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House race an uphill battle: Cowan faces McMorris Rodgers

SUNDAY, OCT. 21, 2012

Democratic candidate Rich Cowan and U.S Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers meet after their debate at KSPS studios in Spokane on Oct. 9. (File)
Democratic candidate Rich Cowan and U.S Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers meet after their debate at KSPS studios in Spokane on Oct. 9. (File)

In just about any profile of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the national media, the Spokane congresswoman is inevitably labeled “a rising star” of the Republican Party.

Especially this year, it’s hard to argue with that label, and unless Democrat Rich Cowan can manage the difficult feat of defeating her in November, she’s expected to continue to climb.

McMorris Rodgers, who is now seeking her fifth term in Eastern Washington’s 5th District, was on some lists of possible candidates Mitt Romney could choose as his running mate. She already is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives. She hosted the Republican National Convention. She’s often called on to give the party line on news talk shows.

When Democrats accused the GOP of “waging a war on women,” McMorris Rodgers was the public face of the Republican response. She was picked by Romney not only to lead his campaign in Washington but to be the campaign’s congressional representative.

But power and fame come with potential political pitfalls, especially with the congressional approval rating near historic lows. In September, a Gallup poll found that Congress’ approval rating was 13 percent, even lower than in 2010, when voters booted Democrats from power in the House of Representatives.

Cowan’s campaign has focused on what he describes as a dysfunctional House unwilling to compromise for the common good.

“Now she is running to lead the Republican Caucus, the most partisan position in Congress. I don’t see that as a bipartisanship situation,” Cowan said at a debate aired earlier this month on KSPS-TV. “We have a broken Congress right now, the worst Congress in history, so evidence of bipartisanship, I don’t see it.”

McMorris Rodgers is the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. That makes her the fifth highest ranking member of the House of Representatives. She has announced her intent to run for chairmanship of the conference – the fourth ranking member – in a vote soon after the election.

She says she’s frustrated about the lack of progress on major issues but blames President Barack Obama and the Democrat-led Senate for stonewalling issues. She notes that the House has passed budgets annually, while the Senate hasn’t.

“When you look at the do-nothing Congress,” she said, “I would point to a do-nothing Senate.”

In her campaign she says she reaches across the aisle and points to her work on hydroelectric power, veterans’ issues and her leadership in the Military Families Caucus.

She says being in leadership makes a difference when dealing with issues like protecting Fairchild Air Force Base

“When you look at my priorities, it always comes back to Eastern Washington,” she said. “Being on leadership I really think that it helps me forward the priorities that are important to Eastern Washington.”

Cowan says her work on hydropower and with military families is worthy of praise but those aren’t issues that take skill when it comes to bridging partisanship.

He points to issues on which he disagrees with many in his party: He’s says he’s “open” to the Keystone Pipeline, opposes reinstitution of the federal assault weapons ban, supports a bill that would suspend congressional pay when lawmakers miss a deadline to pass a budget and wants to cut the corporate tax rate in half.

McMorris Rodgers, in town hall meetings and in her campaign, has stressed her fear that government spending could be the next bubble to burst. She says leaders must be willing to make tough choices to prevent that kind of financial catastrophe.

“I believe in smaller government and living within your means and unleashing free minds, free enterprise,” McMorris Rodgers said at the KSPS debate.

While Cowan says he too is concerned about the debt, he believes the path of the Republican House leadership leaves too many behind.

“We have a path of survival of the fittest – you’re on your own – or we have a path that’s a combination of individual responsibility and accountability and shared responsibility and accountability, and that’s my path,” he said.

The following are excerpts from a 15-topic Spokesman-Review questionnaire. Each candidate was allowed up to 100 words to address each topic. They are listed in the order that they will appear on the ballot. Both candidates’ full questionnaires, including questions about marijuana, immigration, bailouts, abortion and farm policy, can be found with the candidate profiles at

1. Why do you feel you are the best candidate?

McMorris Rodgers: My background and values are very representative of Eastern Washington – growing up on a small farm, the first in my family to graduate from college, helping run the family business. It is an honor to represent you in Congress.

