Arrow-right Camera
News >  WA Government

Lisa Brown, former lawmaker and WSU chancellor, announces 2018 run for Congress

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 31, 2017, 2:51 p.m.

WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown is embraced by Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Dean John Tomkowiak on Oct. 19, 2016. Brown announced her intention to run for Congress in 2018 Wednesday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown is embraced by Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Dean John Tomkowiak on Oct. 19, 2016. Brown announced her intention to run for Congress in 2018 Wednesday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Lisa Brown spilled what may have been the worst kept secret in Washington politics, announcing her intention to run for Congress in 2018.

“I’m just ready to go,” Brown, a former state lawmaker and most recently chancellor of Washington State University in Spokane, said Wednesday afternoon. “And I know a lot of people are ready.”

Brown has been spending her summer meeting with groups throughout Washington’s 5th Congressional district, which hasn’t put a Democrat in office since Tom Foley was ousted by voters in 1994. The 60-year-old, who spent 20 years teaching economics at Eastern Washington University, was elected to her first term in the state House of Representatives two years earlier.

Brown’s pitch for office against longtime Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has the hallmarks of Foley’s opponent in that race 25 years ago when Republican George Nethercutt argued Foley had been in Congress too long. Nethercutt’s campaign led to a shocking upset of Foley, the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“There’s a sense that our current congressional representative has become out of touch with the district,” Brown said. “I think there is a danger, when you’re in a position for a long time, that you get into that Beltway mentality.”

Brown left state politics in 2013 after serving as the majority leader in the Washington Senate for her final eight years in office. She said she would use her connections from a career in state politics to help propel her campaign.

“I gave up my job at WSU so I could do this full time over the next year,” Brown said. “I will be also relying more, probably, on people power, frankly, because it will be hard to match the dollars on the other side.”

Brown joins a race that already has a Democratic candidate in Matthew Sutherland, a Washington State University alumnus. Independent Eric Agnew has also joined next November’s contest. City Council President Ben Stuckart announced his candidacy and then withdrew in June citing family medical issues.

Whoever makes it through the top-two primary likely will face McMorris Rodgers, a candidate who has never received less than 56 percent of the popular vote in a general election. Last year she defeated Democrat Joe Pakootas for the second straight time with 59 percent of the vote, just slightly less than the 60 percent she’d earned in 2014.

Brown said she believed her campaign could eat into those past victory margins.

“I think people are pretty independent here,” Brown said. “I don’t think, if you asked most people, it would be about the ‘D’ or the ‘R’ on the ballot after their name.”

Brown said she believed health care, policies promoting economic growth and the rising costs of higher education would be key issues in a future political campaign.

The longtime South Hill resident, who recently took up residence in the bustling Kendall Yards neighborhood, always had planned to make a decision about running after the new WSU medical school opened.

But she said her decision hastened with the House of Representatives’ approval of the GOP health care bill this spring that would have priced millions of Medicaid recipients out of coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Brown also pointed to the ensuing ceremony that occurred on the White House lawn, headed by President Donald Trump, heralding the end of what he and GOP congressional leaders called the damaging effects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“As I understood how damaging that bill would be for Eastern Washington, and the contrast between their sort of smiling faces and the concern I have been hearing from people, the contrast there was pretty dramatic,” Brown said.

Brown planned a formal announcement of her candidacy Thursday. The 2018 election is 432 days away.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 to correct the date that House Speaker Tom Foley lost his seat in Congress to George Nethercutt.