Press Talk: What can bring us a smile?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



What makes you happy?

I was thinking about that throughout our editorial board discussion with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell. She was in Vancouver listening to residents and agreed to spend a little time with us.

We were throwing a bunch of questions at the 55-year-old Democrat: Columbia River Crossing, oil terminals, health care, the national debt, Ukraine. As she maneuvered through them, I could see in her eyes that being a senator is no walk in the park.

Cantwell is constantly on the move. We might have been the first stop on her latest mission to gather information, but she had a long and winding road ahead of her.

And let’s not forget, she’s been at this senator thing since 2001.

So, hey, it looked like she needed a smile. Thus, the toughest question ever asked at any editorial board meeting … ever.

“What makes you happy, Senator?”

She didn’t pause very long before she delivered her first answer:

“Climbing mountains.”

That, of course, prompted a too-good-to-pass-up second question:

Literally or figuratively?

Her response was quick:


Now, forget for a second the obvious pleasure of enjoying the beautiful Washington landscape and nature at its best while climbing to a mountaintop. The idea that a senator — who has to constantly be “on,” who regularly has to solve the state and the world’s problems — could get away to have a moment of solitude? That would be glorious.

I should note the senator almost added “figuratively” to her answer but caught herself.

It would have been a good addition, if you ask me. Solving those state and world problems is a lot like hiking up a mountain. And one had best love it if you’re an elected official, because it is what they do.

Cantwell did, however, expand on her answer.

“The state of Washington makes me happy because we’re an innovative state. And as frustrating as Washington, D.C., can be, I come home and I see people making something happen.

“I think we see our challenges. But I think we also see a clear path toward innovation. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, it’s not painless, but I think we see a clearer path than other people, and I think we’re moving forward.”

o o o

As noted, Cantwell did reflect on the issues of the day.

When the controversial Port of Vancouver oil terminal came up, I asked her if she were a resident of Vancouver, would she be in favor of the proposed oil terminal?

“It wouldn’t be something I’d be promoting,” she told us.

I took that as a no.

When we spoke about the dead (for now, at least) Columbia River Crossing project, I asked her if there was any way the federal government could help financing it, if light rail were not included. Most folks around here believe it was the light rail component — a requirement by the federal government if federal funds were to be used — that killed it in our state.

“I’m certainly willing to look at all creative measures. Let’s look under all the rocks and see what our options are.”

I took that as a yes.

Our meeting lasted about an hour, and when it was over, we stepped out into our lobby. It was there where the good senator — being a good sport — bought a Don’t Do Stupid Stuff mug.

She noted if she needed to buy more for her friends up in D.C., she could certainly do so online. We grabbed a photo of her with the mug. And if I could venture a guess, the mug thing made her happy.

There were no figurative mountains to climb within walking distance, the questions were over, the next stop was hours away and. … she smiled. At the very least, it made me happy.

Don't Do Stupid Stuff Mugs