Cantwell is best fit for 4th US Senate term

Whether voters love Maria Cantwell or dislike her, that may not matter when weighing candidates this election cycle. The truth is that Washington voters need the Democratic senator in Washington, D.C., to defend the environment and seek accountability.

Cantwell, 60, sees with ice-blue clarity that one of her key legislative roles is to hold the Trump administration accountable for its budget, land-use and other regulatory decisions.

Monday’s news — about an Interior Department idea to use West Coast military bases as a tool to get around environmental concerns for the marine export of coal and gas — is only the latest foolishness that needs swatting down.

Unfortunately, Republican challenger Susan Hutchison, 64, is too much of a Trump cheerleader to reliably play that oversight role if she is elected on Nov. 6.

Though we favor Cantwell, it’s not without some chill. The three-term incumbent can be as noncommittal and frustrating as a sphinx — such as her ducking of debates with Hutchison or those times she seems to be waiting for more data before outlining her broad view on an issue.

And Cantwell is rarely as visible as our state’s senior senator, five-term Democrat Patty Murray.

But President Donald Trump is a cannon set loose upon our republic, and there is too much risk for our region’s economy, our immigrants, our military, our cyber-security and our environment — if Congress is not poised to rein in the Republican leader’s worst xenophobic and belligerent impulses.

Only Cantwell — of the two candidates — would bring the kind of muscularity of mind and penetrating questions that are needed at this time in history.

On too many issues, Hutchison displays a sound-bite’s depth of understanding – from health care to natural-resource issues like climate-change-enhanced wildfires and the power grid. On these issues, Cantwell excels and has played a role in shaping federal policies.

Over her early terms, Cantwell worked to expand children’s insurance coverage and remove federal funding penalties for Washington, a pioneer in that arena.

Once Cantwell warms up in an interview, she can speak at length about ways to get affordable health care to middle and low-middle-income Americans — such as getting approval in the Affordable Care Act for states to test out a new version of our state’s once-popular Basic Health Plan.

Cantwell says Minnesota and New York are now trying out the BHP subsidized option that lets insurers bid to join the BHP pool for services. Cantwell’s ease in discussing innovations is a reflection of her typically quiet-but-reasoned-and-detailed grasp of the issues she chooses to engage on.

Neither candidate favors expanding Medicare for all Americans, but Cantwell seems to be looking harder for solutions that really might work.

Hutchison complains that Medicaid, which covers 650,000 more Washingtonians as a result of its expansion under terms of the ACA, is too costly. Yet while Hutchison worries about those costs, she pledges not to cut health care and essentially ignores the trillion-dollar deficits being unleashed by the Trump-backed tax cuts of 2017.

Hutchison’s got an interesting idea in replacing state regulation of health insurance plans with a national regulation, but it’s hard to see Trump supporting consumer-friendly rules. We don’t see insurance plans getting better or cheaper if insurers from low-requirement states are allowed to sell substandard products in states like Washington, which Hutchison favors.

Neither candidate is talking enough about climate change or how the federal government might take steps toward curbing greenhouse-gas emissions linked by scientists to a global warming, rising seas and changes in ocean alkalinity. But Cantwell has talked about a carbon tax with dividends to help working people who commute.

In contrast, Hutchison again waves the magic wand of free markets, incentives and technology to solve a problem that has bedeviled both free markets and regulated ones.

In an area Hutchison speaks most sensibly, she notes that Trump, despite his rough rhetoric on trade, secured new agreements with Canada and Mexico to replace a criticized NAFTA agreement from 20 years ago. This new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement potentially helps U.S. dairy producers, Hutchison said, though that gain and others for manufacturers are yet to be proven.

Hutchison argues that some Eastern Washington agricultural interests, which are at risk from Chinese tariffs imposed as retaliation for U.S. tariffs, are willing to suffer some short-term uncertainty or losses in the hope that China’s markets open up for our farm products.

That willingness to suffer may be essential to get China to open its markets more widely to U.S. goods and foodstuffs.

Cantwell and Hutchison are both competent professionals who achieved fortune or fame in their respective fields. Cantwell was an executive with the Real Networks high-tech firm, and Hutchison was a former Seattle television news anchor who later led the state GOP.

As for Trump, Hutchison says she can talk to the president when she disagrees with him on policies that hurt the Northwest. But when given several chances to identify where she differs from Trump during recent editorial board interview, Hutchison only mentioned her dislike for the president using the term “fake news” to describe serious journalists’ work.

Hutchison said some reporters are not objective, but she added — during an interview with the editorial boards of The News Tribune, The Tri-City Herald and The Olympian, which met jointly with the candidates on Saturday — that some try to do their best.

At the end of the day, The Olympian Editorial Board recommends a vote to re-elect Maria Cantwell as U.S. senator.