My memory is the call came in the mid-morning of a fall day in 1991.
I was in the Spokane office of the strategic planning, communications and public affairs firm called The Gallatin Group, a regional consulting firm which I had founded in early 1989.
For the previous five years I had been the northwest regional vice president for Kaiser Aluminum, with 5,000 employees the area’s largest private employer. I was the visible face of the company including its lead lobbyist in Olympia. I was also an anomaly in that I was one of the few business Democrats.
On the other end of the phone was a State Senator from the Shoreline district outside of Seattle who I had not yet met - a young mother and former school board president named Patty Murray. A few years earlier while lobbying in Olympia another legislator made the mistake of sarcastically talking down to her and dubbed her as nothing but “a mom in tennis shoes.”
Even though there was an incumbent Democrat, former Carter Administration Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams, who planned on being re-elected in 1992, Murray was going to challenge him in the Democratic primary and she wanted my help.
We both knew Adams was ethically challenged, that he had reputation for chasing women including, it was rumored, women that worked for him. We talked for an hour and when the call was over I signed on - which made me one of the first “influentials” to back her candidacy.
Shortly thereafter the Seattle Times ran a story in which an office intern, the daughter of a long-time family friend, claimed Adams had drugged her and undoubtedly taken advantage of her drugged state. The public outcry quickly forced Adams to announce he would not seek re-election. Though Murray was the only one unafraid to take on the challenge earlier, several male congressmen quickly jumped into the race, thinking of course that the mom in tennis shoes would be easy roadkill. They were the first of many who underestimated Murray.
In the late spring of 1992, I was interviewed by a political reporter, Rebecca Boren, of the Seattle P-I, who had been assigned to do the candidate profile on Murray. Asked why I had been one of the first to support Murray I gave Boren an on the record quote that turned out to be the first quote above the fold on the front page profile:
“Patty Murray is the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message and she’s going to win.” Former colleagues in Olympia called to ask if I’d lost my marbles. I simply replied, “just you watch.”
My prediction was cast in concrete by one more arrogant male underestimating her - Congressman Rod Chandler, her Republican opponent in the general election. As the last week of October rolled around polls showed that Chandler had steadily narrowed the gap and indeed was thought to be narrowly ahead. One major debate, before the Seattle Chamber the last week of October, remained.
The lead, if there was one, vanished in the last 30 seconds of the debate.
Murray had finished her one minute summary and it was Chandler’s turn. Before a thoroughly stunned statewide audience, his supporters and the media Chandler leaned into the microphone and inexplicably began to croon the words to an old song: “Dang me, dang me/They ought to take a rope and hang me/High from the highest tree/Woman would you weep for me?”
It was condescending, insulting and women across the state were repulsed and in turn repudiated Chandler.
Murray was on her way to D.C. where she continues to be underestimated too often by too many. The roadkill are the number of former Republican congressmen she has defeated, and counting a couple of Democratic congressmen from her first race she holds the record for a senator rebuffing members of Congress (five) who challenge.
In the meantime she has quietly gone about producing fine legislation, working on keeping commitments to veterans, on fiscal reform (she and Speaker Paul Ryan worked out a compromise on fiscal reform), corrections to and abolition of the often overload of too much testing in the No Child Left Behind program, and the list goes on.
She is number four in the Democratic leadership. Should the D’s capture the Senate in the fall I look for her to possibly challenge Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for the Deputy leadership post.
As I watched the coordinated effort to force Senator Al Franken to be held accountable I could see her fine and deft hand at work. I couldn’t help thinking about the long road we’ve traveled. Senator Murray has always made me proud to have been one of her earliest supporters.
She is still the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message and she is still a winner.