Taking the Fifth
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the highest ranking female Republican serving in Congress. And I think she’s in BIG trouble.
I live in Washington’s 5th Congressional District. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has represented me for the past 13 years. The 5th is comprised of the eastern part of Washington State, Canada to Oregon. It’s mostly rural, but has two of the largest cities in the state, Spokane and its parasitic twin Spokane Valley, plus several smaller cities as well – Walla Walla and Pullman (home of WSU) being the biggest of the smalls. The 5th District has a reputation for being super conservative and thus a lot of people assume that McMorris Rodgers is a shoo-in, but I’m not convinced that’s the case at all.
Like most “conservative” areas across the US, for the last couple decades Democrats generally have gotten about one-third of the vote in any given election (that’s right, every time blue staters lament the intellect and political bent of those in Flyover Country, a third of them have been voting Democrat the entire time). It hasn’t always been that way, either. From 1964 to 1994 – that’s 30 years, people – the late Tom Foley, a man I adored and was honored to meet as a teenager, was a 5th District institution. Foley was so beloved that he even became a character in probably the most famous book set in Spokane (also probably the most famous book ever written about voting), Jess Walter’s Citizen Vince. Obama was popular in the 5th District, nearly beating McCain and very much holding his own against Romney. The area has grown even more liberal over the last decade or two, with an influx of refugees from Seattle and California. We even have a Trader Joe’s now!!
People have already put a lot of time and effort into analyzing the 5th District’s demographics. But numbers don’t tell the real story of why McMorris Rodgers is on the ropes.
For starters, Cathy McMorris Rodgers suffers from the Hillary factor. She may be a fine legislator, but she’s a perfectly awful candidate. She always has been. My husband ran for this 5th District Congressional seat in 2000 as a Libertarian, against Foley’s successor, George Nethercutt. During his campaign, he attended a lot of voter forums with McMorris Rodgers, who was running for Wa. St. House of Representatives at the time. He told me, “You should see this poor woman running for the state house. She can’t string two words together to save her life.” I just watched McMorris Rodgers debate on TV a couple days ago and apparently nothing has changed. Not only is she a dreadful public speaker, she’s a dreadful candidate in other ways as well. She stands for nothing beyond reelection, so she is incapable of communicating what she stands for or believes in. I feel zero connection to her or affection for her, and I’m politically inclined to give her the benefit of every doubt. She’s everything I despise about the Republican Party. A sellout. A lackey. A minion. She’s not a small government conservative even though she plays one on TV. She’s a big government loving Chamber-of-Commerce Republican who wants even more money for her special interest groups (farmers, who in this neck of the woods are already rich as b@lls).
Cathy McMorris Rodgers has no vision for the future of this country. Just like the Republican Party as a whole, she’s an empty suit.
But Cathy’s biggest problem is not Cathy herself. Her biggest problem is the people she represents.
We can talk about shifting demographics, yadda yadda, but the fact is, Eastern Washington ain’t allergic to Democrats. We had one representing us for 30 years. A third of Eastern Washington voters vote Democrat regularly. It’s just that most of the candidates the Democrats fielded for this seat in the past, frankly sucked. To paraphrase Spokane native Jess Walter (describing a fictional 5th District congressional race in his book Land of the Blind), the only people who would vote for the schmucks were the people who would vote for a potted plant if it had a (D) beside its name. The Democratic candidates for the 5th District seat mostly alternate between borderline crazy socialists and carpetbaggers – people who lived here for 3 months in 1976 before fleeing to Seattle as fast as their legs could carry them. People who if you asked them “Where were you when the volcano blew” would blink at you curiously and say “There was a volcano?”
Eastern Washington has always been in the shadow of of Western Washington. Spokane is completely eclipsed by Seattle – for no real reason, just because that’s the way it is, just because it has always been that way. If Washington was The Brady Bunch, we’d be Jan. Nobody loves us. Nobody wanted us. We were a birth control failure. It’s obvious our parents like our big sister better because s/he’s pretty and popular, even though we’ve always behaved ourselves and worked hard and Sis has some pretty unignorable flaws. Despite being the Nickelback of cities, Spokanites look around and think, hey, we’re not so bad. This place is really not so bad. Sure, we may be under a gypsy curse and all but the sun actually shines, we have huckleberries and waterfalls and 3 on 3 basketball, and slimy disgusting fungus doesn’t grow on everything all the time. Some of us who stay actually LIKE it here, can you believe that? We look around us and see a beautiful land full of super friendly people (no Seattle Freeze in the Lilac City) that’s actually better in a lot of substantial ways than the golden…or should I say, emerald child.
As a result we of the 5th District have not only a weird inferiority complex but also a weird superiority complex we’ve developed as a defense mechanism. We got a pretty big chip on our shoulders so we don’t trust outsiders, especially outsiders from the West Side. Republican or Democrat, above all else, we are loyal to the people who stayed. To paraphrase Jess Walter again, you don’t get to grow up a poor kid in Greenacres or Millwood or Hillyard or Spangle and go off to Seattle, make a fortune doing whatever it is people do over there, computers or coffee or salmon, whatever, come back home to the 5th and act like you’re some kind of Nordstrom-clad Messiah. Telling us all about how you’re gonna turn the place we kind of love when nobody’s looking, into the place that’s mean to us and makes fun of us all the time.
