Senator Patty Murray listens to a Golden Tennis Shoes award speech
Washington's senior Senator Patty Murray listens to an award acceptance speech at her 2018 Golden Tennis Shoes fundraising event (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The lat­est release from Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Murray’s reelec­tion com­mit­tee bespeaks not the “mom in ten­nis shoes” cit­i­zen leader we elect­ed thir­ty years ago, but an entrenched vet­er­an incum­bent sit­ting on a big war chest.

Its head­er: “Pat­ty Mur­ray rais­es more than $1.45 mil­lion in Q4, con­tin­ues to draw strong sup­port across Wash­ing­ton.” It goes on to report that Mur­ray went into 2022 with $6.93 mil­lion in the bank. It lists her aver­age online con­tri­bu­tion as $25.77, but does not men­tion the big­ger bucks col­lect­ed at fundraisers.

Sen­a­tor Mur­ray con­tin­ues to fight for health­care, child­care, hous­ing and edu­ca­tion, as the release tells us in a boil­er­plate quote.

Yet, the senator’s voice is not real­ly heard, and Mur­ray is seen less often back on the home front than was once the case. Releas­es on cam­paign cash are about all we’re hear­ing from the cam­paign side of Mur­ray’s oper­a­tion these days.

I miss a sen­a­tor elect­ed and reelect­ed as one of us, and out among us.

A scene comes to mind back from Murray’s third term bid. She was fly­ing home from a labor ral­ly in Spokane, accom­pa­nied just by her state director.

Sens­ing his ner­vous­ness, Mur­ray sent the aide off to a cor­ner to answer all his mobile mes­sages. She stood unac­com­pa­nied in the air­port wait­ing area. A vari­ety of folks felt at ease walk­ing up and talk­ing casu­al­ly to their senior U.S. senator.

(Alaska’s late flight to Seat­tle, as usu­al, was run­ning late.)

I eyed one fel­low, think­ing he might be the insti­ga­tor of an argu­ment. Instead, he extend­ed a hand to Mur­ray and apol­o­gized for the attack ads used by his con­gress­man – Rep­re­sen­ta­tive George Nether­cutt – cam­paign­ing against her.

Mur­ray began that race as a top tar­get of the Nation­al Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee with Repub­li­can sur­ro­gates shut­tling through.

The race end­ed with Nether­cutt air­ing “Aw shucks, I’m a nice guy” tele­vi­sion spots, con­ced­ing he was head­ed off to the Palookav­ille of D.C. lobbying.

We can still wit­ness North­west sen­a­tors in such settings.

Just go south to Ore­gon, where Sen­a­tors Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have held hun­dreds of town meet­ings over the last few years.

NPI’s exec­u­tive direc­tor Andrew Vil­leneuve wit­nessed one of them, in Mil­ton-Free­wa­ter, Ore­gon, in 2017. He then spoke extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly with Wyden at length as they wait­ed for a Seat­tle-bound flight out of Wal­la Walla.

Senior sen­a­tors can allow them­selves be kept in a pro­tec­tive cocoon, espe­cial­ly as they get on in years. Try­ing to cov­er Mur­ray for the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer, I repeat­ed­ly asked for a sched­ule, so I could show up and watch her in the field.

“Thank you for reach­ing out!” the press sec­re­tary would email back.

And then he would stonewall me.

The senator’s infre­quent pub­lic events seem script­ed and rem­i­nis­cent of day­time TV’s old “Queen for a Day” show.

A pan­el of sup­port­ers is assem­bled. The par­tic­i­pants speak to Mur­ray about a prob­lem in their lives. Mur­ray explains how she’s spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion to solve it. The Fourth Estate is giv­en a cou­ple of ques­tions and off she goes.

The prob­lem with keep­ing this sen­a­tor in a cocoon is that the but­ter­fly can’t get out.

Sure, right wing media is on the prowl: FNC once depict­ed Mur­ray as prais­ing Tal­iban social pro­grams in Afghanistan. On the whole, how­ev­er, Mur­ray has proven able to han­dle her­self. She has won Sen­ate races over three incum­bent Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress, and a for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic House member.

She has debat­ed effec­tive­ly, with inad­ver­tent help from Repub­li­cans not famil­iar with Wash­ing­to­ni­ans’ aspi­ra­tions and problems.

We still have the sense of com­mu­ni­ty where we want to see those who rep­re­sent us and come away with the sense they are help­ing us.

First-term Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑WA-01, won respect of con­ser­v­a­tive rur­al Sno­homish Coun­ty as a go-to per­son after the Oso landslide.

In the mar­shal­ing yard behind the Dar­ring­ton Ranger Sta­tion, res­cue work­ers spoke of telling DelBene’s office what they need­ed and get­ting it. A “Reelect Del­Bene” sign, attached to a big log, sat beside S.R. 530 that fall.

Mur­ray used to dis­play that knack. As a fresh­man sen­a­tor, albeit one with a seat on the Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, she was able to direct atten­tion and resources to the then-neglect­ed U.S.-Canada bor­der. The result? She swamped Repub­li­can chal­lenger Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lin­da Smith in What­com County.

An old friend, and hard­bit­ten Wash­ing­ton, D.C., scribe, was blown away by Murray’s ini­tial Sen­ate floor speech, which talked about ovar­i­an can­cer, acquain­tances who had died from it, and the urgent need to put more fed­er­al dol­lars into research and cures for dis­eases that afflict women.

Mur­ray needs to get back out on the hus­tings, hear out the folks, and court “red” coun­ties that used to be blue. Sure, the Democ­rats’ geo­graph­ic base is in cen­tral Puget Sound, but South­west Wash­ing­ton has left the fold. North­east Wash­ing­ton may vote Repub­li­can, but needs the social spend­ing cham­pi­oned by Mur­ray. They sure ain’t going to get it from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers.

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has put every­thing in flux.

But until 2020, the Pacif­ic Coun­ty Democ­rats’ annu­al crab feed was the old­est con­tin­u­ous polit­i­cal event in the state of Wash­ing­ton. It was also lots of fun.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer (D‑WA-06) and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son served up the crab. Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell passed up the Grid­iron Din­ner in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia one year to spoon out pota­to sal­ad in South Bend.

I’ve nev­er seen Sen­a­tor Mur­ray at the crab feed. She ought to be there if the event is on this year, or oth­er­wise join the Democ­rats for their sum­mer picnic.

Or find oth­er sim­i­lar events.

Or – at last – start hold­ing town halls.

Mur­ray is being semi-tar­get­ed. Repub­li­can chal­lenger Tiffany Smi­ley did raise $925,000 in the last quar­ter of 2021.

This cycle would appear one of those times where the Repub­li­can Par­ty is wait­ing for a sig­nal of the incumbent’s weak­ness or over­con­fi­dence. They came in full bore for Dino Rossi in 2010, but Mur­ray out­fought them.

The cocoon does not become our senior sen­a­tor. We need to see the but­ter­fly, albeit some­one who’s proven to be an iron but­ter­fly under pressure.

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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One reply on “Will Senator Patty Murray break out of the protective cocoon that often surrounds veteran lawmakers for the 2022 midterms?”

  1. Thanks, Joel. Sen Mur­ray reflects poor­ly on the more estab­lished gov­ern­ment offi­cials who sink back in the safe­ty of their offices. They weren’t elect­ed because they were office types — they were elect­ed because they were out, lead­ing, set­ting ground rules, and inter­act­ing with the peo­ple that elect­ed them in the first place. Per­haps Sen Pat­ty will here you. We can only help. We need peo­ple like the old Sen Mur­ray — out show­ing the way and look­ing, lead­ing into the future.

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