She grew up in Indianapolis in an Irish suburb. After finishing high school in Indianapolis, she attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After graduating, she moved to Seattle, Washington to work as campaign manager for the Democratic presidential candidates, Alan Cranston.
In 1986, she was elected to the House of Representatives from Washington, where she was employed until the beginning of 1993. In 1992 she was elected as MEP for the first electoral district of Washington in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she was employed from 3 January 1993 to 3 January 1995. The re-election failed, and from 1995 to 2000, she was Vice President of the company RealNetworks for marketing.
In 2000, she won the election for Senator Slade Gorton of Washington against the Republicans. In the Senate, she is a member of the Trade, Science and Transportation Committee. She also chaired the Committee on Indian Affairs.