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Corridor ceremony highlights grant, and the politics behind it

Gov. Chris Gregoire, right, and U.S. Sen Patty Murray, center, are joined by Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond at a public event Thursday extolling a federal stimulus grant announced for the north Spokane freeway. (Mike  Prager)
Gov. Chris Gregoire, right, and U.S. Sen Patty Murray, center, are joined by Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond at a public event Thursday extolling a federal stimulus grant announced for the north Spokane freeway. (Mike Prager)

One person was noticeably absent from last week’s gathering to celebrate the announcement of a $35 million federal stimulus grant for the North Spokane Corridor.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., was not invited to the party.

The Eastern Washington congresswoman had voted against the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that made the money available.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, arranged the ceremony to acknowledge the significance of the project and congratulate the folks who have worked to make it happen.

She and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., flew to Spokane for the event, held on an unopened overpass above Farwell Road near U.S. Highway 2.

Both talked about the importance of moving freight and traffic efficiently.

“This is about economic competitiveness,” Gregoire said.

It was also about political competitiveness.

House Republicans a year ago voted unanimously against the stimulus bill and have been criticizing it as a failed attempt to revive the economy.

Despite that, McMorris Rodgers had sent a letter endorsing the freeway grant application last September.

Then a few weeks ago, she posted a blog entry on her House Web site criticizing the bill and President Barack Obama for failing to stimulate private jobs.

The 106 jobs created by the $35 million freeway grant will come through private contracts for 3.7 miles of paving and bridge construction for southbound lanes from Farwell to Francis Avenue.

Asked why McMorris Rodgers was absent from Thursday’s event, Gregoire replied, “We never thought to ask her since she voted no.”

Democrats clearly enjoyed staking out the high ground on the overpass Thursday.

In her appearance at the microphone, Murray, who is running for re-election, said, “I know a lot of people know like I do that Washington, D.C., is not working these days,” and she promised to work for the “little guy.”

A high-speed route for the North Side will have long-lasting benefits, Murray said, and “it’s going to get our workers back on the job.”

State Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane, said in an interview that “if it weren’t for public works, the whole construction industry would be dead.”

McMorris Rodgers was left to explain herself from a distance.

“This is precisely the type of project the government should be funding. I have been a champion for this project since my earliest days in Congress,” she said in a news release.

The stimulus bill, passed largely by Democrats, didn’t put enough money into infrastructure spending and tax cuts, she said.

Murray didn’t buy it.

“I’m getting frustrated with people saying, ‘no, no, no,’ and then asking for money. Being divisive and saying no doesn’t get our country moving again” she said after the ceremony.

Elsewhere, congressional Republicans have been getting hammered for just the same thing – voting no and then asking for stimulus money for their states and districts.

Brad Stark, a Republican and former Spokane city councilman, explained that it is reasonable for McMorris Rodgers to solicit grant money on behalf of constituents regardless of how she voted on the bill, since those constituents will be obligated to support the spending with their taxes.

Others saw it differently.

“It’s entirely hypocritical,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“On one side, you say stimulus is bad, and on the other, you make every effort to get some of that money when nobody is looking,” she said.

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