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posted Friday, September 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 38
SGN exclusive interview: Sen. Patty Murray talks about the campaign, DADT, and ENDA
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SGN exclusive interview: Sen. Patty Murray talks about the campaign, DADT, and ENDA

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Sen. Patty Murray had good reason to be upbeat the day she spoke with SGN by phone from D.C.

After weeks of trailing - or barely tying - her Republican challenger Dino Rossi in the polls, a new Elway poll released that morning showed her leading Rossi by nine points.

Asked if she felt relieved by the numbers, Murray laughed.

'I do not ever follow polls,' she said. 'I go out and talk to the voters and ask for their votes. And in this election, every vote will count.'

Asked if she didn't feel at least a bit nervous when she looked at her polling numbers, Murray shot back, "I'm a former pre-school teacher. I don't get nervous."

Murray, a three-term incumbent, is a senior member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, the Veteran's Affairs Committee, and HELP (the Housing, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee).

She is also co-sponsor of at least six pieces of pro-LGBT legislation, including DADT repeal and ENDA.

The day before Murray spoke with SGN, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to bring DADT repeal to the Senate floor for a vote in the week of September 20.

Asked if Reid had the votes in hand for repeal, Murray told SGN, "He said he'll try to bring the bill to the floor, and we'll see on Tuesday."

"I can't believe anyone would vote against it," she added.

To emphasize her point, Murray repeated, "You know, I've done so much work on behalf of our veterans - our Gay and Lesbian service members give so much to their country - I can't believe anyone would vote against it. But we'll see."

In spite of vocal opposition from Republican senators like John McCain (R-Ariz.), DADT repeal is thought to have a better than even chance in the Senate and would almost certainly pass in the House.

ENDA - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - is another story. It has stalled in both houses of Congress.

Murray is a co-sponsor of ENDA, and she reiterated her support for the measure, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws governing the workplace.

"I've been a champion for ENDA for a very long time," she told SGN. "As long as I can remember in the Senate. I've stood up for it for many years, in session after session. "

"I think it's an extremely important issue," she added. "And I hear a lot about it from voters - especially in the rural communities of our state."

Asked if she thought ENDA could pass the Senate before the November election, Murray was doubtful.

"It will probably pass first in the House. And then we'll see," she said. "The election will have a big impact."

That is not good news for ENDA supporters. By all accounts, Democrats will lose seats in both House and Senate. If they lose too many, ENDA may be a dead letter till after the 2013 election.

"This election is going to make a difference. If the Republicans pick up a number of seats then it will not pass," Murray warned.

SGN also asked Murray about DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

When it was introduced in 1996, Murray voted for it, along with 84 other senators - 32 of them Democrats, including liberal icon Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

"Let me tell you about DOMA," Murray said. "That was 14 years ago. A lot has happened since that time. I've worked very hard to expand rights for the LGBT community. I voted for the hate crimes bill, I voted against the marriage amendment, I supported Referendum 71"

A bill to repeal DOMA has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). To date, there is no companion bill in the Senate.

Asked if she would support repeal of DOMA if a Senate bill were introduced, Murray said she would not commit to hypothetical bills.

"I don't know what legislation will come up," she said. "But I promise you this - whatever it is, I will sit down with the LGBT community and I will hear what the views are before I make a decision."

While Murray has been forthcoming about her views and her 18-year Senate record, her opponent seems determined to dodge all but a few pre-determined issues.

Rossi has been asked several times to comment for SGN stories, for example, but has never responded.

Asked if her campaign was having better luck trying to get her opponent to engage with her on the issues, Murray just sighed.

"That's a good question," she said. "I am open and honest and up front about where I stand. He isn't - or doesn't want to be."

One of the few issues Rossi really wants to talk about is spending. He accuses Murray of lavish over-spending on projects he labels "earmarks" and "pork."

"I want to remind him that everything I've sponsored is part of the regular budget," Murray shoots back.

"I have voted to cut the budget - in a responsible way - to deal with the deficit. But my first responsibility is to put the people of this state back to work," she says, citing the federal money she brought home for Boeing, for Mercer Street construction, and other projects.

Some observers of the D.C. political scene say the atmosphere in the Senate has never been uglier or more partisan. Asked if that was her own experience, Murray was philosophical.

"The life you're living at the moment always seems like it's the worst," she said.

"You know," she continued, "I've been in the senate 18 years. I've been in the majority, I've been in the minority, I've been 50/50. I've been under Republican presidents, I've been under Democratic presidents. I don't focus on that. I focus on how to do my job for the people of this state. And I'm proud of my record." A CNN poll released as SGN goes to press on September 16 shows Murray leading Rossi by nine points. A Rasmussen poll released the same day shows Murray up by five. The Rasmussen numbers should especially encouraging to Democrats, since their previous poll, released September 2, showed Rossi up by three points.

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SGN exclusive interview: Sen. Patty Murray talks about the campaign, DADT, and ENDA
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