Yes, it has been rather quiet the last week. For those of you who don’t know, I work as the Front Office Lead for Landmark Real Estate and as you can imagine, it is crazy busy right now with all the college students moving out and moving in. However, that has not stopped the Political Junkie – I am working on a couple of long form investigative reports that should be out next week.
Will there ever be a President from the Pacific Northwest? It is a simple question, but as we slowly gear up for the presidential race of 2016, it is worth considering.
One of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, observed in his magnum opus American Gods that America is not as homogeneous as we would like to think.
San Francisco isn’t in the same country as Lakeside anymore than New Orleans is in the same country as New York or Miami is in the same country as Minneapolis . . . They may share certain cultural signifiers—money, a federal government, entertainment—it’s the same land, obviously—but the only things that give it the illusion of being one country are the greenback, The Tonight Show, and McDonald’s.
The point holds that each section of the country brings a unique perspective – and the Pacific Northwest is no exception. Yet we have yet to even be competitive for the highest office in the nation.
Looking over the list of presidents, and presidential candidates, over the last eighty years and the pattern is clear. To compete for the highest office, you must be from New York, Boston, the Deep South (especially Texas), Chicago, or California. Southwest? Rockies? Forget about it. As for our corner of the nation? Not a single contender of note.
Why is that? To be a competitive candidate for the presidency, you must have some sort of national stature – almost exclusively as a Senator or Governor. But being one of a hundred senators or fifty governors is not enough; you need to have the eyes of the nation on you.
Sometimes that is out of your control. Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) had been quietly gathering staff for a potential presidential run but then Ferguson exploded on his watch. You could be a thought leader on significant issues (see: Sen. Rand Paul on spying or Gov. Beshear on health care) or simply a very popular and media savvy elected official.
Other ways you could become a national competitor? Become nominated as a vice-presidential candidate and then run the next time around. To be selected as a veep, you need to bring something to the ticket – experience that the other candidate doesn’t have or representing a swing state.
However, the deck is stacked against the Pacific Northwest and Washington State in particular. We are far away from the media centers of the country (New York, LA) so few national news outlets cover our politics because of the expense of sending someone out here.
Furthermore, the timing is all wrong. Washington and Montana elect our governors on the same years we elect our presidents, meaning no sitting governor gets a free shot. If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to run for President, he can, content that he can always fall back on his day job. No such luck for our executives, they have to choose which seat to pursue. Oregon and Idaho both elect their governors on off-year elections.
Finally, we aren’t a primary state of any note. No early contenders travel to Washington State to lock down our electoral votes, we are middle of the pack, lost in the shuffle after Super Tuesday.
This is a great deal of set-up Riley, where’s the beef? I’m getting there, rhetorical person.
We have had impressive legislators from Washington State. Sens. Scoop Jackson, Warren Magnuson and more recently Rep. Norm Dicks all rose in the ranks due to their years of service and were able to secure millions in resources for our state. However, only Scoop Jackson took a swing at the presidential ring and failed miserably. The dirty work of marshalling large funds towards your home community leaves far too many skeletons in your closet for the bright lights of a national campaign.
So who would be a good fit? Let us take a look:
- Sen. Patty Murray – Top of my list, first in my heart. Sen. Murray has been representing Washington since 1992 and in that time has built an impressive resume of fighting for our soldiers, protecting our wildlands, and reaching across the aisle to settle budget differences. She has risen in the leadership within the Senate and is currently the fourth highest ranked Democrat in the Senate. In other words, following in the footsteps of Sen. Warren Magnuson and may some day become Senate Majority leader. But not president.
- Sen. Maria Cantwell – Elected in 2000 and immediately buried herself in thorny, complicated issues like telecommunications regulation and trade negotiations – perhaps the least appealing campaign issues this side of septic inspections. Not going to happen.
- Governor Jay Inslee – Maybe. The scenario would play out like this – if Inslee overcomes the Republican-controlled senate (with some help from Whatcom), if he passes some cutting edge legislation combating climate change, and if he builds a solid track record of success on all the other festering issues in this state, then maybe he will be a vice-presidential pick in 2020, but that is a long time with several ifs.
- Unnamed Republican – This slot used to held by Rob McKenna. The idea was that a moderate Republican takes a blue state, manages it well for six years and shoots to the top of the list of potential presidential candidates. However, in 2012, the Democrats won every single state-wide office except for one (Secretary of State). So while this is still a possibility, it is highly unlikely.
Looking beyond Washington, the chances get even slimmer.
- Oregon – For Senators, they have a wonk with no charisma (Sen. Ron Wyden) and a fiery newbie (Sen. Jeff Merkley). Gov. John Kitzhaber is currently serving his third term (though not consecutively) after baaaaarely squeaking by for election in 2010. There are no Republicans of note here.
- Montana – I’ve mentioned former Gov. Brian Schwitzer here before as a potential contender but the current elected officials from Montana do not have much of a chance. There is the taciturn Sen. Jon Tester (D) who edged his way to reelection in 2012, a banner year for Democrats and the newly minted Sen. John Walsh (D) who just dropped out of his own senate race as a result of plagiarism charges.
- Idaho – Neither of the Senators from Idaho, James Risch (R) or Mike Crappo (R), have done much on the national stage to distinguish themselves. In fact, the last Senator from Idaho that made news was Sen. Larry Craig (R). The current Governor, Butch Otter (R) may make an interesting candidate but he seems to be rather uninterested in national politics.
So where does that leave us? Tragically neglected. Washington is currently a national leader on wage equality ($15/hr), ending the drug war and fighting climate change but our efforts will continue to be neglected by the national media without a champion able to tell the nation about the progress we are making.