Memo to John McCain: Forget conventional wisdom. Brian Baird was the real maverick.
When it came to bucking his own political party on issues such as the surge in Iraq and tougher immigration policies, the six-term Congressman from Southwest Washington remained undeterred. Now, as Baird moves into retirement, that independent streak is one of two traits that define his service as a U.S. representative. The other was hard work. Among the manifestations of that dedication was the grueling pace of public meetings that he scheduled: more than 300 in 10 years, an uncommon availability to constituents when compared with many of his Congressional peers.
Still, the great controversy in the next-to-last year of Baird’s tenure was about the town hall meeting he didn’t have. In the summer of 2009, just as the Tea Party was gaining steam, Baird chose not to have a face-to-face town hall meeting and announced he would do several meetings by phone. Here’s the irony in that strategy: How could a guy with a doctorate in human behavior so badly miscalculate what would happen when he opted not to hold a public town hall meeting? More than anything, that doomed him, politically. And why couldn’t he have figured that out on the front end of the controversy?
Baird reacted to the public outrage by scheduling a mega-meeting that backfired. It turned an obscure but outspoken citizen into a Congressional candidate (David Hedrick) who went on to garner more than 13,000 votes and finish third in the primary a year later.
After that brutal political firestorm in the second half of 2009 — much of it self-inflicted — Baird never again found his mojo. Despite stumbling in the homestretch of his political career (Is it really over? More on that later), the work ethic Baird maintained for 12 years cannot be dismissed: More than a half-dozen trips to the Middle East. Countless instances of immersing himself in new issues, researching complex topics.
A few of those issues became Baird’s personal windmills, despite the logic behind his thinking and the passion of his presentation. He fought valiantly to require a 72-hour reading period for bills before Congress. He repeatedly urged colleagues to restructure the order of succession in case Congress fell prey to terrorists. He continually preached about the need to permanently extend the sales-tax deduction on federal income taxes for people who live in states such as Washington that have no state income tax. All three were eminently sensible measures, but Baird never showed meaningful progress. Might that wheel-spinning have been caused by his maverick status in his own party? Perhaps.
We’re not sure this is Baird’s swan song. It could be just a pause in the action, his purchase of a few years to spend with his wife and twin sons. But already Baird has moved to Edmonds, and there’s talk about him running for the 1st Congressional District seat that’s held by Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, who many project will become a gubernatorial candidate.
For now, Baird can look back on 12 years of fighting hard — if not always gracefully — for the best interests of Southwest Washington. Whether it was speaking up for veterans in his district and nationwide, leading the attack on the scourge of methamphetamine, successfully opposing a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River, or diving into the statistical and diplomatic complexities of international relations, Brian Baird was willing to do the homework and make informed decisions.