Senator Gillibrand Tries to Update the Senate

Without the luxury of running against Albany–like other statewide candidates–Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is making an issue of reforming the nation’s capital.

On a Tuesday afternoon conference call, Gillibrand outlined a reform package to make Washington a more accountable, transparent political machine.

“I’ve not been in Washington very long, but it doesn’t take long to realize Washington is broken,” she said at the beginning of her remarks.

It’s a fairly presumptous proposal–making earmark requests transparent, reducing corporate special interests, and ending automatic pay raises–given that Gillibrand is one of the body’s most junior members, and didn’t exactly sweep into the upper chamber with the kind of mandate (or celebrity) of, say, a fellow newbie like Scott Brown.

But, in response to questions about whether her youthful status would hurt the package’s popularity, Gillibrand said she was confident that her more senior Senators would be interested in what she has to offer.

“I think most Senators look at legislation on the merit — whether they agree or not,” she said, adding, “This is really something the public wants.”

She added that being young and new doesn’t always hurt. “I am unique, I am one of the younger Senators,” she said. “I grew up in the computer era.”

(Indeed, Gillibrand is a spry 43, about two decades younger than most of her fellow Senators–some of whom are just beginning to use email.)

Gillibrand explained that when she was at Dartmouth (Class of ’88), computers were required. She has an advantage, she said, since she knows how to access information online and understands how the Internet is an important tool for transparency.

She also offered the “fun fact” that she was the second House member–after Congressman Jim Cooper–to put her appropriations online (She is also the first in Congressperson to post all federal funding requests, official daily schedule, and personal financial disclosure on her own website).

“When you open the door to transparency, a lot of people will follow you through that door,” she said.

She cited a list of the support she has already garnered: Her Earmark Transparency act is sponsored by Coburn (R-OK), Feingold (D-WI), and McCain (R-AZ), with a total of 24 cosponsors; her DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act to end special interests has 49 co-sponsors; her repeal of automatic pay raises already passed the Senate; and a letter to end those secret holds on nominations includes 67 Senators.

“That’s pretty darn good,” she said.

slevin@observer.com

Senator Gillibrand Tries to Update the Senate