Editorial: Cantwell represents state well in U.S. Senate

October 25, 2012

Spokesman Review (Editorial) - State Sen. Michael Baumgartner burst onto the political scene with a victory over Chris Marr in a legislative contest that set a record for spending. Now he’s taking on another Democratic heavyweight in U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Two years ago, local voters asked, “Who is this guy?” Two years later, voters in the rest of the state are asking the same question. Politicians from Eastern Washington don’t often run for U.S. Senate. The last one to win was C.C. Dill in 1928. The last one to try was George Nethercutt in 2004.

Baumgartner has lower name recognition than Nethercutt and a lot less money than his opponent. But he has some interesting ideas that reflect independent thinking, particularly on the topics of national defense and foreign policy. He believes we should’ve already left Afghanistan and that our military strategy was ill-suited for a country with a largely illiterate and far-flung population. He criticizes Cantwell’s votes to continue the war.

Baumgartner worked in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Foreign Service officer and an adviser, and he speaks confidently and knowledgeably about both countries. He wants to be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate who raises tough questions about foreign policy. He notes, correctly, that aside from the troops, Americans were not asked to sacrifice for either war, so he proposes a 1 cent federal gas tax with the proceeds earmarked for veterans services.

As much as we admire his commitment to the troops and to foreign service, we don’t think he’s fully fleshed out a domestic policy agenda. He deserves credit for highlighting the possibility of means-testing the big ticket entitlements, such as Medicare, but his overall pitch is heavy on goals without specific plans on how to achieve them. As much as we’d like to endorse a local candidate, his entry into this race is premature.

Since knocking off U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000, Cantwell has worked hard to become one of the more knowledgeable senators. She’s not a headline grabber, but her ability to drill deep on issues and come up with solutions is impressive. In the face of congressional gridlock, she was able to score important victories on energy, health care, trade and tax issues. She will take singles if home runs aren’t available.

Her dogged fight for the deductibility of sales tax on federal returns has saved Washingtonians millions of dollars. Her work to help preserve the Export-Import Bank will pay off for years in our trade-dependent state. Her insistence that more efficient health care practices be grafted onto Medicare and the Affordable Care Act shows that she understands the threat posed by runaway medical inflation. She is a leader in the Smart Grid movement and has helped boost other clean energy projects.

We differ with her opposition to a Simpson-Bowles-like solution on the budget deficit. She vows to protect Medicare and Social Security, which is a popular position. But both will need to be altered to control the nation’s debt.

Still, we believe her actions on behalf of Washingtonians merit another term in the U.S. Senate.

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