Today, our country is borrowing over a trillion dollars a year. Our future economic strength and national security depend on putting our fiscal house in order. I’ve balanced budgets at my kitchen table, in small business and in state government; I have the proven skills required to rein in spending by setting priorities so we can live within our means.

Cowan: For 22 years I served as CEO of film company North by Northwest Productions. Our company brought a new industry to the Inland Northwest, and hundreds of family-wage jobs along with it. I know how to create jobs, minimize debt, and build for the long term. Those are the skills we need in Congress. More importantly, I am not a puppet of a political party or corporate interest – I am dedicated to finding solutions to our common problems and fighting for the needs of Eastern Washington. We need a representative for “our” Washington, not the “other” Washington.

2. Do you support President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014? Would you support an American military intervention to help quell potential human rights abuses in Syria? What standards would you use when deciding if you would support American military intervention?

McMorris Rodgers: I support bringing our troops home as soon as possible dependent upon assessments from our military leaders as to Afghanistan’s stability and ultimately its future security threat to America.

At this time in regards to Syria, I would be hesitant to put further demands on our extended military resources. We must always be cautious before we send our greatest treasure – our youth – into harm’s way. In any military intervention, the top consideration must be to the potential threats to our national security.

Cowan: The U.S. military exists for the defense of our citizens, our homeland and our way of life. I support our military and its role in the world, but we must exercise restraint in its application. The misguided and poorly planned nation-building attempt in Afghanistan is contrary to this purpose, and I support the plan to withdraw American troops. In situations like Syria, we should employ all of our considerable nonmilitary strength, including economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, both direct and channeled through our allies, before even considering the use of American military force.

3. Do you support the Affordable Care Act, the health care legislation that was signed by President Barack Obama in 2010?

McMorris Rodgers: Sadly, the Affordable Care Act is a big government takeover of one of the most personal aspects of our lives. It takes decision making out of the hands of individual families and does nothing to rein in skyrocketing costs.

Health care decisions belong in the hands of individuals, families, and their doctors. I am committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a patient-centered system with common-sense step-by-step reforms. America needs health care reform that addresses skyrocketing costs, improves access, and promotes innovation, cutting-edge technologies, and high quality of care.

Cowan: I believe every American should have access to affordable health care. The Affordable Care Act is an important first step toward fulfilling that ideal. It lets those with pre-existing conditions have affordable health care, expands coverage for the most vulnerable in our society, allows young adults to remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, and ends price discrimination against women. But it is only a first step. There is much more work to be done. We need to put aside the partisan bickering that has gridlocked Congress in order to do it.

4. Do you support same-sex marriage? Do you support the decision to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?

McMorris Rodgers: I believe marriage is a sacred institution and should be defined as between one man and one woman. I believe our military’s primary goal is national defense, not to be a springboard to advance a social agenda.

Cowan: All Americans must be able to pursue relationships that allow loving and responsible commitments to one another. Sexual orientation and gender identity do not and should not take away the basic rights of citizenship to pursue and participate in work, housing, business, military service, parenting or education. Marriage equality guarantees more than the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry; it proves that we will not discriminate against Americans because of whom they fall in love with, that we refuse to create a second-class citizenry, and that we have learned the lessons of our past.

5. Do you support reforms to Social Security that include diverting payroll taxes to individual retirement accounts? Do you support increasing the retirement age for eligibility for Social Security?

McMorris Rodgers: We must keep our promise to seniors in regards to Social Security, that they will receive all the benefits they are entitled to as part of the program. That’s why I’ve opposed cuts to Social Security for those who are currently on the program as well as those who are close to receiving benefits.

I support giving individuals in their 20s and 30s the voluntary option of investing part of their savings. I’ve supported gradually increasing the retirement age for younger Americans. To be clear I don’t support any changes to Social Security for anyone age 55 years or older.

Cowan: Social Security exists to provide for those who have contributed to the growth and strength of our nation. People should be free to supplement their savings by using individual retirement accounts, but there is too great a risk to tie Social Security funds to the whims of Wall Street. I oppose the privatization of Social Security. We must safeguard the continued ability of the program to provide for seniors. We also need to work on new ways for hard-working citizens to create dependable retirement savings to supplement Social Security.

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