Georgia is on the minds of Democratic U.S. Senators from the Pacific Northwest.
The Peachtree State votes January 5th on not one but two U.S. Senate seats, with control of Congress’ upper chamber up for grabs.
If Democratic challengers (the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff) eke out victory, Democrats will grab control of the Senate for the first time since 2014.
The stakes in Washington, D.C., are enormous. If the Democrats capture fifty seats, Vice President Kamala Harris, as President of the Senate, can break ties, make Senator Chuck Schumer the Senate Majority Leader, and take away Mitch McConnell’s ability to block the agenda and appointments of President Joe Biden.
But much is also at stake in this Washington.
Senator Maria Cantwell would likely become chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. The conservationist/climate advocate would also be a high-ranking majority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senator Patty Murray would likely chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and be just behind Senator Pat Leahy (D‑Vermont) on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sure to resume would be jokes about Murray wearing a red hat in the Senate’s “College of Cardinals,” a common nickname for subcommittee chairs on Appropriations.
The expansion of Democrats’ power would not stop there.
Senator Ron Wyden, D‑Oregon, would likely chair the powerful Senate Finance Committee, on which Cantwell also serves. Senator Jon Tester, D‑Montana, is in line to chair the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Power is where power goes, Lyndon Johnson used to say.
It has come the way of our region before.
Democratic Senator Warren Magnuson of Washington chaired Appropriations in the 1970s, with Republican Senator Mark Hatfield in the chair when Republicans took control. Maggie’s legacy? The great third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam. Think it a coincidence the Hatfield name adorns everything from the marine sciences center in Newport to the lately besieged federal building in Portland?
Senator Henry Jackson, D‑Washington, vastly expanded the national parks system as chair of what was then the Senate Interior Committee, including creation of Washington’s North Cascades National Park. “Scoop” Jackson was architect of the National Environmental Policy Act, our nation’s seminal environmental law.
Here’s at a look at the four potential “Mister Chairman” and “Madame Chairs” from our Douglas fir adorned corner of this big country.
Cantwell has inherited the Jackson mantle, sitting on three “A” list committees that make national policy. She moved to Commerce in 2019 after serving as ranking Democrat on Energy and Natural Resources.
On the latter panel, she has crossed swords (Arctic Refuge) and cooperated (Great American Outdoors Act) with Chair Lisa Murkowski, R‑Alaska.
Cantwell has shown remarkable effectiveness during the Trump era.
She has embedded and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses federal offshore oil revenues to pay for a plethora of conservation and recreation projects.
She worked with Murkowski to authorize and begin construction of a fleet of heavy-duty polar icebreakers. She used an earlier outdoors bill to put 311,000 acres of Washington’s upper Methow Valley off-limits to mining exploration.
Cantwell is a policy wonk. Any aide assigned a technical task (e.g. dismantling of the Tacoma Smelter) has found themselves having to keep up with the boss’ knowledge. On Finance, Cantwell was a major architect of the Dodd-Frank bill aimed at requiring more Wall Street accountability. Cantwell withheld her vote from the bill until she secured tougher provisions.
Senator Murray is part of the Senate Democratic leadership, consigned of late to sending lengthy protest letters decrying Trump policies to Trump cabinet secretaries. They’ve rarely received an answer.
She was given exactly five minutes to question U.S. Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos at a HELP confirmation hearing.
Murray mustered fifty “No” votes on the DeVos nomination, only to have Vice President Mike Pence break the Senate tie.
Murray has been a trenchant DeVos critic.
She was also one of the first to raise alarm of a potential COVID-19 pandemic, since seven of the first ten deaths of the coronavirus were in Washington.
If Democrats take Senate control, look for a revitalized Murray. Of late, she has been less accessible to constituents and Pacific Northwest media, too heavily shielded by staff and burdened with a communications staff that churns out boilerplate prose. Murray has a knack for impasse breaking. The talent will be usable again if the master of impasse creation, Mitch McConnell, is dethroned.
Jon Tester raised the wrath of Donald Trump more than any other Democratic senator up for reelection in 2018. Tester did so by investigating and blocking Trump’s nomination of Ronny Jackson to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump made four trips to Montana to campaign against Tester.
Pence was in the Big Sky State, along with Donald Trump, Jr.
A Billings, Montana, high school senior, Tyler Linfesty, stood behind Trump at a rally. Americans received, from the “plaid shirt guy”, a rare up-close reaction of a normal American hearing Trump.
Linfesty appeared to roll his eyes and chuckle at lies told by the occupant of the Oval Office. He was ushered out of the Trump backdrop and briefly held.
Though other red state Democratic senators (including Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill) were booted from office in the 2018 midterms, Tester survived, and will be representing Montana through at least the end of 2024.
Ron Wyden began his career as an advocate for the elderly, founding the Oregon chapter of Gray Panthers and directing the Oregon Legal Services Center for the Elderly. He once worked as a driver for fiery Senator Wayne Morse.
Wyden was elected to Congress in 1980 as an insurgent, defeating conservative Democratic Representative Bob Duncan.
He has been there ever since. Wyden made his name as an investigator on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and in 1996 won the Senate seat vacated by a disgraced Bob Packwood. Wyden has continued his role as an investigator. He has opposed nominees of both Republican and Democratic presidents. And he is one of Congress’ tech and cybersecurity experts.
Wyden has carried on an Oregon tradition of accountability and accessibility. He holds well attended town hall meetings across the Beaver State, often in rural Eastern Oregon counties that vote Republican.
In years past, chairs of the Senate Finance Committee – Lloyd Bentsen, D‑Texas, and Packwood – used their taxing powers to establish exclusive breakfast groups with lobbyists. The price of admission, donations of $5,000 or $10,000.
If Wyden becomes chair, voters in Burns, Baker City, Bend and Milton-Freewater will be able to personally interact with the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate candidates Warnock and Ossoff are underdogs in Georgia, but 2.3 million votes have already been cast, a record for a Georgia runoff, and public opinion research suggests both races could be won by either party’s ticket.