So we had a Q&A session with Senator Patty Murray today. Not sure exactly why she was here today, except that I know that my employer is doing some major lobbying of Congress and the Feds about Orbitz and the fact that it is owned by the major airlines, and could thus have some serious anti-competitive behavior.
My general impression is that she is a pretty smart and well-prepared person. Having met Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne and a couple other people who were Senators, Representatives and governors, my general impression has been that they were not particularly bright and when they were they were still mostly being "handled." Not so with Senator Murray. She could be just so extremely well "handled" that I was fooled though. She spoke & answered questions without notes and was only without information on something once.
- Can you talk about efforts you think need to be done in addition to what is currently happening with corporate governance, especially with regard to accounting for stock options? I asked this question, because I believe strongly that companies should be accounting for stock option "expenses" differently than most are now. I don't know how they should be treated exactly, but merely a footnote is not enough. However, this impacts our area a lot more than other areas, as there are a lot of companies locally that use stock options to a great extent as compensation. While not answering the question directly, she did say that she was against making such a change through legislation. She felt that accounting was too complex to have lawmakers do anything more than broad strokes.
- Someone asked her about local transportation and what efforts she could see coming from the federal government to help ease our congestion. She talked about the recently "passed" transportation bill in the state legislature. She was unhappy that it was being put to a statewide vote. Specifically because she has the ability to add projects to transportation bills in federal legislation (she chairs the Transportation sub-committee), but all projects require a 20% match from local and state governments. Except that because the state is putting it to a vote, we don't have the match yet. So the earliest bill we can get fed money in is next year's transportation budget.
- rav asked about the CDA and EPIC Not sure what bills these are specifically. The CDA is an international treaty on the rights of women that the US has signed by not ratified. I know maclean has written against this treaty on the crack bored (haven't yet seen him come out for any treaties whatsoever). Sen. Murray says the ratification has just moved out of committee for the first time and now people who used to use the excuse "well, i haven't decided how I will vote because it is still in committee" will have to come off the fence. vote counting will begin in earnest. EPIC is apparently a bill relating to contraceptive equity in health insurance coverage. I don't remember what her answer was on this.
- questions about transportation security, and the health of the travel and airline industries. She didn't say anything about legislation regarding these, but came out against the former head of the Transportation Security Agency, who resigned under pressure a few weeks ago. He was a former Secret Service Agent who had not made many friends conservative or liberal in government. She criticized his neglect of privacy rights in the administration of this agency. Said she had convinced the agency to add rules regarding privacy screens for when people's luggage is hand-searched. Feels that we need lots of security but that we have to reduce delays so that business travelers will start flying again. Criticized an announcement Bush made this morning regarding not wanting to fund some security related programs. Says that if we are to have good security while still maintaining convenience it is going to cost money.
- asked about Fritz Hollings' bill requiring digital rights management in just about every electronic device that's out there. She was not familiar with the bill itself, but was generally critical of Hollings' trying to take the lead on technology issues. As she put it, "I don't think Senator Hollings knows how to get on-line. I'm sure his staff does, but I doubt he does." Says that intellectual property issues are a hot debate among senators right now.
- was asked about taxing internet purchases said they had extended a moratorium on taxing purchases over the internet. she thinks we should be taxing such sales somehow but isn't sure how and the issue is complex. not because of having to keep track of the tax rates, but because one has to sort out the jurisdictions involved. do you tax where the purchaser lives, where the business is located, where the computers are located, where the credit card is processed? says they are receiving a lot of pressure from brick & mortar companies.
- was asked about orbitz and a DOT review of their practices. Said that she does not know how it will turn out. a preliminary report that had yet to have input from the DOT inspector general was not nearly as strong as she would like regarding their anti-trust nature.
- was asked about war with Iraq. she stated she did not want to vote on this. said that we will have to do something about Saddam Hussein, but she isn't sure what or when. says that she feels bush has not yet made his case that some action should be taken (especially unilaterally). felt that we could not go this alone without some participation from gulf states. says that congress should authorize any action, but that she thinks bush may consider action during a congressional recess to bypass that section of the constitution.
- was asked about lifting the travel ban to cuba. feels that our cuba policy is outdated and not working and that trade and exchange with cuba will do more to open that society up that anything we've tried. gave example of chinese internet users in 95 who were much more knowledgeable than typical chinese citizens, and also of a little league team that played in cuba and ended up teaming with cubans and how that experience would affect both the american & cuban boys involved. was not sure about it passing the Senate even though the house has lifted the ban. partially unsure because Bush has said he will veto it, so sometimes that means there isn't as much effort put into a bill.
- asked about potential presidential candidates in 2004. declined to answer except to say that she thought there were some really good people considering runs, but she has focused more on holding the senate as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Said she wouldn't run for president.
There may have been one or two more questions. I forget now. All in all I came away impressed with her, even though I disagree with her regarding the need to mandate some accounting changes through legislation at least with broad strokes. Smart, knowledgeable and well-prepared.