- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Obama administration’s lurch to the left is going too far for liberal-leaning states where formerly safe Democratic seats are now up for grabs. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Washington state.

For decades, Washington has served as a bellwether blue state. Yet despite this long-running domination by the Democrats, the left in the Evergreen State includes a surprising number of socially liberal independents instilled with a strong sense of freedom, a vigorous defense of property rights and a willingness to throw the bums out.

This was best illustrated in 1994, when the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans offered a Contract With America and independents abandoned an overreaching Democratic Party led by health-care-reform-touting Hillary Rodham Clinton. That November, seven of the nine U.S. House seats in Washington state flipped to the Republican Party (the biggest percentage swing that year in the United States) including the unceremonious decrowning of Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley.

As the Democrats watch their popularity plummet throughout the state this year, they must be wondering: Have they once again overreached?

Already, Rep. Brian Baird has announced his retirement after 12 years in Congress. He is a moderate-left Democrat in a blue-collar yet socially conservative swing district. Why is he leaving? According to one of the Republican candidates, his polling was showing that Mr. Baird had slumped to 38 percent support the week before his announcement. He must have known he was headed for voter-enforced retirement, and this was before his health care vote.

Another Democrat in trouble is six-term Rep. Jay Inslee, whose re-election support has dropped to 37 percent, according to a Moore Information poll. Will he decide to retire, too?

In the state legislature, the Democrats enjoy nearly a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and a 13-seat majority in the Senate. Republican candidate recruitment is strong. State leaders are cautiously optimistic about their chances of winning back the Senate and bringing back some balance to the House.

This all comes on the heels of the state government’s near-record expansion since Gov. Christine Gregoire won - or as some say, stole - the election over Dino Rossi in 2004. Because the size of the state’s budget grew by 31 percent in her first four years, the Democrats are resorting to increasing taxes by nearly a billion dollars - during a recession - rather than just simply cutting some of the programs and jobs they added when times were better. If they had just lived within their means when times were good, the state wouldn’t be making cuts and raising taxes on the backs of small businesses and the swelling ranks of the unemployed.

This brings us to the big prize: Washington state’s U.S. Senate seat currently held by Patty Murray. (Remember the “mom in tennis shoes”?) Could voter disenchantment in the state make this the 10th seat Republicans need to win for a majority in the U.S. Senate?

After all, this is the same woman the National Journal two years ago named the most liberal senator in Washington, D.C., and whom Washingtonian magazine once called the “dumbest senator.”

Backing that argument is a recent vote in opposition to a proposed amendment to the health care reform package that would have denied Viagra to convicted sex offenders. And how can we forget that in 2002, when speaking to high school students, she compared the work of Osama bin Laden to the United States’ activity in the Middle East, saying bin Laden had “helped pay for schools, roads and even day care centers. … We haven’t done that.”

While these are fun anecdotes, the term “dumb” really can’t be measured. But effectiveness can. A little-known fact outside the Beltway is this: In Mrs. Murray’s 17 years in office, she was the lead sponsor of 234 bills. Only five have been signed into law. Five laws in 17 years. For her $174,000-a-year salary, the voters of Washington get one-third of a bill a year. That’s work ethic.

According to recent polls, voters are not so sure. Recent Rasmussen and Moore Information polls show Mrs. Murray is down two to three points against Republican Dino Rossi, who hasn’t even entered the race. In fact, an unnamed Democratic congressman in the state said his polling shows “she’s toxic” in his district and he doesn’t want her anywhere near him as he runs for re-election.

Making matters even worse for Mrs. Murray are revelations of cozy relationships between the tennis-shoed one and D.C. lobbyists. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer recently reported on the connection between campaign contributions from a lobbyist and government funding that seemingly was kicked back to an associate of this lobbyist. At best, these are questionable dealings. At worst, it’s “coin-operated representation” in favor of her new lobbyist friends.

One potential challenger, Chris Widener, a businessman and best-selling author, launched a Web site devoted to “educating Washington voters” about Mrs. Murray’s voting record (notpatty.com). This is one example of a wave building against Democrats here in Washington.

We’ll need to wait until November to find the answer to whether this is a wave or a tsunami. What we do know is that all voters, no matter their affiliation, have grown tired of the broken promises made by President Obama and the Democrats in 2008, just as they became fed up with the spending spree exhibited in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. “Hope and change” have been replaced by “more of the same.”

Regardless of which party wins in November, the voters are looking for bums to throw out, starting with the one who lost her tennis shoes and replaced them with top-of-the-line Jimmy Choos.

Anthony Welcher, an executive board member of the Washington State Republican Party, worked at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration.

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