An attorney originally from Hillyard is seeking to unseat Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who if re-elected will reach 20 years representing Eastern Washington in Congress.
Democrat Natasha Hill, 40, told a town hall meeting in Spokane Valley recently that her service on a board drawing new boundaries for the commissioner districts in Spokane County inspired a desire to become further involved in public life. In an interview, she said she was concerned about the rhetoric from the Republican Party on issues including access to abortion and scrutiny of election results, arguing the congresswoman’s positions on those issues does not align with her constituency.
“We have someone we can’t rely on, willing to follow her party agenda even if it goes against the interests of people here in Eastern Washington,” Hill said.
McMorris Rodgers, 53, has been running on a platform that has taken the Biden administration in its crosshairs on the price of goods, energy production and curtailing crime, especially as it relates to the trade of illicit fentanyl. She also is seeking the chairmanship of the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee, which would give her an outsized role in a GOP-led chamber’s actions on technology, consumer protection and energy production policy. She will lead the committee if Republicans win control of the House in the November election.
“I have a proven record of results,” McMorris Rodgers said in an interview. “Being a representative who listens, who works to build trust and to get things done.”
The election for Washington’s 5th Congressional District has not drawn the national-level interest that was seen in 2018, the last midterm contest, when Lisa Brown and McMorris Rodgers ran neck-and-neck in fundraising in a contest that sent the congresswoman back for her eighth term in Washington, D.C. Both candidates expressed concern about the direction of the country, largely mirroring a party divide that has broken out nationally as the parties seek control in Congress.
McMorris Rodgers, in a campaign stop with local building firm Baker Construction, asked about the rising costs of raw materials, supply chain issues and energy policy coming out of Olympia and Washington, D.C., related to electrification of home heating and removal of the Snake River Dams.
“I’m very concerned about the amount of spending,” McMorris Rodgers told Barry Baker, president and chief executive officer of the firm. “We need a balanced budget amendment.”
“The cost of everything is certainly impacting people across the board,” the congresswoman said in an interview. “The cost of filling up your car with gas, the cost of groceries, hundreds of dollars more every month.”
Hill criticized the congresswoman for two recent spending votes in the House. The first was a vote against the bill, signed by President Joe Biden, that extended certain Veterans Affairs benefits to those who have served in recent conflicts for treatment of illnesses caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. McMorris Rodgers told a recent town hall audience she opposed the bill because she believed it gave Congress less oversight over the VA, which has faced controversy for a digital records system first rolled out in Spokane.
The second was a vote against a bill that would authorize grants to elementary and secondary school districts to support in-house mental health services. McMorris Rodgers voted against the bill over concerns the grants were duplicative and the bill altered requirements for employee health insurance programs, and a belief that the bill would allow schools to discuss gender identity with students without talking to parents, according to a statement on her website.
“I do think actions speak louder than words,” Hill said, adding that she supported partnerships between local service organizations and law enforcement “so we can get folks off the streets and into treatment, and not a revolving door of going in and out of jail.”
The Washington Republican Party in a mailed ad supporting McMorris Rodgers has seized on Hill’s public statements after the murder of George Floyd, tying her to the national “defund the police” movement.
“Democrats have done a really good job of clarifying their platform, versus the Black Lives Matter platform,” Hill said. “The Black Lives Matter platform is to defund the police. That is not the Democratic platform, and it is not my campaign platform.”
Hill supports the reallocation of dollars from policing to address the root causes of crimes, she said, including drug addiction and homelessness.
“Nobody’s saying the word ‘abolish,’ ” Hill said. “Criminalizing homeless has not reduced crime rates.”
McMorris Rodgers said her opponent’s position on policing showed a clear contrast from her own.
“I think my biggest concern is her call to defund the police,” the congresswoman said. “She’s made it pretty clear.”
Hill accused Republicans of hypocrisy when attacking Democrats for defunding the police, while members of the GOP called for pulling funding to the FBI after the search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence this summer.
McMorris Rodgers pushed back on claims that she hasn’t worked with members of the Democratic Party, pointing to a partnership with the current Energy and Commerce Chair, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., on legislation that would establish a federal digital privacy standard. The bill made it out of committee with just two votes against, but has been opposed in the Senate by Washington’s Maria Cantwell.
“The reason it passed 53 to 2 out of committee is because the members were given the opportunity to introduce amendments,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I believe we have a better, stronger bill because of the work that we have done.”
Pallone complimented the congresswoman in a recent interview with The Washington Post for “being willing to work together” on the privacy bill.
But the congresswoman distances herself from Democrats on abortion, which has become a campaign issue following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the privacy right to an abortion outlined in Roe v. Wade. McMorris Rodgers, who has for years backed legislation that would prohibit abortions nationally based on studies about when a fetus develops pain receptors, said last week she would support the legislation forwarded by Sen. Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican who introduced a similar bill in the upper chamber just ahead of the election.
