Watch out, Maria! Republicans, anxious to increase their membership in the U.S. Senate to a filibuster-proof 60-member majority, say Washington's junior Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell is a "top GOP target," according to The Hotline, the daily political newsletter for D.C.'s chattering classes. Here in the other Washington, Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman, who was Cantwell's campaign communications director in 2000, says that anytime a candidate wins election by 2,229 votes, as Cantwell did, the opposition commences sharpening knives. Sinderman is not worried, though: "Maria's strength is her attention to the details of policy." That strikes us as her weakness. It's why GOP consultant Brett Bader's jibe, "Maria who?" rings so true. Democratic strategist Ron Dotzauer, Cantwell's former campaign manager, points to her ongoing battles with Enron, over the company's price gouging during the 2000 energy crisis, as an example of the brains and guts that make her a great senator. It also strengthens her electorally. Most of the Enron battle has centered on the company's fleecing of the Snohomish Public Utility District, making Cantwell plenty of friends in a voter-rich county. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.
The state Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission resolved last week to recommend to the Legislature that it keep intact the graduation standard on the high-stakes test known as the WASL, or Washington Assessment of Student Learning. As reported by other media, members failed to reach consensus on changes. What got lost in the reporting, though, is that six of eight members present wanted to lower the standard somehow, but members had different ideas as to how. That stance included, surprisingly, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, a staunch defender of the WASL who nevertheless realizes, according to her spokesperson, Shirley Skidmore, that "you've got to look at realities." More than 60 percent of high schoolers failed last year to meet the current standard, which becomes a graduation requirement in 2008. While the outcome of the commission's talks might be procedurally correct, it doesn't reflect the controversy over the standard even within the commission charged with overseeing it. But the status quo will remain unless the Legislature acts. NINA SHAPIRO
A court is about to hear an appeal in the state's coldest of cold cases, the murder of A. Benton Moses in 1858. The slaying led to the first recorded sentence of capital punishment in Washington—the hanging of Chief Leschi. The Nisqually tribal leader was strung up for murdering U.S. Army Col. Moses, even though, historians say, Leschi wasn't at the battle in question. The chief nonetheless was hanged on orders from territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens. There was an uproar, and even Leschi's hangman thought he had executed an innocent man. On Dec. 10, at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, a "Historical Court of Inquiry and Justice" will convene at the request of the tribe and Leschi's descendents, who hope to clear his otherwise legendary and heroic record. State Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and other state and tribal officials will preside. Pierce County Executive and former prosecutor John Ladenburg will be on the defense team, while two of his former deputies will handle prosecution. Wild guess: The conviction will be reversed. Sorry about that, chief. RICK ANDERSON