Turns out that Spokane politics mirror the rancor in the other Washington.
More than 600 people jammed the Lincoln Center on Wednesday night to boo or cheer Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose role in the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representative has put her under closer scrutiny as the nation’s economy sputters and its politics sour.
She stuck closely to the popular Republican theme that government is the problem – a barrier to economic recovery and prosperity.
“The best thing the federal government can do right now is just get out of the way,” she said. Supporters cheered. The tougher her language, the louder the applause – especially when she targeted the Environmental Protection Agency, health care reform and “out of control spending.”
McMorris Rodgers, now in her fourth term, has been under pressure to host an unscripted town hall meeting in Spokane. When she did, she faced a crowd just as split as the Congress and the country.
When Walt Kloefkorn called McMorris Rodgers’ vote in favor of the House Republican budget bill an effort to replace Medicare with a voucher system for seniors, McMorris Rodgers defended her vote. She she was trying to save the popular program, not dismantle it. Many in the room groaned or jeered her answer. Kloefkorn asked her if she would exchange her congressional insurance coverage for a voucher system.
McMorris Rodgers never directly answered his question, and instead explained her own troubles with a government insurance program.
Retired food distributor and salesman Mike Coopersmith, of Mead, stood outside in the rain waving a McMorris Rodgers placard. He said he liked the congresswoman’s insistence that government be leashed.
He wore a shirt emblazoned with his views: “I’ll keep my guns, freedom & money … you can keep the ‘change.’ ”
In pushing back against those who criticize her refusal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, McMorris Rodgers attempted to cast herself as an average Eastern Washington person: raised on a family farm, college educated, employed by the family business for 13 years, wife and mother. She mentioned she still is repaying college student loans.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” she declared.
A critic, however, pointed out that her personal financial disclosures showed her family has a net worth exceeding $1 million.
She responded by saying that one of the best financial decisions she made was to marry retired Navy Cmdr. Brian Rodgers. When she arrived in Congress she was worth about $100,000, she said.
McMorris Rodgers said the federal government can’t cure its financial ills with more taxes. Rather, she said, the government has grown too large, borrows and spends too much money and hampers business and job growth with onerous and “ridiculous” regulations.
Tom Robinson, an adjunct political science professor at Gonzaga University, told the congresswoman that he and others at the college have analyzed every bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for the past 10 months and could not find one that could be considered a credible jobs creator. Many rose to their feet to applaud his charge.
McMorris Rodgers shot back that creating jobs in America “doesn’t mean the federal government needs to spend money.”
She voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, even though former President George W. Bush lobbied for her vote as the economy collapsed. She also told of rejecting a personal plea from President Barack Obama for her vote for the first stimulus package. The programs have been both hailed and criticized for rescuing banks, including some in Eastern Washington, and putting people to work in public works projects.
“To create jobs in America,” she said, “we have to get the government out of the way.”