Washington's Steel Magnolia

  • FRESH FACE: Maria Cantwell

    courtesy Cantwell campaign

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Like her opponent, Slade Gorton, Maria Cantwell is not a native of Washington. She grew up in Indianapolis in a political household - her father was a county commissioner and a city councilman.

Cantwell leaped into politics herself at a young age. At Miami University of Ohio, Cantwell was president of the Young Democrats. After college, she moved to Washington to work for Calif. Sen. Alan Cranston's 1984 presidential campaign. A year later, she joined a political consulting firm, Northwest Strategies, where she stayed for just two years before being elected to the Washington Legislature, the youngest woman there, at the age of 28.

In 1992, Cantwell won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but she lost it two years later, a victim of the conservative Republican tidal wave. The loss had a silver lining, however. Cantwell joined RealNetworks when it was a small company with fewer than a dozen employees. Now the Internet video and audio software company has hundreds of employees, and Cantwell made millions as one of the company's top marketing executives. Her fortune has allowed her to eschew contributions from political action committees.

Environmentalists and Washington Indian tribes say they support Cantwell not just as a replacement for Gorton. In the Washington Legislature, Cantwell was one of six women who earned the nickname "Steel Magnolia" for co-sponsoring the state's new Growth Management Act in 1990. In 1994, she received an 85 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters on 26 key bills in the U.S. Congress; Gorton received a 31 percent rating that year. Cantwell also opposed the proposed open-pit gold mine on Buckhorn Mountain in eastern Washington - the mine that Gorton pushed so hard for in 1998.

"We think we can work with Cantwell on environmental issues," says Bill Arthur, Northwest regional director of the Sierra Club.

Cantwell has been endorsed by 12 Washington tribes, and would never try to undermine treaty rights, says Cantwell spokesman, Mike Seely.

"Maria is by far the best candidate," says W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe in Sequim. "She's very progressive, and she brings a lot of quality and character to the table."


Copyright © 2000 HCN and Stephen Stuebner

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