A recent milestone by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a testament to her long career of understated service to our country and her groundbreaking role as a woman in a leadership position.
In recommending last year that Murray should be reelected, The Columbian wrote editorially that she “has effectively represented the values and interests of Washingtonians. Without the bombast of some of her Senate colleagues, Murray has consistently brokered deals, knifed through partisanship and delivered for her state and the nation.”
That is not hyperbole. Unlike many elected officials in Washington, D.C., Murray has not sought the spotlight; but it has repeatedly found her because of her ability to get things done.
So, the fact that last week Murray cast the 10,000th vote of her Senate career, becoming the first woman to reach the milestone, is noteworthy. As Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the Senate floor: “If she just cast 10,000 votes that would be pretty good — but her accomplishments go way beyond that and often dwarf it. She’s a voice the Senate, the country, rely on, on some of the biggest issues we’ve faced.”
Murray also is the first woman to serve as chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Budget committees. In January, she became the first woman elected Senate Pro Tempore, placing her third in the line of succession for the presidency.
That’s not bad for somebody who ascended to national prominence in 1992 as the “mom in tennis shoes.”
Yet while we laud Murray’s accomplishments and her decorum, we also use the occasion to point out the generational disconnect between Congress and the people it represents. The median age of U.S. senators for the 118th Congress is 65.3 years; the median age of the U.S. population is 38.1 years.
The average senator in this session of Congress has served 11.2 years. That is not the highest average in U.S. history, but the number has consistently trended upward over the years.
Murray, 72, is in her sixth six-year term and is fourth in tenure among current senators (behind Republicans Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell, plus Democrat Dianne Feinstein).
In the Senate, longevity is beneficial. Committee leadership and influence are based on tenure, and a full grasp of the issues and legislative machinations takes time to develop. Washington is fortunate to have two senators — Murray and Maria Cantwell, a fellow Democrat — who have decades of experience and have ascended to positions of power.
Yet, we are struck by something to come out of the Washington Legislature in recent days. House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, announced he was stepping down from his leadership position but will retain his seat.
“I believe it’s also time for generational change in our politics in a broader sense,” Wilcox said. “Experience is valuable in government, but it also has a shelf life. I hope that all across our state and country we can recognize the value of a newer generation of leaders who will have less investment in the antagonisms that have consumed the last years.”
That is a powerful sentiment. It carries particular weight with the two front-runners for next year’s presidential nominations — President Joe Biden and Donald Trump -— being 80 and 76 years old.
Even after 10,000 votes in the Senate, Murray is an effective legislator who bridges partisan divides. And we hope that, unlike some of her fellow senators, she will recognize when it is time for a generational change in politics.