WA's clout declines in Congress | Bob Roegner

Next January, when our congressional delegation reconvenes in the other Washington, some introductions are going to be necessary.

Due to population growth, redistricting, a resignation and a major retirement, our state will have at least three new members of Congress.

We have added a new 10th congressional district, but we will also lose some power.

The biggest news is in the 6th District where Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks announced that he will step down and take with him more than 30 years of service in the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., is a town where seniority is usually tied to success. Dicks’ power and influence will be hard to replace. Had the Democrats retained control of Congress, he would have been a member of the “College of Cardinals.” The political term refers to a small number of very powerful insiders who control the nation’s purse strings.

Republican Congressional members Doc Hastings of Tri-Cities and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Spokane have emerged as leaders since their party is in the majority. But they simply don’t have the seniority to replace the clout that Dicks had acquired. Whether you like earmarks or not, when the pork is coming to our state, that is preferable to going to another state. Dicks’ ability to push the right buttons will be sorely missed, and could take many years to replace.

Several years ago, we lost the Democratic “gold dust twins” when Sen. Warren G. Magnuson was defeated by Republican Attorney General Slade Gorton, and Sen. Henry M. Jackson died and was replaced by Dan Evans.

We temporarily made up for that loss of power when Congressman Tom Foley was elected Speaker of the House, making him the third most powerful person in the country. However, in the spirit of “what have you done for me lately,” the voters in Spokane suddenly decided that term limits seemed like a good idea and replaced Foley with George Nethercutt because he promised to serve only two terms. He served three, then disappeared from the political landscape after a loss in a run for the U.S. Senate.

With Senators Patti Murray and Maria Cantwell moving up the seniority ladder and Dicks’ clout in the House, Washington state had regained a lot of lost ground. If the Republicans hold the House, and Hastings and McMorris-Rodgers continue up the ladder, we still may be in a good position. But it will be a while before the loss of Dicks is replaced.

When Dicks’ announcement first came out, there was a long list of potential replacements. But after State Sen. Derek Kilmer expressed his interest, all the other Democrats withdrew, giving him a pass through the primary. Doug Cloud and Jesse Young, who have run before, are the most likely Republicans to enter the race, but will split the primary vote.

Redistricting put 3rd District Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler in a more favorable district in the Vancouver area. And it also placed her opponent from last year, Olympia Democrat Denny Heck, as the likely frontrunner in the new 10th congressional district. The new district stretches from south of Tacoma through the Olympia area. Heck will be challenged by Tacoma area Republicans Stan Fleming and Dick Muri.

In the 1st District in the Everett area, Jay Inslee’s resignation from Congress to run full time for governor has resulted in a flurry of candidates. County Councilman John Koster seems to be the most well known Republican, as he has run before.

The Democrats have enough candidates to almost field a baseball team. Darcy Burner, Suzan DelBene, Laura Ruderman, Roger Goodman and Steve Hobbs are all well known. Unless a clear frontrunner is established before the primary, Koster will be able to save resources for the general election while the Democrats expend energy and money just to get past the primary.

Whoever the three new House members are, they will start at the bottom of the seniority list, and will need to hope that more influential members can help them obtain good committee assignments.

In the other seven congressional races, the incumbents are favored, which should help us maintain some stability.

One of the new ones won’t be liberal Democratic Ohio Congressman — and two-time candidate for president — Dennis Kucinich. He was hoping the new 10th District would be part of Seattle. When the district was established farther south, where it would be harder for him to win, he ran in his old reconfigured Ohio district and lost to another incumbent who was placed in the same district.

Kucinich’s seniority would have been helpful to our state, and he is very entertaining.

He will still visit our area on April 12 to be a speaker on Social Security at Highline Community College.

Filing is early this year, so watch to see who follows through on running and who has been campaigning just to test the water.

The three open seats will be competitive and interesting to watch.


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