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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Local politicians and leaders reflect on Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ surprise retirement announcement

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers listens to a constituent’s question during a “Conversation with Cathy” Town Hall held on Aug. 7, 2019, on the campus of Gonzaga University. The congresswoman announced she won’t seek another term this fall.  (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers looms large in Eastern Washington politics with 10 terms representing it in Congress and time before that in the Legislature.

The influential congresswoman’s Thursday announcement that she planned to retire at the end of her current term surprised local politicians still processing what her departure will mean for the region and this year’s election season.

McMorris Rodgers undoubtedly leaves behind a significant legacy, though which parts of her career get highlighted largely depends on ideological leanings. Among political allies and close friends, McMorris Rodgers will be remembered as a principled, hardworking politician who represented Washington’s businesses, farmers, veterans and more in some of the most important positions in D.C.

Liberals, meanwhile, are rejoicing that an opponent of abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act will soon be out of the halls of Congress, hoping that McMorris Rodgers’ absence on the November ballot gives Democrats their best chance in years to reclaim the 5th Congressional District.

Stephen Kirby, acting chair of the Spokane County Democrats “There’s no Republican I can think of in Eastern Washington with even a third as much weight as CMR had.

“Obviously this is great news for us. She was definitely the one to worry about, and a bit of a kingmaker with the money she spends on the election cycle. We’re as stunned at this prospect as anyone else is – we saw no indication, and everything has been all lined up about how to address her, a lot of material with her voting history.

“This is a whole new ball game.”

MJ Bolt, chair of the Spokane County GOP “She definitely leaves big shoes to fill. She’s been our congresswoman for 20 years, and we appreciate her service and honor her dedication.

“It’s still early, and I think there’s probably a lot of conversations happening, but it definitely changes the landscape this year having an open seat now. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re prepared. We’ll be talking with qualified candidates and talking to other counties in our district, and I’m sure we’ll be able to put forward some good candidates for this seat.

“Part of the reason why people have re-elected Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers is because of her conservative values and her adherence to the Republican platform.”

Mary Kuney, Republican chair of the Spokane County Commissioners, in a written statement “It has been an honor to support Cathy personally and professionally over the past 20 years.

“She has been a trailblazer, and tireless champion for the people of Eastern Washington. I am so sad to lose her as a voice of reason in our nation’s Capitol, but happy for Cathy and her family. More than anything, I am thankful for her service to Eastern Washington and to our Country.”

Josh Kerns, Republican Spokane County Commissioner “I think it’s a big loss for our region. It’s always a big loss when someone with that seniority, that experience and influence, leaves.”

Al French, Republican Spokane County Commissioner “I just think the world of Cathy, and her years of dedication to this region and the country. She’s been an outstanding public servant.”

Jonathan Bingle, conservative Spokane City Councilman “I think Cathy has been a great representative for our area, especially being in the position she’s in now, being able to fight for energy and commerce in our area.

“Especially with the fights over dams right now, it was important to have Cathy in that position, and I don’t know what it means for the area now that she’s leaving. Cathy is well respected and high up in Congress, and that’s not something you replace overnight. It’s a loss for the area, but thank God for her and her service.”

Paul Dillon, liberal Spokane City Councilman who sparred with McMorris Rodgers in his previous job with Planned Parenthood “She was very shrewd and did a great job of often spinning her record. She had an ability to say two contradictory things at once.

“She was the only representative in Washington state to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, but then you’d see her turn around and voice support for health care. There was always a massive disconnect, to me, between her and the community she represented.

“She was leading the defund Planned Parenthood efforts, which at the end of the day really wasn’t about abortion, it was about blocking Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider. It would have been a devastating blow to low-income families across the district.”

Zack Zappone, liberal Spokane City Councilman “I actually first met Rep. McMorris Rodgers in high school in a trip to D.C., and I appreciated her kindness showing me as a high schooler around the federal government. Obviously, we disagreed a lot on substantive policy, but I appreciate her service to the community and what she brought to the district.

“And I’m looking forward to a new era in the 5th district.”

Diana Wilhite, former Spokane Valley mayor “I appreciate all she’s done over the years, and the sacrifices she’s made to advocate for the interests of people in our neck of the woods.

“(Dams are) an important issue for us here in Eastern Washington, so the next person would need to indicate a similar interest.”

Michael Baumgartner, Spokane County Treasurer and former Republican state senator “She leaves a tremendous legacy, and I certainly appreciate all the sacrifices and hard work both her and her family have made for Eastern Washington. I sent her a note saying the barnyard would certainly miss the flamingo – when she first got to Congress, an older congressman called her “a pink flamingo in the barnyard of D.C.,” and she has an event every year called the Pink Flamingo BBQ.

“She’s a friend and someone we respect.”

Ozzie Knezovich, former Republican Spokane County Sheriff “She cared deeply about people and jobs. She really wasn’t your classical politician, she actually did a lot of things behind the scenes for individuals.

“She had an understanding and deep care for the community.

“You always have that lost institutional knowledge when someone like this in tenure leaves. This is why when someone says we need term limits, I say, we do have term limits, it’s called the vote, and if someone’s doing a great job, keep them in, and if they’re not, don’t elect them.

“She had broad-based knowledge of things to help the Northwest and America in general. I think she did an outstanding job.”

Marci Green, Fairfield grower, former president and current member of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers “We have really appreciated her efforts on behalf of agriculture in Eastern Washington. She has been a good advocate for our industry, and her leadership has been instrumental, especially with the Snake River dams and our efforts to protect our dam infrastructure.”

Ray Golly, member of the Spokane County Cattlemen “She’s been a good voice for us, but she’s been there a long time.”

Jim Wentland, president of the Spokane County Cattlemen “She’s kind of lost her voice in recent years.”

Alisha Benson, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated“As an organization working to advance economic growth in the region, she’s been a good partner.

“She was also a champion of our military and particularly Fairchild Air Force Base, ensuring our base stays open and operating. Fairchild is our largest single-site employer in Eastern Washington, and she’s also worked hard with our community to ensure, when we’ve heard concerns about base realignment and closure, that Fairchild continues as a key operating base of the Air Force

“She’s been a great partner, as well, on the Veterans Affairs side of things.”

Kitara Johnson, founder and editor of COME-UNITY Magazine, personal friend of McMorris Rodgers “This has been a long time coming. Cathy has had some tough times over the last few elections, and the landscape of politics has become so polarized.

“She has really represented her constituents and her district well, and as a veteran myself, I don’t think we could have had a better representative for veterans. People forget, on Veterans Day it’s important to think of vets, but the rest of the year? When the medical system is down, when the VA isn’t responding fast enough, when the phone system is broken, we had a real champion. When we called Cathy’s office, we knew there’d be someone there to help us.

“I hope we can find a similar champion in whoever takes her place.

“One part of Cathy McMorris Rodgers that I think people forget the most: she’s a mom. Being a mother, she sacrificed a lot to be gone and to still try to be present in her kid’s life and her husband’s life, and try to be present for your constituents.

“I think she’s done her absolute best, and I think that right now, everybody is exhausted with politics in general. I think people are exhausted watching the polarization of people and groups, the lack of unity and willingness to work together. Whatever reason she made this decision to retire, I don’t think anyone would not admit she’s done her best, she’s stayed the course, and the people have voted her in over and over again for a reason. She will be terribly missed.

“But as a friend, I’d love to have her back home.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Nick Gibson contributed to this report.