NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, December 29th, 2022

Ranking and ready to chair: Rick Larsen is set to be the top Democrat on the U.S. House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rick Larsen, whose dis­trict includes Boeing’s Everett assem­bly plant, will be rank­ing Demo­c­rat on the House Trans­porta­tion and Infra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee when the new 118th Con­gress con­venes in Jan­u­ary and posi­tioned to chair the pow­er­ful pan­el when Democ­rats reclaim the majority.

Larsen will suc­ceed out­go­ing com­mit­tee chair­man, Oregon’s Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Peter DeFazio, who is retir­ing after serv­ing thir­ty-six years in Con­gress. He beat out D.C.‘s Del­e­gate Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton for the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­c­ra­t­ic spot. Larsen has served as chair­man of the panel’s Avi­a­tion Subcommittee.

The prospects of Larsen being called “Mr. Chair­man” in the future will rest, in some part, on the suc­cess of his next-door neigh­bor in the Wash­ing­ton con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑Washington, will chair the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (DCCC) in 2023 and 2024, charged with win­ning back a major­i­ty for the D’s.

The Repub­li­cans will hold a slim 222–213 advan­tage come the start of 2023. It’s already look­ing lie a shaky major­i­ty. Mal­adroit House Repub­li­can Leader Kevin McCarthy has not lined up enough votes to be elect­ed Speaker.

In his hunt for votes, McCarthy is lean­ing on sup­port from Don­ald Trump and kow­tow­ing before atten­tion seek­ing extrem­ists of the Free­dom Caucus.

In Con­gress, good things come to those who wait.

Larsen was elect­ed in 2000 from the 2nd Dis­trict in North­west Wash­ing­ton, flip­ping a seat held for six years by Repub­li­can Repub­li­can Jack Met­calf. The dis­trict was pre­vi­ous­ly rep­re­sent­ed by a trio of influ­en­tial Democ­rats, U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Hen­ry Jack­son (lat­er sen­a­tor), Lloyd Meeds and Al Swift.

Although repeat­ed­ly reshaped since Larsen began rep­re­sent­ing it, the urban-rur­al-island 2nd Dis­trict has, in words of a Swift quip, “every prob­lem known to man with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of wheat rust.” Its law­mak­ers have bro­kered wilder­ness and park bat­tles, dealt with prob­lems at the U.S.-Canada bor­der, been embroiled in Boeing’s labor pains, and found them­selves lob­by­ing to allow school kids to pick straw­ber­ries dur­ing sum­mer break.

Larsen has gone six terms with­out a tough reelec­tion contest.

He has, how­ev­er, expe­ri­enced trou­bles with the left wing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, stem­ming large­ly from sit­ting on the House Armed Ser­vices Committee.

Dur­ing a Belling­ham forum after the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks, Larsen was booed for giv­ing an equiv­o­cal but crit­i­cal answer when asked how he would vote on an Iraq inva­sion autho­riza­tion. Days lat­er, he vot­ed against going to war. He has been heck­led at Whid­bey Island town meet­ings over loud jet noise from Naval Air Sta­tion Whid­bey. Over the last three years, how­ev­er, Larsen has sharply ques­tioned the Navy over the rack­et made by Growler jets prac­tic­ing over Coupeville, Port Townsend and the Ebey’s Land­ing Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Preserve.

He faced the label of “cor­po­rate Demo­c­rat” by a chal­lenger from the left, Jason Call, in 2020 and 2022. The charge has not stuck. Call took 31,991 votes in August, with Larsen receiv­ing 100,631. Larsen went on to a six­ty per­cent gen­er­al elec­tion show­ing and 202,980 votes against his Repub­li­can challenger.

Larsen is a hands-on lawmaker.

He has been all over the Sec­ond Dis­trict explain­ing ben­e­fits of the Bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture Law. Lum­mi Island is get­ting $12 mil­lion fer­ry for a new fer­ry. Sim­i­lar­ly, Larsen has staged mul­ti­ple infor­ma­tion ses­sions to out­line help avail­able to local gov­ern­ments and small busi­ness­es under the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan. He was omnipresent after col­lapse of the Inter­state 5 bridge over the Skag­it River.

With Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, he cham­pi­oned cre­ation of the 103,000-acre Wild Sky Wilder­ness Area in east­ern Sno­homish County.

He joined Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell in the suc­cess­ful push for Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to des­ig­nate the San Juan Islands Nation­al Monument.

Larsen took to a kayak off Lopez Island when the mon­u­ment was dedicated.

Larsen has a sense of humor and sense of the occasion.

He has been required to dis­play the patience of Job in a dis­trict where vocal extremes of the left and right take advan­tage of his acces­si­bil­i­ty. He has even shown up at Tea Par­ty can­di­date forums in What­com County.

In 2009, at the high tide of Tea Par­ty protests, rival crowds of Tea Par­ty back­ers and union activists turned out for a Larsen town meeting.

He defused ten­sion by invit­ing all to rise and sing the nation­al anthem. Under Bush II, with Dems fresh in the House major­i­ty, Island Coun­ty Democ­rats pressed Larsen to sup­port an impeach­ment res­o­lu­tion. He respond­ed by list­ing all the issues (e.g. rais­ing the min­i­mum wage) on which Con­gress need­ed to act. Where bet­ter to spend time, on a los­ing impeach­ment or bat­tles that could be won?

As future chair of the Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, Larsen’s great­est chal­lenge may come in his own dis­trict. He rep­re­sents thou­sands of Boe­ing employ­ees, a proud, union­ized work­force with a his­to­ry of build­ing the world’s best com­mer­cial jets… but also a cost-obsessed Boe­ing man­age­ment which put a flawed Boe­ing 737 MAX in the air and dis­as­trous­ly also tried to cut cor­ners with the 787 Dreamliner.

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