WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse acknowledges his mind hasn’t always been on Capitol Hill during the past couple of years.
Newhouse’s wife of 35 years, Carol, died of cancer in May 2017. The former state Agriculture Department director and state lawmaker said in an interview in his House of Representatives office last month that her death was “the most challenging thing” he’d ever been through.
“She encouraged me to run for Congress. When she became ill, she encouraged me to stay, to keep running, to stay in Washington, D.C., and keep working,” Newhouse said of his late wife. “She really was a true supporter of what I was doing here.”
Representing what has been a safely conservative district in central Washington, Newhouse has established himself as a thoughtful legislator, said Debra Manjarrez, chair of the Yakima County Republicans.
“He’s very measured and thoughtful, and he thinks about things before he votes,” said Manjarrez.
The most recent Democrat to represent Washington’s 4th Congressional District, an area that starts just east of Ritzville and stretches west to near Mount Rainier National Park between the Oregon and Canadian border, was current Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. His portrait hangs on Newhouse’s wall, along with all the past representatives of the 4th District, including former Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Sid Morrison. They hang just above a cardboard cutout of Washington State University’s Butch T. Cougar, a representative of Newhouse’s alma mater.
Newhouse’s own path to Congress began in Olympia, where he was a state legislator and served with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers before she left for Washington, D.C., in 2004. The pair vote together frequently, including on a farm worker reform bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in December despite some Republican opposition.
“It is a very good first step toward some comprehensive immigration changes,” Manjarrez said of the bill. “Some people felt like it didn’t go far enough.”
Before running for Congress, Newhouse served as the state’s director of agriculture for four years under Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. Gregoire picked Newhouse, a member of the opposing party, because of his “wealth of experience,” she said at the time. In addition to serving as a lawmaker, Newhouse owns a farm near Sunnyside and his degree from WSU is in agricultural economics.
McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse also oppose efforts to breach the lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington. Newhouse said a recent, $750,000 study commissioned by Inslee examining the decades-old dispute would have been better spent building more hatcheries and fish passages to allow native salmon to make their runs farther upstream.
“On top of that, the federal government is already involved in producing a new environmental impact statement that will be out this fall,” Newhouse said. “That is truly what we should be paying attention to.”
The health of salmon making their runs along Washington’s waterways goes beyond what’s occurring on the four dams, Newhouse said, noting pollution issues in the Puget Sound. The dams also allow passage for barges carrying millions of tons of Washington-grown wheat each year to port and out to international buyers, in addition to generating hydropower for the region.
“There’s a lot of different factors,” Newhouse said. “Instead of just having a quick, visceral reaction to take the dams out, that’s not going to solve everything. It would not solve all of the issues we have with salmon.”
Newhouse has also worked with Democrats on Capitol Hill, including with Sen. Maria Cantwell to get some relief for the state’s cherry farmers from retaliatory tariffs imposed by China. Manjarrez said she believed Newhouse’s willingness to work with the other party is part of the reason he’d been re-elected despite Republican Clint Didier’s challenges from the right in his 2014 and 2016 contests.
“There’s only a real small portion, that we would call a little bit further right, than the moderate Republican, in the district,” she said. “The voters here want someone that can reach across the aisle and get things done.”
But Democrats in Newhouse’s district say they’re frustrated with the lack of access they have to the lawmaker and believe his votes are too closely aligned with President Donald Trump. In December, Newhouse spoke on the House floor opposing impeachment efforts, accusing Democrats of “subversions, such as these, of our democratic republic.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Newhouse is unwilling to discuss or perhaps consider our opinions in an open forum,” said the Grant County Democrats in a statement. “Perhaps if he were willing to hold open periodic Town Hall meetings throughout the year, we could find areas of common ground.”
In 2018, Newhouse handily defeated Democrat Christine Brown, a former TV news anchor making her first political run, to retain his seat.
Newhouse credited his fellow lawmakers and his staff for renewing his focus after the death of his wife three years ago. In 2018, Newhouse remarried on Capitol Hill, exchanging vows with Joan Galvin, a woman he met through Carol and their daughter. Galvin is a senior adviser for the legal firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP in Washington, D.C.
“I just feel very blessed to have found a wonderful woman in Joan,” Newhouse said. “To get lucky twice in life is pretty awesome.”
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