As Republican candidates and party leaders in Washington gear up for the 2024 election, as they aim their rhetoric at Joe Biden’s policies and Jay Inslee’s record and the situation at the nation’s Southern border, they would be wise to learn a thing or two from Patty Murray.
Actually, both parties can learn from Murray; but for Republicans, it will be an abject lesson rather than an object one. That’s because Murray, a Democrat now in her 32nd year in the U.S. Senate, reflects a mirror image of everything the GOP has done wrong in this state.
That might sound needlessly partisan. But the fact is that our state, and our nation, can thrive only if we have two (or more) functioning parties, and Republicans are the only ones who have embraced dysfunction and made it a modus operandi. Nationally, the desire for functionality likely is a lost cause; Donald Trump kills everything he touches. But the hope is that Republicans at the state level will learn from recent history.
That history has provided no GOP governors since 1985, no Republicans currently in statewide office, just two congressional seats, and an ever-shrinking minority in the Legislature. The problems with one-party rule have been evident in convoluted Democratic efforts to implement the WA Cares Fund, police reform and drug policy, but Republicans keep stepping on a rake while running to take advantage of those failures.
All of which brings us back to Murray. Not that she’s on the ballot this year; she was elected for the sixth time in 2022, winning by 14 percentage points, and won’t be up for reelection until 2028. But as the senator visited The Columbian’s Editorial Board last week, something that Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote in 2022 came to mind — “I swear the GOP’s tombstone should read, ‘Washington state Republicans: Underestimating Patty Murray since 1989!’ ”
In these days of performative politics, it is easy to underestimate Murray. She does her job rather than spending a lot of time pontificating on cable TV. She has been at the center of significant bipartisan policy and budget agreements, the kind that typically are overlooked by the general public. She has compiled a dizzying array of legislative achievements without demonstrating a need to boast about them or compulsively denigrate that other party.
“In the time I’ve been in the Senate, there’s always been senators who just rush to a camera,” she told the Editorial Board. “But there’s more who are really focused on trying to get things done and trying to work the process. It’s how I’ve always operated; it’s what I respect.”
The approach — combined with three decades of seniority — has elevated Murray to chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the position of Senate president pro tempore, which places her third in the line of succession for the presidency.
(As an aside, being third in the line of succession carries with it an impressive level of security wherever Murray goes, but that is a story for another time.)
And now Murray is leading efforts in the Senate to forge a budget agreement and avoid a government shutdown — a quest made more difficult by the clown-led circus that is the House of Representatives.
That touches on the lessons that can be provided by Murray’s career.
For one thing, there are performative artists in both parties; but Republicans have become beholden to theirs, allowing a small minority to control the budgeting process and to oust the speaker of the House. While conservatives can point to The Squad on the Democratic side, the difference is that the leftist extremists do not have any power in their party.
For another thing, voters in Washington have consistently endorsed Murray’s effective-yet-low-key approach. It turns out that policy and decorum carry more weight than bombast, and that’s part of the reason MAGA candidates have consistently failed in this state.
And that is a lesson GOP voters should keep in mind as they choose their candidates this year.