Who's Got the Power?

By Josh Feit January 20, 2009

Originally posted yesterday.

[caption id="attachment_65" align="alignnone" width="350" caption="Rep. Jim McDermott"]Rep. Jim McDermott[/caption]

We’ve put together a Washington State Delegation Power Ranking: Who’s got clout and who doesn’t as we enter the Obama years? (Hint: Obama and Cantwell … did not get along in the Senate.)

The rankings are based on:

•Seniority (Rep. Norm Dicks, D-6, debuted in Congress the same year Chachi debuted on “Happy Days”)

•Track record (Can anyone name anything Rep. Adam Smith, D-WA, 9, has done?)

•Number of committee assignments

•Types of committees (Sorry, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-WA, 2, but the Coast Guard Subcommittee doesn’t sound all that weighty)

•Chairmanships (Graded on a curve because our delegation only seems to get subcommittee chairs)

•Bills in play (Rep. Brian Baird’s, D-WA, 3, got some momentum on his sales tax deduction bill. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-WA, 7? Not so much on his unemployment insurance bill)

•Party Affiliation (Our condolences to Reps. Doc Hastings,  R-WA, 4, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA, 5, and Dave Reichert, R-WA, 8)

•And lots of X factors (No one likes Sen. Maria Cantwell; everyone loves Sen. Patty Murray)

1) Sen. Patty Murray, 3rd-term senior senator, took office in 1993. Murray chairs the Transportation Subcommittee of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, meaning, she’s in charge of doling out billions of dollars for Obama’s infrastructure stimulus plan.  We’re counting on Sen. Murray to nudge the spending away from roads and over to transit.  

2) Rep. Adam Smith, 7th-term congressman from Pierce County, took office in 1997. Smith chairs the Armed Services Committee’s Terrorism Subcommittee. Smith is just one of the four Washington State reps. to snare a subcommittee chair. He’s got one bill in play right now (expanding benefits to disabled vets), and he’s already lined up a crew of sponsors.

3) Rep. Brian Baird, 6th-term Congressman from Clark County, took office in 1999. Baird is on a ton of committees, including the House Budget Committee, and he’s another member of the Washington delegation to score a subcommittee chair—the Research and Science Education subcommittee of the Science and Technology Committee.  He also sits on three subcommittees in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the place to be during the stimulus package debate.  Baird is leading the charge in the House to make a state sales tax deduction on your federal taxes permanent.

4) Coming in behind two House reps., Sen. Maria Cantwell, 2nd-term junior senator, took office in 2001. (She was elected to the House in 1992, but was ousted in the 1994 GOP Revolution.) Cantwell is a workhorse; she’s on five committees and six subcommittees, all of them super-wonked-out. They include the Finance Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Consumer Affairs Subcommittee. Cantwell is, in fact, a star on energy policy, and if there’s a major energy initiative this session, her stock may rise. The one subcommittee she chairs tells the Cantwell story, though:  She’s head honcho of the remote Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. The other Cantwell story: She voted no on Obama’s bailout request.  That’s cool, but it also plays up her black sheep status. Cantwell’s sponsoring an electric car bill (and she’s scored up a few sponsors), but we’re nervous our Junior Senator may be on the outs.

5) Rep. Norm Dicks, 17th-term Congressman from the Olympic Peninsula, took office in 1977. The hawkish Dicks (yes on telcom immunity) is supposed to be really really powerful, according to P-I columnist Joel Connelly. And as a member of the House Appropriations Committee he’s supposed to be the earmarks king for Washington state. But not so much last year. And we don’t see it in the Obama years. Nor did we find him sponsoring any bills. 

6) Rep. Jim McDermott, 708th-term congressman from Seattle, first elected in 1828. McDermott started this session by taking over as chair of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee in Ways and Means, and he’s running a bill to expand unemployment insurance.  McDermott seems renewed and ready to go—at least for one more term.

7) Rep. Jay Inslee, 7th-term congressman from North King and Snohomish Counties, first took office in 1993 (from central Washington), but ousted and reelected from his current district, taking office 1999. We’d like to rank Inslee higher: he’s articulate, feisty, principled, high-profile, and right on just about everything (especially on energy, Internet, and environmental issues). But with his eye on the Governor’s mansion and lack of chairmanships, we’re not convinced he’s all in

8) Rep. Rick Larsen, 5th-term congressman representing North Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties, took office in 2001.  Larsen’s on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (good place to be in these New New Deal days), but check it out:  he’s on the Aviation and Coastguard subcommittees there, and we’re not finding any bills on his docket.  He is a Democrat, though, so he’s better placed than the rest of our delegation’s bench warmers.

9) Rep. Dave Reichert, 3rd-term Congressman from Seattle’s Eastside suburbs, took office in 2005. Reichert would get a much higher rank if he wasn’t in the super minority party. He just won a tough reelection, holding onto contested suburban turf that should endear him to GOP leadership as he starts to build an air of invincibility.  Reichert is also willing to buck his party (straying from the GOP line nearly 20% of the time on votes) as he did right away this session by voting to expand children’s health care.  Reichert is also on a ton of committees, including Homeland Security and Transportation & Infrastructure. We think he’s the top Republican on the Washington State roster.

10) Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, 3rd-term Congresswoman from Eastern Washington, took office in 2005. McMorris Rodgers is on the right committees for her district—the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee—but she’s an ideologue (she votes with her party 95% of the time), and she lost some momentum after her recent pregnancy. She’s a tireless, charming politician, though (she once sent me a thank you card after I interviewed her several years ago when she was in the state legislature), and she has the skills to become a star in the minority party in the Sarah Palin model.  She was recently made Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, the 5th highest ranking Republican in her caucus leadership.

11) Rep. Doc Hastings, 8th-term Congressman from Central Washington, took office in 1995.  Also an ideologue. Less charming. He was sullied by the Arbamoff scandal and his supposed role in the crass  John McKay firing.   

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