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Independent Agnew joins 2018 Congressional race that is far from solidified

UPDATED: Wed., July 26, 2017, 9:32 p.m.

Eric Agnew, independent candidate for Washington’s 5th District U.S. House of Representatives seat. (Eric Agnew / Courtesy)
Eric Agnew, independent candidate for Washington’s 5th District U.S. House of Representatives seat. (Eric Agnew / Courtesy)

Eric Agnew was washing dishes at his Liberty Lake home this winter, upset about headlines he saw coming out of Washington, D.C., when it hit him.

“In a moment, I had the thought of, ‘I’m going to run for Congress. And I’m going to win,’ ” the 39-year-old manager at Itron Inc. said in an interview this week.

He’ll run as an independent, marking the fourth-straight contest for the region’s seat in the House of Representatives that’s drawn a candidate claiming no party. No independent candidate has earned more than 15 percent of the primary vote in that time, and none has made it through the top-two system to the general election.

Agnew, a Spokane transplant by way of California, enters a candidate pool that is by no means settled. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is expected to compete once again for the seat she’s held since 2005, and Matthew Sutherland, a recent Washington State University alumnus, has declared as a Democrat. Former state Rep. Lisa Brown is pondering entering the race, and City Council President Ben Stuckart dropped out earlier this year, citing family health issues.

Agnew’s message of bipartisan reconciliation in an age of partisan politics echoes Dave Wilson, who twice sought election as an independent but failed to carve out the plurality needed to advance to the general contest in November. Agnew believes he’ll benefit from a more rigorous digital and social media campaign as well as an electorate that’s ready to shift left, but not all the way to a Democratic candidate.

“A district that didn’t support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump is not going to support Lisa Brown over Cathy McMorris Rodgers,” Agnew said.

But Agnew was not yet ready this week to discuss his views on prevailing political issues. He criticized the congressional procedure that led to Tuesday’s Senate health care vote in which Republican lawmakers voted to further debate a bill they knew nothing about, calling it evidence of “bully pulpit” politics he’d seek to erase in Washington by building relationships with lawmakers of both parties.

Agnew, who had voted for McMorris Rodgers in the past, described himself as a fiscal conservative with progressive leanings on social justice issues.

“I voted for the congresswoman. She’s my representative, but I don’t feel represented by her,” Agnew said.

The one policy issue he committed to in an interview was imposing term limits for members of Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such limits cannot be achieved through legislation but would require a constitutional amendment process.

Agnew, making his first run for political office, acknowledged the long odds ahead of him in the campaign, but said that somebody needs to shake up the current party logjam in Congress.

“There’s a better way. We shouldn’t be in a position of doing nothing but resisting what the other party is doing,” Agnew said.