“I think so,” McMorris Rodgers said, when asked about support for Graham’s bill. “There’s a lot of discussion right now, but that’s in alignment with a lot of the European countries.”
Most European countries do impose time restrictions on abortions, tied either to a week of pregnancy or the first trimester. But they also vary widely on exceptions to these restrictions, such as in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy, according to data provided by the World Health Organization. The Graham bill includes exceptions for preserving the life of a mother, and rape if the victim has received counseling before choosing abortion.
McMorris Rodgers contrasted her position with that of Democrats in the House, who pushed for passage of a bill in July that provided protections for people crossing state lines seeking an abortion.
“It stands in contrast with the bill, the legislation that passed the House that the Democrats support, which is abortion up until birth,” McMorris Rodgers said .
The bill, which has not had a vote in the Senate, protects abortion services that are “lawful in the state in which the service is to be provided.” Washington’s law prohibits abortions after fetal viability, unless the mother’s life is endangered.
Hill opposes the Graham legislation, and cited the vote earlier this summer in Kansas against further restrictions on abortion as evidence the country did not align with more prohibitive measures.
“We can’t impose a minority viewpoint on a majority of folks when you live in a democracy,” Hill said.
Hill also questioned the skepticism of election results that has broken out in some GOP circles. At her recent town hall, McMorris Rodgers said she didn’t “believe ‘the Big Lie,’ as such,” referring to the assertion made without proof by some conservatives that Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election.
Hill said McMorris Rodgers had not done enough to tamp down that rhetoric in her party.
“People are really frustrated that she is sitting here, allowing that, when we’re talking about audits,” Hill said. “They’re talking about audits that waste taxpayer money.”
Hill said she didn’t believe the system was perfect, but that any security issues “are well documented” and addressed to ensure election integrity.
McMorris Rodgers helped introduce legislation this summer that Republicans say is intended to address concern about voting results, which would provide voter resources to the states and establish more stringent voter identification standards. She voted last month against a bill that would codify the vice president’s role in the certification of presidential election results and raise the threshold of lawmakers needed to object to the counting of electors.
“We had two days to look at that bill,” McMorris Rodgers said of the 40-page bill. “Republicans were really not part of putting that bill together.”
The bill includes as a co-sponsor Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, who was defeated in her primary this summer after the state GOP refused to recognize her as a member of the party following her participation in the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 capitol rights. Nine Republicans voted for the bill, including Washington’s Rep. Jaime Herra Beutler, all of whom were either defeated in primaries or retired this year.
McMorris Rodgers did distance herself from some members of her party who have been critical about overseas assistance to Ukraine, arguing the money would be better spent securing the southern border. The group Conservative Political Action Coalition recently tweeted, then deleted, a statement that said America was “gift-giving” to Ukraine to fight Russian invasion forces ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
The congresswoman said the country had a long-standing obligation to help Ukraine, while at the same time securing the southern border, where Justice Department officials say seizures of the illicit opioid fentanyl continue to spike.
”I believe we have an obligation to help them,” McMorris Rodgers said of Ukraine. “As far as the southern border, I believe we can do both. It isn’t an either/or.”
Baker, the construction company owner, said after his meeting with the congresswoman that he continued to support her because she believes in bipartisanship and stays in touch with people in the district.
”I support Cathy because she’s real,” said Baker, who’s contributed $14,500 to the congresswoman’s campaigns since 2010, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Norma Davis, a former city council member in Medical Lake, is volunteering with the Hill campaign and helped set up the recent town hall in Spokane Valley, where the candidate was introduced by Spokane Valley City Councilman Tim Hattenburg. Davis said she worked for Brown in the 2018 campaign and quickly joined up with Hill when she received Brown’s endorsement in the 2022 contest.
”The biggest issue is always the economy,” Davis said, but she believed voters would be inspired to support Democrats, and Hill, because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
”If we are a country of laws, we need to honor our precedents,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers holds a commanding fundraising lead, according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The congresswoman reported $4.6 million raised through July 13. Individual donors are permitted to contribute up to $5,800 to a candidate under federal rules.
Among those who have contributed the maximum amount to the congresswoman are Bob and Barbara Materne, owners of The Swinging Doors restaurant in Spokane; Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft; Douglas Herrington, chief executive officer of Worldwide Amazon Stores; and Jim Cowles, former chairman of Inland Empire Paper Co., a subsidiary of the Cowles Co. that also publishes The Spokesman-Review. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation also have donated the maximum amount to her re-election campaign.
Political committees formed by Amazon, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Boeing and other national corporations have given the maximum $10,000 donation to McMorris Rodgers’ campaign.
Hill’s campaign raised $157,012 through July 13. Notable contributors include Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, Spokane Public Schools board member Nikki Lockwood, and state Reps. Marcus Riccelli and Timm Ormsby. She’s also received $2,000 in leftover contributions from Lisa Brown’s 2018 campaign.
Ballots will be mailed beginning Oct. 19. Election Day is Nov. 8.