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Spokane County Republican chair calls on Democrats to denounce booing of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 17, 2017

FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at the MLK Day march, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at the MLK Day march, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane County Republican Party chairwoman is calling on her Democratic counterpart to denounce the booing and chanting that drowned out part of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ speech at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Rally.

McMorris Rodgers’ speech at the rally Monday morning was periodically interrupted by people yelling and challenging her remarks. Toward the end of her remarks, a number of people in the crowd began chanting “save our health care,” referring to the congresswoman’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

As she left the stage, many in the audience booed, while others applauded.

Republican Party Chairwoman Stephanie Cates issued a statement Tuesday calling for Andrew Biviano, the newly elected chair of the county Democratic Party, to denounce the “bullying and hateful discourse.”

“Regardless of whether the attendees had a legitimate complaint or not, a Unity Rally honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the time nor the place to protest and bully a speaker,” Cates wrote. “It was incredibly rude to those who wished to hear what our Congresswoman had to say, and it set a poor example for the children in the audience.”

Cates asked Biviano to “help usher in a new era of civil discourse between our two political parties. Republicans and Democrats may have differing ideologies and worldviews, but we can do better at showing respect for each other.”

Biviano responded with his own statement, which defended the Affordable Care Act and called for McMorris Rodgers to listen to her constituents.

“Spending any time on the denunciation of fellow citizens, regardless of party affiliation, is entirely unproductive,” he wrote.

“The vast majority of people in the 5th (Congressional District), of all parties, do not want the ACA repealed without a replacement in place. Many do not feel that their elected representative cares about their concerns, because she does not engage with them,” Biviano wrote, referring to the Affordable Care Act.

He called on Cates to join him in scheduling a series of town hall forums with McMorris Rodgers so citizens could hear what the party’s plans are for replacing the Affordable Care Act and share their views and personal stories.

“I am confident that all parties will encourage appropriate decorum at these meetings,” Biviano wrote.

Biviano did not address the booing, though several organizers of the rally denounced it after McMorris Rodgers spoke.

Taking the stage after the congresswoman Monday, Freda Gandy, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Outreach Center, asked people to think of the example they were setting for children.

“What divides us will destroy us,” she said.

NAACP President Phil Tyler organized a roundtable discussion Monday with McMorris Rodgers to discuss tackling poverty, racism and divisiveness in Spokane. About 16 community members attended after the congresswoman reached out to Tyler to express concern about racist graffiti spray-painted on the MLK Center in November.

Following the rally Monday, he said the booing reflected poorly on Spokane.

“We couldn’t set aside partisanship for one day,” he said.

“I felt bad for her,” said the Rev. Happy Watkins, who read King’s iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” at the rally, in an interview Tuesday. “She didn’t deserve that, but these are the times.”

“That’s not Spokane,” Watkins said of the booing.

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