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Cantwell prepares for duties

SEATTLE - Catching up with Maria Cantwell as she prepares for her new job as a U.S. senator is like trying to nab a fly with a pair of chopsticks - almost impossible.

Cantwell herself is racing against time to prepare to shoulder her duties in January.

"There hasn't been a senator in history that has had to get up to speed in as short time as Maria," says Christian Sinderman, Cantwell's spokesperson. "It's a frenzied schedule and a lack of staff is kind of putting the hurt on us."

Involved in the last senatorial election in the nation to be finalized after an arduous absentee ballot count and a recount, Cantwell has three fewer weeks than other senators-elect to prepare for office.

In the 12 days since her official election, she met with ranking members of a number of committees in Washington, D.C., and has been conducting interviews to begin to assemble her staff.

Although unavailable to speak herself at this time, campaign staff members say her pro-sovereignty stance is still solid and that tribes have no reason to worry.

It is still undecided whether or not she will appoint an Indian advisor to her staff.

"It is certainly not out of the question," Sinderman says. "It's certainly something that is on the table. And there would be a lot of benefits in doing that."

The other big question concerning Cantwell's committee selection is also up in the air.

Not surprisingly, she has expressed interest in the energy and natural resources committees and has met with ranking members of both. But the selection of committees is somewhat of a crap shoot. What Cantwell wants and what Cantwell gets may be two different things.

"Part of the problem is that no one knows what committees they're on yet because of the 50-50 split," Sinderman says. "And with the potential power-sharing and with the committees there is some limbo as to how many slots are open in different committees. So she doesn't know yet."