By Pat Leigh, Peter Morgan, Dr. Raleigh Bowden, Dr. Ann Diamond and Don McIvor
On July 6, 20 constituents from Washington Congressional District 4, representing more than 500 individual community members, met with Congressman Dan Newhouse in a “listening session.” We represented expertise in health care, economic development, immigration law, public lands and climate change.
Peter Morgan, an expert in health systems, opened, saying that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has dramatically increased medical insurance coverage in Okanogan County, in particular through Medicaid, which covers 20 percent of the population, half of all babies and two-thirds of all people in nursing homes. Morgan explained that the three county hospitals that were in financial distress prior to the ACA are now doing much better and expanding services, and that the local Community and Migrant Health Center has expanded services, opened new clinics and hired new doctors in response to the increased paying demand for services. These gains could be wiped out if the ACA is repealed.
In spite of this, Newhouse stated that he supports ACA repeal, because he “is a United States Representative and I need to look at what is best for the entire country.”
“The citizens of District 4 elected you; you need to represent their views and needs,” said Ann Diamond, MD.
Dr. Raleigh Bowden, representing Show Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), next addressed immigration. “I’ve seen the fear felt by immigrants in Okanogan County who contribute to our work force,”she said. “The orchard industry is dependent on this work force and it is wrong to create this environment of fear. We need immigration reform that enables people to live peacefully in our area without fear of discrimination from law enforcement officials. We want to create legal pathways for workers to move between countries or to establish legal residency.”
“Will you help us?” asked Bowden.
“I want you to help me,” Newhouse countered. He stated that his most important mission before leaving office is to create a legal pathway to immigrant citizenship. “Your stories on negative impacts of current laws would be helpful,” Newhouse said.
Don McIvor, speaking on climate change, pointed out that the League of Conservation Voters awarded Newhouse a score of 0 percent in 2016 and a lifetime score of 1 percent, narrowly beating out Cathy McMorris-Rogers for bottom place in Washington state. “The livelihood of District 4 is inextricably bound with environmental health and climate change. Almost 60 percent of apples consumed in the United States are grown in District 4, which depends on predictable irrigation. Our experience of extreme wildfires is consistent with effects of climate change. Our snowpack is declining. Our economy is tourism-dependent. Millions of dollars are spent here protecting salmon that could go extinct by increasing water temperatures,” McIvor stated. Consensus is 97 percent in the scientific community on this issue. McIvor concluded that “the Republican response to climate change is economically and morally irresponsible.”
Newhouse acknowledged that he had heard we may have a couple of years until an irreversible threshold is reached but made no commitment to change his voting to help climate change.
On the issue of campaign finance reform, it was noted that Initiative 735 passed in 2016 with the support of the majority of District 4 voters. The initiative called for rescinding the Citizens’ United decision that granted constitutional rights to corporations, and equates the spending of money with free speech. The Tri-City Herald was cited as saying, “This is an initiative we can back and we hope it gets lawmakers attention.”
In 2016, Newhouse had 18 opportunities to vote with Democratic and Republican colleagues to address campaign finance reform issues. In every case, he voted against reform and against the interests of a majority of his 4th District constituency. We asked if he would join fellow Representatives as a co-sponsor of HJR 22 calling for a Constitutional Amendment to reform campaign financing. Newhouse said he was unaware of his voting record. He agreed to look at HJR 22 and said, “the notion that corporations are individuals is hard to get my head around. I don’t totally understand the thinking of the Supreme Court. There is too much money in campaigns at the federal level.”
In summary, the group felt successful in engaging Newhouse in an open dialogue. However, his commitment to voting for the country as a whole over representing his district, his abysmal voting record with regard to climate change and his ignorance of his own voting behavior on campaign finance reform are deeply disturbing. His willingness to support immigration reform was heartening.