You don’t get to do that here.
Finally the Democrats have got that figured that out and found a solid candidate in Lisa Brown, a popular former state legislator and WSU-Spokane chancellor. And while she may be a dirty commie (seriously, she lived in Nicaragua for years, supported the Sandanistas, and even went to Cuba to learn more about their “system” LOL), she doesn’t seem entirely crazy and isn’t a carpetbagger, having actually lived here for longer than 15 minutes prior to the election. She’s also a wayyy better public speaker than Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Lisa Brown clearly has a vision and is great at communicating it. And while I may not agree with her vision, a lot of voters who pay less attention than I do about political ephemera find vision of any sort attractive, compelling even. It’s certainly a lot more appealing than McMorris Rodgers’ vision of getting herself reelected and getting the already rich farmers even MORE tax money. I suspect that not a few people who would have 100% for sure voted for McMorris Rodgers against a crazy or a carpetbagger are gonna jump ship in a big way and that coupled with the demographics shifting…I don’t know.
While I could be wrong (all those people i kept telling “no way, there’s no way Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, nu-uh, not a chance” are snickering right now) I don’t think any of this bodes well for the incumbent.
For even more than carpetbaggery, the thing that we flannel-clad Eastern Washington grungenecks hate is someone who left home and CHANGED. Became one of THEM. Forgot their roots. Jess Walter, oft-quoted yokel, wrote about this phenomenon after Tom Foley’s stunning defeat (for those who don’t recall, Foley was the sitting speaker of the House of Representatives, wielding massive amounts of power to bring home tasty tasty pork for the 5th District – and he was shockingly voted out of office in for being considered too out of touch – the second-most Spokane thing that has ever happened*). Walter said the moment he knew Foley was gonna lose was when he saw the Congressman go into a donut shop and order dry white toast and a bottle of water (and this was wayy before bottled water was a thing). He was no longer Tom Foley, man of the people, he was a DC insider and worse, he was a dry-toast-eating p*ssy. Spokane water (it comes from an AQUIFER FFS, straight from the tap that sh– is purer than Evian) was no longer good enough for our native son! The voters sense things like that. They detect that kind of attitude. And Cathy McMorris Rodgers has definitely changed. She ain’t one of us any more. Cathy, that sweet, small town girl from Kettle Falls, who used to sell peaches in her family’s orchard, voted with Donald Trump 97% of the time.
Not even Steve Bannon votes with Donald Trump 97% of the time.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is toast. Dry white toast.
If Brown pulls out the upset I suspect she will, the media is going to take all the wrong messages away from McMorris Rogers’ defeat. They’ll see it as a triumph of liberalism but it’s no more a triumph of liberalism than Tom Foley’s defeat was a triumph of conservatism. All us political wonks see election upsets in terms of clashing philosophies and mandates and highly informed armies fighting some existential war of reason, but what the average voter casts their ballot on is not those things. The average voter doesn’t vote policy or belief system or facts, not really. They cast their ballots for the candidate they perceive cares about them and their concerns. They cast their ballots for the people who know and understand them and want to do right by them. This is especially true in the 5th District because we don’t feel known or understood by most of the politicians who represent us.
Because the West Side has way more people, the East Side has basically no say in who our senators are our or governor is. We have basically no say about who our representatives in the Electoral College cast their ballots for (I believe that’s why so many Eastern Washingtonians voted third party for president in 2016 – because it didn’t freaking matter who we voted for, our votes didn’t count anyway ) Our votes for most very important government-related things are pointless. They don’t count, swallowed up by a tsunami of votes coming from King County.
5th District voters are disenfranchised in a very real way. We know, even as we proudly fly our 12 flags, that we and our opinions really just don’t matter that much to anyone outside of our little slice of paradise. So we will make damn sure that the one person who does represent us is on our side. We will be sure that our teensy tinesy little voice is heard in Congress, if nowhere else. If we don’t like the way the country is headed, we’re gonna toss out the one bum we have the ability to toss out even if we’re not totally sure the bum we get to replace her is gonna be any better. At least for right now Bum #2 seems to be listening to us. Not that rich farmer with the 3 million dollar house, not Seattle, not Olympia, and definitely not Donald Trump. Us, the people of the 5th District. And maybe by tossing out yet another super important member of Congress, it will send a message. People like us need to be listened to.
I doubt it, but maybe.
*The most Spokane thing that’s ever happened occurred immediately afterwards. Rather than bothering to investigate a strange phenomenon like the sitting Speaker of the House getting voted out of office, the media, already firmly ensconced in the bubble that would eventually bring about Hillary’s doom, declared “This has clearly happened because the voters in the 5th district are so totally dumm that they apparently thought that their representative would still be Speaker of the House! Because no one in their right minds would ever voluntarily turn down that kind of power for their district!!” And we were like “yeah ok whatever, Gumbel,” and went outside to shoot some hoops.
Photo by Sjensen~