Nethercutt Says Foe Claims Credit for His Work

Posted March 31, 2004 at 6:27pm

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) says Sen. Patty Murray (D), whom he’s challenging this year, horned in on his announcement that Washington State University will begin testing cattle for mad cow disease.

The dispute started when Nethercutt’s office revealed this week that the Agriculture Department had chosen the Pullman-based school, in his Eastern Washington district, as one of seven universities to house the expanded testing facilities.

He took credit for ensuring that the school made the final cut.

When Nethercutt heard last week that the school was not going to be used, he got on the horn with Agriculture officials and changed their minds, his Congressional spokeswoman, April Gentry, said.

A source familiar with the developments supported that claim.

Everyone in Washington agrees that this is good news for the state, where the nation’s first case of mad cow disease was reported right before Christmas.

So, where’s the beef?

Apparently, Nethercutt’s folks did not like the fact that Murray found her way into local news stories touting the announcement.

Murray did not even know WSU was selected until reporters called her office seeking comment, Nethercutt’s campaign officials charged. Asked what Murray’s role in the decision was, Gentry replied: “As far as we know, there wasn’t one.”

Murray’s Hill spokeswoman, Alex Glass, disputes the charge that the Senator had nothing to do with the outcome.

“It’s been in the works for a long time, it’s not something that’s just happened,” Glass said.

The source agreed that Murray was out of the loop until someone in the private sector alerted Nethercutt that WSU was not going to make the list and he went to work on the Agriculture Department.

Glass says that’s just sour grapes.

“We got in the stories anyway; folks know we have been involved in this issue and they called us” for comment, she said.

“It says something about Murray’s weak record that she’s now trying to steal Congressman Nethercutt’s,” Alex Conant, Nethercutt’s campaign spokesman, shot back. “It galled me that they didn’t know anything about it but that didn’t stop them from taking the stage from George.”

Glass retorted that Murray was integral in readying the school for its new responsibilities.

“The fact is that Senator Murray has supported these programs and worked very closely with WSU, not just since December 23 but over the years, and has put them on the map in terms of their capabilities for animal testing” by securing federal aid, Glass said.

“It’s great that Representative Nethercutt has now gotten involved in this issue,” she added. “Senator Murray is happy to work with anyone to do what’s best for Washington state.”

The department wants to up the number of animals it tests for the brain-wasting disease from 40,000 to about 200,000 over the next few years. Until now, all suspect cattle were screened at a lab in Ames, Iowa. Agriculture’s decision will spread the work out to university-based facilities across the country.

The disagreement between Murray and Nethercutt begs the question of whether each candidate will automatically question the other’s motives every time the lawmakers line up on the same side of an issue. A pattern already seems to be emerging as the Nethercutt folks complained that Murray is treading on Nethercutt territory by signing onto a Senate homeland security bill of which he is a chief co-sponsor in the House.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Nethercutt, will unveiling legislation in both chambers today authorizing $100 million in grants to protect vulnerable nonprofit institutions, such as synagogues and churches, from terrorist attacks. After a Jewish newspaper reported Nethercutt’s lead role in the legislation, Murray signed onto the Senate companion piece, Gentry alleged.

“She saw his name in the newspaper today and then magically, she’s a co-sponsor,” Gentry said.

Glass said Murray was interested in co-sponsoring the bill from the start but was unable to officially add her name until Monday because the Senate version had yet to be drafted. Murray is the fourth Senator to sign onto the legislation, she added.

“Senator Murray has been working in the Senate for the people of Washington state for 12 years,” Glass said. “Surely she doesn’t need to take direction from George Nethercutt.”