Senators Cantwell and Murray
Senators Cantwell and Murray together outside one of the Senate offices (Photo: Senator Maria Cantwell's office)

As a baby boomer, I grew up in times when the Ever­green State was rep­re­sent­ed in Con­gress by the leg­endary Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors War­ren G. Mag­nu­son and Hen­ry M. “Scoop” Jack­son, or the “Gold Dust Twins” as they were known from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to Wash­ing­ton State.

They served togeth­er for twen­ty-eight years. Each chaired a pow­er­ful com­mit­tee. Each left a lega­cy: As Sen­ate Inte­ri­or Com­mit­tee chair, Jack­son wrote the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act. Mag­gie caused the great sec­ond pow­er­house at Grand Coulee Dam to be built. It is help­ing heat us on this cold snowy win­ter day.

Wash­ing­ton is now rep­re­sent­ed by two solons, Sen­a­tors Maria Cantwell and Pat­ty Mur­ray, who have been seat­mates for twen­ty years. With Democ­rats now run­ning Con­gress’ upper cham­ber again after over a half-decade of Repub­li­can con­trol, each vet­er­an sen­a­tor chairs an influ­en­tial Sen­ate committee.

Mur­ray is “Madam Chair” of HELP, the Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee. Cantwell heads the Sen­ate Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee. Mag­nu­son wield­ed the gav­el at Com­merce from 1955 to 1977, when he moved up to chair the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Committee.

What’s the dif­fer­ence of being in the majority?

In 2017, then-Chair Lamar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee, a Repub­li­can, held a HELP con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on Pres­i­dent Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of bil­lion­aire donor Bet­sy DeVos as U.S. Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion. The rushed hear­ing was held before DeVos had sub­mit­ted her finan­cial dis­clo­sure infor­ma­tion to Congress.

Although the committee’s rank­ing Demo­c­rat, Mur­ray had exact­ly five min­utes to ques­tion DeVos. No sec­ond round of ques­tion­ing was allowed for. The five min­utes were well spent. Mur­ray went on to mar­shal fifty “No” votes on the DeVos nom­i­na­tion. V.P. Mike Pence broke the tie and sent her into the Cabinet.

At Com­merce, Mag­gie relied on gut instinct – but what a gut it was.

He super­vised draft­ing of the pub­lic accom­mo­da­tions sec­tion of the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act, deft­ly turn­ing back assaults by seg­re­ga­tion­ist Sen­a­tor Strom Thur­mond, R‑South Car­oli­na. He also presided as auto­mo­bile giant Gen­er­al Motors apol­o­gized to Ralph Nad­er for spy­ing on the author of Unsafe at Any Speed, an expose of the Cor­vair that trig­gered auto safe­ty legislation.

Cantwell is a wonk’s wonk, serv­ing on three “A” list com­mit­tees – Com­merce, Finance and Ener­gy & Nat­ur­al Resources. In tak­ing the gav­el, she promised that Com­merce will “oper­ate in a col­le­gial fash­ion,” not­ing Coast Guard reau­tho­riza­tion leg­is­la­tion that has bro­ken the ice on get­ting new polar icebreakers.

She recalled meet­ing Mag­nu­son in retire­ment at his home in Mag­no­lia when he was enter­tain­ing Sen­a­tor Dan Inouye of Hawaii.

“We live in an infor­ma­tion age, and we just have to own up to it,” she said. “To me it’s bet­ter to pre­pare for that infor­ma­tion age, so every­thing from pri­va­cy to broad­band to AI to cyber­se­cu­ri­ty to STEM. “

As the first woman to chair Com­merce, she added: “To my fel­low col­leagues, all of you but par­tic­u­lar­ly the women, I hope that we can do a bet­ter job on strate­gies to help women in the work­force, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the STEM fields of sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing and math.”

Wash­ing­ton is one of five states (along with Neva­da, Min­neso­ta, New Hamp­shire and Cal­i­for­nia) to have been rep­re­sent­ed by two women in the Senate.

Dur­ing much of the reign of Mag­gie and Scoop, the total was one or two women in the whole Sen­ate: Now there are twen­ty-three female senators.

Our state’s new “gold dust twins” have flexed mus­cle already.

The Trump regime ignored Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s request for a fed­er­al emer­gency dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion for coun­ties and reser­va­tion land hit hard by last summer’s wild­fires. Prob­a­bly a func­tion of Trump’s call­ing Inslee “a snake.”

Mur­ray and Cantwell wrote to Pres­i­dent Biden two days after he took office.

Biden came through with a dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion with­in two weeks.

Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray with Joe Biden in October of 2010
Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell speaks at a ral­ly for Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray in Octo­ber of 2010, flanked by Mur­ray and Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, who was at that time Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Sen­a­tor Cantwell man­aged to be a pro­duc­tive leg­is­la­tor while Trump held office. She worked with Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, R‑Alaska, to get Coast Guard cut­ters under design and con­struc­tion. She secured per­ma­nent autho­riza­tion and fund­ing for the Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund, under pro­vi­sions of last year’s Great Amer­i­can Out­doors Act. A big deal.

