Murray vs. Smiley in Spokane: Opening U.S. Senate debate
Murray vs. Smiley in Spokane: Opening U.S. Senate debate

It’s become an every six year polit­i­cal rit­u­al in Wash­ing­ton State: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray gets “mis­un­der­es­ti­mat­ed” (a word coined by George W. Bush) by pun­dits, oppo­nents and even staff and sup­port­ers as she heads into a debate with a Repub­li­can chal­lenger said to be her most for­mi­da­ble adver­sary yet.

The debate Sun­day night in Spokane showed Mur­ray on her game, from cham­pi­oning the cleanup of nuclear waste at Han­ford, to cap­ping insulin costs for seniors, to curb­ing gun vio­lence by ban­ning assault weapons, to cod­i­fy­ing abor­tion rights for­mer­ly guar­an­teed by Roe v. Wade into law.

While chal­lenger Tiffany Smi­ley sought to define her as a U.S. Capi­tol crea­ture – “She works for Wash­ing­ton, D.C., she is the image of big gov­ern­ment” — Mur­ray dis­played far more detailed knowl­edge of the job at which Repub­li­cans have long claimed she is over­matched. As for Smi­ley, in Murray’s words: “I’ve just heard a whole slew of Repub­li­can talk­ing points.”

The talk­ing points were bor­rowed from a master.

Smi­ley appro­pri­at­ed Ronald Reagan’s descrip­tion of Amer­i­ca as “the shin­ing city on the hill” and reprised the Gipper’s famous bet­ter-off ques­tion from his 1980 debate with Pres­i­dent Carter. “Are you in a bet­ter place?” she asked.

The issue of repro­duc­tive rights under­scored a dis­tinc­tion between sound bites and women’s rights. “The Supreme Court gave pow­er to the peo­ple,” said Smi­ley, refer­ring to the Supremes’ Dobbs deci­sion, which over­turned Roe v. Wade and took away the fed­er­al­ly pro­tect­ed right to abortion.

Actu­al­ly, the high court gave pow­er to leg­is­la­tures, which in Repub­li­can-run states have passed laws severe­ly restrict­ing or out­law­ing abortion.

Smi­ley has tried to finesse the issue in a state which has vot­ed for abor­tion rights. “I’m per­son­al­ly pro-life,” she said. “I’ve been clear from the very begin­ning. I oppose the fed­er­al abor­tion ban.”

Mur­ray has cham­pi­oned repro­duc­tive free­dom, and worked the issue of women’s health, lit­er­al­ly from her first Sen­ate floor speech. “I believe that every woman should be able to make her health care choic­es about her own fam­i­ly work­ing with her doc­tor, her faith and her own needs,” she said last night.

Bizarrely, Smi­ley respond­ed by say­ing, “Sen­a­tor Mur­ray made clear she wants politi­cians to decide this.”

Smi­ley is opposed to chang­ing U.S. Sen­ate rules to end the fil­i­buster and pass leg­is­la­tion to cod­i­fy rights guar­an­teed in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Wash­ing­ton is con­sis­tent­ly ranked at or near the top when mag­a­zines sur­vey the fifty states on what’s the best place to live, to retire, to be young and sin­gle, or find a job. You’d nev­er believe that hear­ing Tiffany Smi­ley talk.

“Our cities are being destroyed by crime,” Smi­ley said.

She depict­ed stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton unable to leave the class­room because “some­one is swing­ing a machete around.”

What to do about it?

Smi­ley pledged to “work with Seat­tle City Attor­ney Ann Davi­son to make sure repeat offend­ers are pros­e­cut­ed.” How is a U.S. Sen­a­tor going to do that, when laws are writ­ten at the state lev­el and enforced at the coun­ty and local level?

“I am here to make sure we rebuild our rep­u­ta­tion in Wash­ing­ton State,” Smi­ley said later.

Mur­ray turned to where Con­gress can act – gun violence.

“We need to ban assault weapons,” she began.

And the kind of mag­a­zines that allowed an assas­sin to mur­der more than fifty peo­ple at a Las Vegas con­cert. She not­ed that gun safe­ty leg­is­la­tion passed the House this year but was blocked by Repub­li­cans in the Senate.

With relent­less help from FNC, Repub­li­cans have put the U.S. Mex­i­co bor­der at the cen­ter of their issue agen­da. Smi­ley did, too. “I don’t know my oppo­nent Sen­a­tor Mur­ray has ever been to the South­ern bor­der: I went down there because I know how impor­tant it is to Wash­ing­ton State.”

Mur­ray shot back. She made a trip at a time when the Trump regime was sep­a­rat­ing immi­grants’ par­ents from their chil­dren. “I went to the bor­der not with a pho­tog­ra­ph­er but with a pedi­a­tri­cian,” she noted.

Mur­ray added that she vot­ed for a bipar­ti­san immi­gra­tion reform bill which passed the Sen­ate. The leg­is­la­tion, in 2013, was blocked by House Republicans.

Earth may be in the bal­ance, but rarely does a ques­tion on cli­mate dam­age get asked in a can­di­dates’ debate. We heard one in Spokane.

“We are see­ing the impact of drought and extreme heat that keeps fires from being put out,” Mur­ray observed, not­ing smoke that at times has giv­en Wash­ing­ton cities and towns the nation’s worst air quality.

She went on to point out eco­nom­ic dam­age, threats to the state’s shell­fish indus­try. The coun­try must work for a clean ener­gy econ­o­my and tech­nolo­gies that we can mar­ket to the rest of the world.

Smi­ley was all over the place. She grew up on a farm, and said: “There’s no bet­ter stew­ards of our land than the farm­ers.” She said that Wash­ing­ton “should not suf­fer from pie-in-the-sky” plans out of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with­out specif­i­cal­ly cri­tiquing any such plan. She called for an “all-of-the-above” ener­gy pol­i­cy, whose details include more pipelines, more refiner­ies and more drilling on fed­er­al lands.

Repub­li­can chal­lengers have repeat­ed­ly argued that Mur­ray has lost touch.

A black mon­ey PAC spon­sored by Karl Rove’s Cross­roads GPS del­uged mail­box­es in 2010 with fliers claim­ing the sen­a­tor was no longer of “our Washington.”

The mail pieces had a return address on New York Avenue in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“Sen­a­tor Mur­ray, you are not a mom in ten­nis shoes any­more,” Tiffany Smi­ley said at anoth­er point. It’s the kind of line can­di­dates bring with them to a debate. Smi­ley spent much of the debate address­ing Mur­ray rather than the audi­ence in Spokane and across the state via livestream or tele­vi­sion link.

Mur­ray respond­ed that her shoes still get a workout.

“I have come home and heard from you,” she said, dis­cussing health pro­vi­sions of the recent­ly passed Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act.

The Repub­li­cans have field­ed a Sen­ate can­di­date well drilled in the party’s talk­ing points, in poll-test­ed themes, but vague on specifics of what she would do with the job. Mur­ray has grown a lit­tle less acces­si­ble, but car­ries a clear sense of what she is doing and why. The debate was not a hur­dle and she did not stumble.

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 “Senator Patty Murray faces her Republican opponent Tiffany Smiley on the debate stage”

  1. Tiffany Smi­ley is backed by Trump and would not help the peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton — I do not trust her! Pat­ty Mur­ray is look­ing out for all of us in WA and we need her. I vot­ed for Pat­ty Murray!!

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