 202-224-0238; Web site: murray.senate.gov
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For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Expand Patients' Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Permit ANWR Development
|5. Confirm Ashcroft as AG
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. $ for Hate Crime Prosecution
| 8. Overseas Military Abortions
| 9. Bar Coop. with Intl. Court
|10. Trade Promotion Authority
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Homeland Sec. Dept. Union
||Patty Murray (D)
|Linda Smith (R)
||Patty Murray (D)
|Linda Smith (R)
|Chris Bayley (R)
||Patty Murray (D)
|Rod Chandler (R)
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