The Trump years were more frus­trat­ing for Mur­ray, a mem­ber of the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship. She bom­bard­ed the pres­i­dent and Cab­i­net sec­re­taries with let­ters that went unan­swered and intro­duced leg­is­la­tion that Repub­li­can com­mit­tee chairs sat on. But she nev­er let DeVos out of her sights.

Chair­ing HELP again will, hope­ful­ly, reignite Murray.

She has late­ly assumed all the trap­pings (e.g. mul­ti­ple offices, staged meet­ings, pro­tec­tive han­dlers) of an entrenched U.S. Sen­a­tor, to which she used to be a refresh­ing excep­tion. It has been years since Mur­ray held a town meet­ing. Plain speak­ing has giv­en way to press release boil­er­plate and canned quotes.

Once upon a time, how­ev­er, Mag­nu­son had a close elec­tion scare, as some­one described by Time mag­a­zine as “a skilled politi­cian with few pre­ten­sions of states­man­ship.” The 1962 elec­tion trans­formed him.

Mag­nu­son became Con­gress’ fore­most con­sumer cham­pi­on, and the leg­is­la­tor whose “lit­tle amend­ment” to an obscure law kept super­tankers off Puget Sound. Young aides, nick­named “the bum­ble­bees,” refash­ioned his staff.

“Mag­gie Has Soil” but­tons dec­o­rat­ed his 1968 campaign.

Mur­ray has shown her stuff back­stage, notably as an ear­ly crit­ic of Trump regime lethar­gy on the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. She belongs back out front, with a staff trans­fu­sion akin to Mag­gie in lat­er years.

On Com­merce, if they haven’t expe­ri­enced this already, staff aides will go through prepar­ing Maria Cantwell for a hear­ing. The exer­cise involves col­lect­ing every­thing there is to know on a sub­ject and get­ting that knowl­edge deploy­able by Cantwell. She’s been known to mas­ter sub­jects from deriv­a­tives used by Wall Street spec­u­la­tors, to a pro­posed mine’s cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences for the Bris­tol Bay fish­ery, to the intri­ca­cies of NOAA’s coastal weath­er radar.

Of course, spon­tane­ity has a role.

Mag­nu­son was famous for his bloop­ers, but one was delib­er­ate. Arro­gant, over­bear­ing Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee boss Avery Brundage came before Com­merce in the midst of a feud with Amer­i­can athletes.

Mag­nu­son mem­o­rably brought him to the wit­ness table say­ing the com­mit­tee would now hear from “Mr. Aver­age Brundy.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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3 replies on “Murray and Cantwell take up gavels in the Senate as heirs to Scoop and Maggie’s legacy”

  1. Love this reminder of how long Sen­a­tors Mur­ray and Cantwell have served togeth­er. One of Sen­a­tor Mag­nu­son’s oth­er — but less well-known — lega­cies is the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Fish­ery Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Act of 1976. Just like Sen­a­tor Cantwell and Sen­a­tor Murkows­ki of today, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors from WA and AK worked togeth­er to cre­ate the North Pacif­ic Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil. It was one of the most impor­tant inter­na­tion­al agree­ments exe­cut­ed dur­ing the Cold War, ensur­ing pro­tec­tion for arguably the most abun­dant cold-water fish­eries in the world. Sen­a­tor Mag­nu­son real­ized the North Pacif­ic fish­eries could suf­fer the same fate as the dec­i­mat­ed fish­ing grounds of the North Atlantic, which were col­laps­ing in the 1970s due to hun­dreds of years of unre­lent­ing over­fish­ing. The Fish­ery Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Act saved the North Pacif­ic fish­eries and the cul­tures and liveli­hoods of Pacif­ic North­west fish­ing vil­lages, tribes, and fish­ers and seafood pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies. Approach­ing its 50th anniver­sary, the North Pacif­ic Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil has been a one-of-a-kind sus­tain­able fish­ery man­age­ment sys­tem that con­tin­ues to sup­port mil­lions of jobs, pro­tect liveli­hoods and cul­tures for Native Amer­i­cans and gen­er­a­tions of fish­ing fam­i­lies, and anchors the Pacif­ic North­west­’s fish­ing and seafood econ­o­my and mar­itime trade rela­tion­ships. Cantwell and Murkows­ki have hon­ored the Mag­nu­son-Stevens lega­cy by sus­tain­ing a bipar­ti­san WA-AK part­ner­ship on our shared fish­ing and mar­itime economies. Mag­gie and Scoop saw the future and worked togeth­er to pro­tect it. Pat­ty and Maria inher­it­ed that future, hon­or it, and con­tin­ue to build their own lega­cy to cre­ate a bet­ter future for all of us. They’re true seat­mates in pub­lic service.

  2. If I’m not mis­tak­en, one of the lega­cies of the Mag­nu­son-Jack­son era was the con­struc­tion of the four dams on the Low­er Snake Riv­er. I grew up at a time when the Snake Riv­er ran wild and free and sup­port­ed a string of vital com­mu­ni­ties along the length of its low­er por­tion. There is a lega­cy whose time has come to be undone. Sup­port and sal­vage the runs of steel­head and wild salmon. Breach the LSR dams. I hope I live to see that hap­pen! Thank you!!!

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