Washington 4th District
The rugged peaks of the Cascade Mountains divide Washington State into two starkly different climate zones and two almost as starkly different political cultures. West of the Cascades, Washington is moist, green and crammed with watery inlets. To the east, it is barren and brown, except where irrigation ditches channel the water of the Columbia River into thirsty valleys and where the mountaintop waters fall east, as they do above the apple orchards in the Yakima Valley. The federal government has been a presence east of the Cascades since the 1930s, when it began to build dams that provided cheap power and boosted economic development in this forbidding, often surreal, landscape. A giant bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt gazes from a bluff on the Columbia out over 550-foot-high Grand Coulee Dam, which Roosevelt initiated and which was one of his favorite projects. Other dams are strung like beads on the necklace of the Columbia most of the way downriver to Bonneville Dam near Portland, where the river breaks through the Cascades. In 1996, a 9,300-year-old skeleton was found on the banks of the Columbia River in Richland. It was named the Kennewick man and is one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The last undammed, undeveloped stretch of the upper Columbia River is near the 640-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation, north of the Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco. Hanford was built by the Army to manufacture plutonium for the Manhattan Project and was where the Nagasaki bomb was constructed. After the war, the Hanford Works became the primary producer of materials for America’s nuclear weapons and eastern Washington’s largest employer. Then in 1989, Hanford’s plutonium plant, which produced two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium, was shut down because of hazardous leaks and contaminated waste. The spent fuel was scheduled to be shipped to a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but that project has been delayed by stiff resistance from Nevada politicians, leaving the future of Hanford’s high-level waste in doubt. In 2004, voters approved a referendum to prohibit the Energy Department from sending more radioactive waste into Washington until the existing sites were cleaned up. In 2009, the ongoing clean-up effort received $2 billion from the federal economic-stimulus bill; but the final cost could approach $50 billion.
The 4th Congressional District of Washington covers much of the center of the state east of the Cascades, running from Grand Coulee and the Columbia River through the Hanford Works down to the Dalles Dam and the Columbia River Gorge. Thirty percent of the district’s residents are Hispanic, many of them farm workers or the children of farm workers who have picked fruit for generations. Farmers in the Yakima Valley, which produces most of the nation’s apples and many other crops, were enraged when environmentalists proposed breaching the Snake River dams upriver to save salmon. Lumber towns in the Cascades responded angrily when the logging business was hurt by efforts to preserve the spotted owl. In an area that was once narrowly split between the parties and that as recently as 1992 elected a Democrat to Congress, this has become the most Republican district in the state. The cultural liberalism of Seattle seems very far away.