Politics & Government

In D.C.'s toxic mix, a serial murder leads to bipartisanship

WASHINGTON — Hanging from the wall in Rep. Adam Smith's office is a framed note from Dave Reichert thanking him for help in securing $500,000 for additional DNA testing of Green River Killer victims and evidence in one of the nation's worst serial murder cases.

Reichert, then the King County sheriff, had promised to spend whatever it took to catch the killer of nearly 50 young women. When King County refused to provide the money, Reichert turned to Smith, who grew up in the area where the killer operated and remembered how the community was swept by fear.

Now Smith and Reichert serve together in the House of Representatives. Smith is a Democrat, Reichert a Republican.

Despite the toxic atmosphere in the nation's capital, the two are increasingly working together on issues ranging from the Howard Hansen Dam to international trade to earmark reform.

"I'm not running against Dave Reichert and he is not running against me," Smith said.

Said Reichert: "I'm not back here to scream or yell or fight. He's someone I feel I can trust."

The Washington state congressional delegation has always had a reputation for working together, especially when it comes to such statewide issues as protecting the Bonneville Power Administration or securing funding to clean up the Hanford nuclear reservation. But come an election year, things usually get a little testy.

Smith and Reichert are not the Bobbsy Twins, and other members of the delegation also work across the aisle. Sen. Patty Murray was instrumental in helping secure the Justice Department funding for the additional Green River Killer DNA testing.

Reichert and Smith continue to work together even in an election year, though the bipartisanship could give them some cover in what is expected to be an anti-incumbent election. Reichert comes from a district that has voted for the last three Democratic presidential candidates.

Even so, both seem at ease with the relationship.

"We look for opportunities and seize them up," said Smith. "I am not going to not work with Dave Reichert because he is a Republican."

Reichert said his constituents expect him to work with lawmakers from either party.

"I came from that background," Reichert said. "In a patrol car, you don't always agree with your partner, but you work together."

Both lawmakers have reputations as mavericks, willing to go their own way rather than hue a strict party line.

Early in his career, Smith fulfilled a campaign pledge and signed on as a co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would limit representatives from serving no more than 12 years. He suggested that President Bill Clinton think about resigning at the height of the controversy over intern Monica Lewinsky and thought that Al Gore should have given up even as the fight over the 2000 Florida presidential results were being fought over.

More recently, Smith broke with Democratic leaders by opposing the Jobs For Main Street Act because he was concerned about its effect on the federal budget. He also supported a resolution calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation of defense industry campaign contributions and earmarks.

Reichert, meanwhile, was one of only eight Republicans who voted for "cap and trade" climate change legislation. He supported expansion of a program providing health care to children and backed Democratic credit card reforms. Reichert also angered a powerful Appropriations Committee chairman by voting to restore $78 million in funding for a cops on the street program and broke with GOP leaders by opposing their efforts to become involved in the Terry Schaivo case.

"I have always been sort of a rebel," Reichert said. "The purpose isn't to be a maverick, it's to stand up and do what's right. I see that in Adam."

Smith said he's doing what his constituents expect.

"We both know they are looking for independence and bipartisanship," he said.

The Green River flows through both Smith's and Reichert's congressional districts. Many of the victims of the Green River Killer were found along its banks. But the river and the people who live by it are facing a different problem now — significant seepage at Howard Hanson Dam has put downstream communities at risk of serious flooding.

With the Army Corps of Engineers warning it could take three to five years to fix the dam, Smith and Reichert jointly lobbied the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies to conduct emergency preparedness drills.

Murray has also been especially active in working on the Howard Hanson Dam problems.

Reichert and Smith have introduced legislation that would tighten House earmark rules and successfully offered an amendment that would provide new assistance to disadvantaged small businesses, including those operated by service-disabled businessmen.

On trade, the two authored a letter signed by nearly 90 House members urging the president to finally submit the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement to Congress. They also received leadership awards from a major trade group, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, for their bipartisan efforts.

They do have their differences, including how to overhaul the nation's health care system. Yet there is no sign those will hinder their cooperation on other issues.

"If we want to do something, we know Adam and his staff will take an objective look at it," said Reichert, adding he was leery of some Democrats in the state's congressional delegation but still tries to work with them. "I want to work with anyone."

Smith said he hasn't taken any heat from his Democratic colleagues for openly working with Reichert.

"There might be some grumbling, but it hasn't reached me," Smith said.