Politics 2003Week of August 11


Just about every newspaper in America reported how Colin McMillan, President Bush’s nominee to be secretary of the navy, died on July 24. As one who knew him for nearly a decade, it was less important to me how McMillan died than how he lived. And, at 67, McMillan had lived a truly full life-as a leader of New Mexico conservatives, former state legislator and Republican U.S. Senate nominee in 1994, owner of a petroleum company and a sprawling, 55,000-acre Three Rivers ranch.

McMillan was the embodiment of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote of citizens who would enter public service for a stint and then return to the private sector. Indeed, the term "called to public service" characterized much of McMillan’s adult life: as a two-fisted U.S. Marine he rose to the rank of major before retirement in 1972; and as a state legislator from 1970-82 his proudest accomplishment was pushing through the largest tax cut in Land of Enchantment history. He served as assistant U.S. secretary of Defense for production and logistics under Secretary Dick Cheney during Desert Storm in 1991, earning the Medal of Distinguished Service (the Pentagon’s highest civilian award) for his role in the largest logistical deployment of troops and supplies since World War II. (He also earned the nickname "Mac the Knife" for implementing cost-cutting measures that saved the taxpayers an estimated $49 million).

McMillan also waged strong-but-losing bids for lieutenant governor and governor in the 1980s. Although he was not successful, the conservative hopeful paved the way for his ’94 race against Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. It was then that I met him through mutual friend Patrick Pizzella, now Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for the Bush Administration. In a brass-knuckled campaign that was archetypal of the spectacular Republican triumphs nationwide that year, McMillan slammed Bingaman for his support of Bill Clinton’s record-high tax increase and slashes in the Defense budget. The GOP nominee was also strongly pro-life, called for reviving the moribund Strategic Defense Initiative, backed the death penalty for violent criminals, denounced the Hillary Clinton health care plan, and vowed to retire after two terms. In the strongest showing of a Republican challenger to Bingaman, McMillan lost by a margin of 54% to 46%.

Although three statewide defeats would normally discourage someone from further political involvement, this wasn’t the case with McMillan. He remained a vigorous contributor to conservative causes and candidates and tried to convince old boss Dick Cheney to run for President in 1996. Four years later, he chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in his state, and, in ’02, passed on a chance to run for an open House seat and supported the winning bid of fellow conservative Rep. Steve Pearce. Recalling the friend he introduced me to nine years before, Patrick Pizzella said "Colin represented the best combination of capitalism and patriotism."


In the last few weeks it seems the political world of Washington State has been turned upside down. First, Democratic Gov. Gary Locke announced that he was stepping down in ’04 after eight years in Olympia. With his state in the grip of a $2.8-billion deficit, Locke-the first governor in the mainland United States of Chinese descent-decided it was time to go for the now-familiar reason of retiring politicians: to spend more time with his family. His departure sets the stage for heated primaries in both major parties.

Last week, one could almost hear the collective sighs of relief among Republicans from the Evergreen State to the other Washington (D.C., that is) with the announcement of five-term Rep. George Nethercutt that he would challenge Democratic Sen. Patty Murray next year. Nethercutt (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 75%), best known for unseating then-House Speaker and longtime Democratic Rep. (1964-94) Tom Foley in 1994, had long said he was considering the race. The longer he took pondering his plans, most pundits and pols concluded, the less likely it was he would leave his Spokane seat for a statewide race. Without Nethercutt, Washington State Republicans would have been down to little-known, "B-Team" candidates against Murray (lifetime ACU rating: 1%), who has won her two terms with 52% (’92) and 58% (’98) respectively.

The next political shoe expected to drop in the state is Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, who is presently contemplating a bid for governor or the office of state attorney general that fellow Democrat Christine Gregoire is vacating to run for governor. Elected to the U.S. House from the Yakima-based 4th District in 1992, Inslee lost to present Republican Rep. Doc Hastings. The defeated Democrat thereupon relocated to Seattle, made a losing primary bid for governor in 1996, and then won the 1st District (metropolitan Seattle) over two-term Republican incumbent Rick White in 1998. In large part, Inslee’s upset win had to do with the insurgent candidacy of evangelical conservative Bruce Craswell, whose wife Ellen had been the Republican nominee for governor two years before. (Bruce Craswell drew 7% of the vote.)

Should Inslee (lifetime ACU rating: 12%) opt for another statewide race next year, Republicans have high hopes of picking up his House district.


At this point, most Democratic wagers are on Gregoire as the favorite to carry their post-Locke standard for governor. Twice a big winner statewide, the attorney general is the mother of the $4.5-billion tobacco settlement through 2025 secured by her state (of which, relatively little has been used for health care purposes) has a widespread following on the left.

However, she will have no free ride in the primary. Along with Inslee, two other Democrats likely to enter the gubernatorial sweepstakes are King County Executive Ron Simms, who presides over the largest county in the state, and Phil Talmadge, formerly considered one of the brightest liberal stars in the state senate and now a justice of the state supreme court.

Among Republicans, the name most-often talked about for governor is that of State Sen. Dino Rossi, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and architect of the state’s no-new-taxes budget. "We came up with a real balanced budget-with no tricks," the 43-year-old Rossi beamed when he visited me last week, confidently predicting that the budget and its accompanying spending cuts will eliminate the deficit.

A commercial real estate broker and solid conservative ("I came from a Democratic family, but cast my first vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980"), Dean Martin look-alike Rossi made it to the senate from East King County on his second try in 1996. During his trip to Washington, he had discussions with the Republican Governors Association about a possible state-wide bid.

"I haven’t said yes and I haven’t said no," said Rossi, noting that he would have to relinquish his senate seat and chairmanship to make the race. He also pointed out that his senate district includes 25% of the 8th U.S. House district voters, and said he would be "very interested" in running for Congress if and when his friend and fellow Republican, eight-term Rep. Jennifer Dunn, ever decides to move on.

Also considering the race is Bob Herbold, retired chief executive officer of Microsoft and husband of King County Republican Chairman Pat Herbold. Although his wife is well-liked in GOP circles, Herbold’s views on most issues are unknown.

A third prospect for governor on the GOP side is possibly the most intriguing-Dr. Federico Cruz Uribe, health director of Pierce County (the state’s second-largest county). A Latino in a state where the Latino population is 8% and growing, he oversaw the privatization of his county’s health care system. He has so far visited 17 of Washington State’s 39 counties and has signaled he will definitely run for governor.