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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: It may be hard to explain to your cousin that Washington has dry weather and Republicans

July 29, 2019 Updated Tue., July 30, 2019 at 12:09 a.m.

The 2016 presidential election map in Washington shows the political divide in the state. (SR)
The 2016 presidential election map in Washington shows the political divide in the state. (SR)

For Spokane residents, summer vacation trips to visit relatives in distant red states can involve trying to explain the two Washingtons.

There is the Washington that people far from here think they know. Then there’s the Washington in which we actually abide.

The gap between the two can come up when your Oklahoma cousin introduces you to his neighbor as “An emissary from Blue States America.”

Or when your ultraconservative North Dakota grandfather asks, “How do you like it out there in Washington, being surrounded by all those godless liberals?”

You might have to explain the Cascade Curtain and Evergreen State voting patterns. Depending on your own political leanings, that can entail either an embarrassing admission or a defiant clarification.

Some Spokane residents cherish their status as denizens of a blue state. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

In their minds, if kin in other parts of the country want to assume everyone in Washington is a pot-smoking progressive, that’s just fine. Don’t Bogart that generalization, my friend.

It sincerely pains self-identified Democrats though, to admit that Donald Trump won Spokane County handily in 2016.

Others, conservatives, chafe at the fact that Spokane voters can be all but irrelevant in statewide races whose outcomes invariably are determined by the more populous and left-leaning Seattle area.

“That’s why we have been trying to form our own state,” they might say, as their wide-eyed relatives slowly back away.

OK, Washington is hardly the only place with regional divides along party lines. The urban/rural voting schism and other demographic predictors can be found in state after state.

But it could be argued that Washington is a special case. For Americans who don’t really know much about our corner of the Lower 48, Washington’s reputation is sometimes synonymous with Seattle’s. That reputation, as you know perfectly well, does not quite capture Spokane.

To say there is widespread ignorance about Eastern Washington abroad in the land would be putting it mildly. That certainly extends to, say, having a feel for how voters in places like Spokane Valley or Davenport lean.

If you find yourself attending a clan reunion in Nebraska or Kentucky this August, there’s a chance politics will come up. At least a few members of your extended family will assume you support Democrats running for office. You know, because you live in Washington. And on presidential election nights, the TV graphics always show the Evergreen State in blue, almost as a foregone conclusion.

Now the more sophisticated among your relatives will grasp that not everyone in any state shares the exact same politics. Of course. Well, except maybe in Idaho.

But for some outsiders, the dual-personality political reality of Eastern Washington seems so counterintuitive.

If you have encountered people who think it rains all the time here or that Spokane and Seattle are shoulder to shoulder on the map, you might be used to that reality disconnect by now.

We’re a red region in a deep blue state. It’s as simple as that.

That doesn’t mean everyone here is a Fox News voter, nor does it deny the existence of Republicans on the West Side of Washington. It just means that your wife’s Uncle Harry in Missouri might find it hard to get his head around the idea that John McCain beat Barack Obama in Spokane County.

“But I thought Washington was …”

You never know, though. If your relatives in other states keep up with current events, they might be aware that Washington, taken as a whole, is a lot like America. For better or worse.

Thinning ranks

Yes, they are still around. Though there aren’t as many as there used to be.

You can’t tell just from looking at them now. But more than a few men and women who delivered newspapers when they were kids have some pretty entertaining stories about collecting money from drunk or scantily attired subscribers, accidentally throwing papers on the roof and eluding predawn hounds from hell.

To borrow a line about door-to-door sales from “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic, “You don’t make much money, but you learn a lot about life.”

Several years ago, more than a dozen former delivery boys and girls joined photographer Jesse Tinsley and me out behind the Review Tower. We staged a friendly competition involving folding newspapers, throwing papers and fashioning hats out of newsprint. One gentleman even brought his bike and demonstrated that he could still hit the “porch” while rolling past on the sidewalk.

A number of those folks are gone now. They were good company, one and all.

Picnic memories

Ken Stout was there for what he characterized as the “festivities” at the Universal Life Church Picnic at Farragut State Park in the summer of 1971.

“Stoned as we were, we remember most of it. When the bands were playing at night, we saw naked dancers and there was applause. Good times!”

Marilyn Pearson was there, too. “Thanks for the reminder of our local Woodstock.”

She doesn’t remember all that much, but not – she insists – because of illicit pharmaceuticals or anything of that nature. “What stands out most for me was the naked guy jiving to the music.”

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at srpaulturner@gmail.com.

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