Jered Bonneau has been homeless, rallied for the Bundy family in their standoff with federal officials and will now run under the GOP banner for Eastern Washington’s congressional seat.
“I think that we have a very politically stagnant district,” the 31-year-old mental health technician at Eastern State Hospital said in an interview Tuesday, a little less than two weeks after filing to unseat Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Cathy’s not a bad person. She’s actually a pretty good person. A lot of people like her, she’s very personable. But there’s just this stagnant political feel about what’s going on right now.”
Bonneau admits he doesn’t look like the traditional Republican. Clad in a black blazer with a lapel American flag pin, his beard reaches to his collar and his hair is pulled back in a bun. But he hopes to court what he calls the next generation of conservative voter, spurred by a desire for smaller government and what he called “more freedom” with a strict adherence to the Constitution, including the right to bear arms. He also listed himself in a 2009 online post as the founder of a militia known as “The Freedom Patriots” and rails against the New World Order and “the Illuminati.”
Bonneau praised the platform of state Rep. Matt Shea and says he’ll seek the endorsement of the divisive Spokane Valley-based legislator in his congressional bid.
“That would mean a lot,” Bonneau said of the potential support. Shea did not return a phone call seeking comment.
A Spokane native, Bonneau followed a difficult path back to the city after moving to Arizona with his mother and stepfather before high school. He eventually earned his GED certificate and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Along with several others in his squad, Bonneau said he was experimenting with drugs at the time, including marijuana and cocaine, eventually testing positive, which prompted a discharge from the military. He ended up living on the streets for some time after that.
“That was a mistake. I should not have done that, obviously, but I learned from that,” Bonneau said.
His mother shipped him back to Spokane to live with his father, where Bonneau said he started getting his life in order, stringing together jobs at a local pharmacy and motel before eventually finding the job at Eastern State Hospital. In 2015, Bonneau was one of two technicians who filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation by his superiors after he reported alleged abuse of patients at the hospital. That lawsuit was later settled, and Bonneau filed another lawsuit last year alleging continued retaliation for filing the first legal action. The Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the hospital, has denied the latest allegations, and Bonneau said he couldn’t comment on the terms of the original lawsuit’s settlement.
Bonneau said he also became interested in the tea party movement upon returning to Spokane and rallied on behalf of the Bundy ranchers as well as the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Bonneau has a memorial tattoo for LaVoy Finicum, the armed man shot and killed fleeing the refuge in January 2016, on his left shoulder.
“That was a very sad day for patriots, and for Americans in general,” Bonneau said.
The occupation prompted an outcry from some Republicans, including Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who pointed out many of those present at the refuge had criminal backgrounds. Finicum had racked up thousands of dollars in fines from the federal government for failing to comply with grazing permits on federal lands.
Bonneau jumps into a race that had already cleared out to make way for McMorris Rodgers, who’s seeking her seventh term in Congress, and Lisa Brown, the Democratic challenger who’s gained national interest after raising more than a half million dollars.
“I don’t want to bash any other politicians. I don’t want to bash on Lisa, or bash on Cathy,” Bonneau said. “I just feel like we need a change. I want to bring more of a fighting strength, for freedom and the voice of the people, and for our liberty.”
Tom Horne, a Republican who ran to the right of McMorris Rodgers in the past two elections, said that’s exactly what Bonneau would need to do in order to make waves in a district where voters’ attention has been captivated by two major party candidates.
“He needs to get real aggressive if he’s going to have a chance,” said Horne, who said he has no interest in a 2018 campaign. But he pointed out that in the 2016 primary there were 75,000 votes cast for Republicans. He earned 15,000 of those.
“That’s one out of five, so yes, obviously there’s some people out there that are not particularly happy with Cathy,” Horne said. McMorris Rodgers earned 42 percent of the vote in that primary, and later coasted to a victory in the general election against Democrat Joe Pakootas.
Stephanie Cates, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, said she hadn’t met with Bonneau but that the party’s efforts were focused on McMorris Rodgers in the 2018 contest.
“I’d rather not see a challenger in the primary. But it will give us a good indication of where we are, if there’s a third person involved,” Cates said.
Bonneau said his focus now is on raising money and garnering endorsements from lawmakers like Shea.
“I think we have this new age of conservatism, that kind of stems off a libertarian, independent mindset,” Bonneau said. “They want more freedoms, and less government. That’s kind of the new era of conservatism, in my mind. And that’s what I’m pushing for.”