Newcomer Cantwell named to Energy, Judiciary and Small Business committees

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Washington state's new senator, high-tech millionaire Maria Cantwell, will have a hand in issues ranging from national parks to the West's energy woes, help for small businesses to consumer privacy.

The Democrat from Mountlake Terrace got official word Thursday that she won seats on the Senate's Judiciary and Energy and Natural Resources committees, two of the three slots she requested.

The Democratic leadership passed Cantwell over for the Commerce Committee, her third choice. Instead, she'll look out for companies on the Small Business Committee.

Though Cantwell is not ready to draft any legislation just yet, she said she is ready to ''roll up her sleeves'' to work on her promise to enact solid campaign finance reform.

Cantwell, who beat Republican Slade Gorton by just 2,229 votes, said she doesn't consider the Senate's 50-50 partisan divide a problem.

''You can pick any one year and given time, and I think people run as Republicans and Democrats,'' Cantwell said. ''But you run as an American and you try to strive for the policies that are best for the state.''

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee -- governing national parks, pipelines, timber, mining and national energy policy -- will give Cantwell a role in issues pivotal to the Northwest, particularly the looming energy crisis.

Cantwell is interested in development of a backup energy plan, similar in theory to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance, which safeguards money at the nation's banks and savings and loans.

''Personally I think deregulation is providing a huge challenge in providing a stable and reliable energy source,'' she said. While working toward long-term reforms, ''I want to help with ideas in the short term to make sure consumers are not gouged in the process.''

On the powerful Judiciary Committee, Cantwell will play a role in overseeing the Department of Justice, immigration issues and judicial nominations, including any Supreme Court appointments.

She told The Seattle Times she would wait to hear from former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., before deciding whether to vote to confirm him as attorney general.

She said she might raise the Microsoft antitrust case during confirmation hearings but added, ''I think the chances of me getting in more than two questions are going to be tight.''

Cantwell said she intends to use the position to protect individual privacy in the Internet age.

''I am going to listen to what the latest options are'' to defend consumers, said the former RealNetworks exec. ''I think we need a national standard as a minimum.''

She added that she'll have no problem working on legislation affecting former corporate peers and competitors.

Cantwell is quickly getting settled, buying furniture for her new apartment at The Lansburgh, a ritzy downtown address.

Renting there, just eight blocks from the Capitol, costs anywhere from $1,725 to more than $4,000 per month, and includes access to the building's 500-seat performing arts theater, concierge, room service and fitness center with indoor pool.

Coming this month -- an indoor driving range.

Other Northwest congressional appointments include:

-- Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., will get a slot on the powerful Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

-- Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., will retain his four assignments to the Budget, Commerce, Environment and Public Works and Energy committees.

-- Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will maintain her posts on the Appropriations, Budget, Veterans' Affairs and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.

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