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Speculation begins on Cantwell's future

WASHINGTON, D.C. - While the victorious Washington state Democratic Senator-elect Maria Cantwell spent all last week here, meeting with senators and being briefed on her upcoming duties, tribes around the state and nation continue to celebrate her victory over Republican Sen. Slade Gorton.

But now that the much-hoped-for defeat of Gorton has been accomplished, many tribal members are beginning to speculate about the kind of political support they can expect from their new political representative.

"What can you tell me about Maria Cantwell's Indian politics?" queries Gary Pitchlynn, a concerned ICT reader. "Is she the antipathy of Gorton on most issues that are important to Indian people and environmentalists? "Will she be a friend to (Indian) causes, or merely less a foe than Gorton?"

So far in Cantwell's political career, she has received solid marks on Indian issues. As a U.S. Congresswoman she worked well with several tribes, including the Tulalip Tribe when it was working on getting Interstate access off I-5 for the new Quil Ceda Village business park and shopping mall.

John McCoy, executive director of governmental affairs for the tribe, says he has been impressed with Cantwell. More importantly he says she is "on record that she'll always help us protect our tribal sovereignty and be supportive of those issues."

In terms of voting record while serving in the House from 1992 to 1994, Cantwell voted to establish wilderness areas and national parks in California. Gorton voted against them. She also voted to conserve wetlands.

On mining issues, she voted to protect lands from exploitation while Gorton tried to bring an open-pit, cyanide leach mine to Washington state. She voted to stimulate environmental programs while Gorton voted against cleaning up toxic waste. And she voted to elevate the EPA's status.

Health is also a strong point for Cantwell. She consistently voted to keep health care costs down and advocated family and medical leave. She is also pro-choice.

In the education arena, she has voted to support Head Start and to increase student loans.

But if that is Cantwell's past, what would tribes like to see the future bring her as a United States senator?

Ron Allen, head of the First American Education Project and chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, says Washington tribes have high hopes Cantwell will consider sitting on the Indian Affairs Committee. In terms of appropriations, since Washington's other senator, Democratic Sen. Patti Murray, already sits in Appropriations on the Senate side and Rep. Norm Dicks sits in Appropriations on the House side, that "is covered.

"I think our agenda is that she would be a little more interested in the Authorizing Committee to help us deal with progressive pieces of legislation that we'll be seeking," Allen says. "Outside of that, we have no major agenda other than to make sure that she has a person on her staff that is designated for Indian issues."

Among progressive legislation tribes are hoping Cantwell will support are some constructive solutions to deal with sovereignty and tribal court jurisdictional issues. If Cantwell sits on the Authorizing Committee, she could assist bolstering appropriations to agencies like Indian Health Services by authorizing a move out of Interior's budget and into Human Health Services.

"Because Interior has really only an eighteen- or nineteen-billion-dollar budget, the appropriators and the authorizers playoff between the BIA and IHS," Allen says. "We would like to see them entertain the idea of moving IHS over to HHS authorizing and appropriating committees. That way, with over a four-hundred-billion-dollar budget, the chances of Indian health being treated in a fair scheme relative to the other health-care issues is much better."

But until Cantwell takes office and settles into her new duties, tribes will have to wait and take satisfaction from the fact that the old guard is passing and that a new day has arrived.