The Reptile House

It's been getting warmer these days. And, as anyone who's lived in a desert knows, that means reptiles become more active. With the warm temperatures, fluid starts circulating through their cold-blooded brains, they become more alert, more alive, more prone to doing reptile-like things.

Slade Gorton sure has been busy lately.

Maybe it's just boredom, or that we somehow take Slade for granted. We see him sunning himself out on the riverbank and think, sure, he's dangerous, he'll eat a small child every now and then, but we like him. It's part of the local color. But it sure is amazing how much Gorton gets away with, with nary a whimper from what passes for opposition in Washington state. Let's review.

Slade's been on a tear lately, and what Gorton tear would be complete without some gratuitous Indian bashing? Gorton's contempt for Native America is so ingrained that this time he found himself in the unlikely role of enviro whale lover. The point, of course, was not that Slade loves or even cares about whales; it was another chance to fan the flames of anti-Indian racism, the pan-Indian name calling and death threats that not just the Makahs but all Natives have had to endure in recent weeks. Gorton is the patron saint of the nimrods who hate Indians "just because." Gorton's 30-year jihad against Native America would, transferred to another race and another part of the country, correctly be viewed with abject shame; here, racism is just another of Slade's policy preferences.

Defending the whales, of course, doesn't mean Gorton has taken a liking to other water creatures. Take sal-mon, for instance. If it were Native fishing rights that were killing salmon, Gorton would be all over it. But instead, the experts agree, the problem is the Columbia River system's excess of fish-killing dams and the clearcutting that silts up the streams of the Northwest. Gorton has taken more money from the timber industry over the past six years than any other member of Congress; he has not so quietly let it be known that any of those dams—which provide cheap electricity to agribusiness and to aluminum smelters—will be removed only over his dead body. The whales had better be careful who they're making friends with.

Gorton, in fact, is extremely loyal to his friends, who are almost exclusively among the Fortune 500. Again, he's been busy outdoing himself lately, with a rider to the Kosovo spending bill that, overturning a court decision, salvaged a massive Okanogan gold mine for a Houston-based mining company. Note that Gorton went to bat not for the residents of his state—the ones who had been fighting a frightfully destructive mine for eight long years—but for the out-of-state corporation that will undoubtedly richly reward him in time for next year's re-election campaign. This is Gorton's pattern: screw the voters, help the wealthy, take a cut of the proceeds, and use that loot to convince voters he's our guy. It is the naked exercise of power, and Gorton is very good at it.

Gorton has the power in Congress—and especially with some seniority in the Senate—not simply to bend the rules but to rewrite them as he goes along. Two weeks ago, Gorton convened a Senate immigration panel for the apparent purpose of lambasting the INS for enforcing the law too well. Now, there's a lot of things not to like about the INS—lack of respect for due process and human rights, for starters—but that wasn't what was on Slade's reptilian mind. No, the problem is that for Slade's agribusiness buddies, La Migra's unexpected effectiveness is causing an unstable labor force, labor shortages, and, well, legal American workers tend to demand more money and complain more. So Slade, in the Senate, spoke up for the hard-working "displaced workers and their families." This is Gorton's universe: Laws are to be used to enrich friends. The enforcement of laws that cost his friends money is a bad thing. Usually that means trying to gut, say, environmental regulations or wheat embargoes. Only Gorton would have the nerve to complain that cops are doing their jobs.

Lastly, as taxpayers prepare to get hit up again by the Mariners, don't forget that John Ellis doesn't shed a carefully calculated tear without checking with Slade first. For years, Gorton has been the force behind the baseball scenes, brokering a deal that enabled the team to build a stadium when those annoying voters said no. Now, the Mariners have $100 million in extra costs because they push-ed hard to open the park this summer rather than next spring—a move worth, at most, a few million in extra revenue. It seems a safe bet that the Mariners figured all along they could pocket the revenue and squeeze the Public Facilities District and the County Council for the inevitable overspending. If you're a business intent on extracting the absolute maximum in public funding, it helps to have Slade on your side. As you watch your pocket get picked again over the next few months for the new Taj Maball, the most expensive sports stadium in the history of the world, dominating the Seattle skyline despite the voters, remember Slade Gorton.

Why is Gorton not held accountable for these shenanigans? We expect Slade to be Slade—reptiles are, after all, reptiles—but how does he get away with it? He looks well-positioned to win another term next year, thanks in no small part to the disarray of Democratic opposition and the equally horrifying idea of electing a second Patty Murray. (If Slade is reptilian, then Murray, the Zero in Tennis Shoes, is a bird—warm-blooded, eats a lot, lots of apparently aimless activity, and can't figure out why that friendly Gorton creature keeps eating her eggs.) The only possibility of dislodging Gorton next year is if, somehow, some way, Washingtonians get shaken out of their stupor regarding who Gorton is working for (corporate America), who he is working against (us), and the embarrassing boldness with which he operates. He is our state's Jesse Helms, and he has got to go, before he eats still more kids.

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