Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)
Washington 5th District
Eastern Washington is a land of great rivers and bare parched land, where the Columbia, Spokane and Snake rivers wind among vast plateaus, bringing water from the Rockies to the desert. Spokane grew up at the falls of the Spokane River when the railroads first came through, and early in the 20th century, it became a major wheat, mining, electrical and railroad center. It celebrated with the 1974 World’s Fair and Exposition on the downtown riverfront. Nearby are some of the most fascinating landscapes in the United States: undulating yellow wheat fields on the rolling ridges of the Palouse, where the wheat-growing topsoil is 200 feet deep; bare-rock coulees rising above dammed-up lakes and barren desert; and the vast wilderness of Okanogan County, which has long been gold country. Construction of a new mine began in January 2008 after an agreement was reached with local conservation groups on water-quality monitoring. This is remote and inhospitable land. The summers can be blazing hot and the winters bitter cold. Many rivers run wild. But much of it has been tamed by man, and the water from the Grand Coulee and other dams irrigates some of the richest farmland in the country.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 5th Congressional District of Washington covers the easternmost part of the state. Two-thirds of the people here live in greater Spokane, a city whose voting habits have grown apart from the Washington west of the Cascades, especially on natural resource issues. Several Spokane area politicians have called for creating a 51st state of Eastern Washington, with 60% of the current state’s land and 22% of its population. Near the Oregon border is Walla Walla, long dependent on wheat and sweet onions but now attracting tourists with its budding wine industry. The political inclinations are Republican, but not as Republican as most of the nearby Rocky Mountain states. Spokane County voted for Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but Republican George W. Bush won the county 56%-44% in 2004. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain carried the county 49%-48% and won the district 52%-46%.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: May 22, 1969, Salem, OR .
Home: Deer Lake.
Education: Pensacola Christian Col., B.A. 1990, U. of WA, M.B.A. 2002.
Family: Married (Brian Rodgers); 1 child.
Elected office: WA House of Reps., 1994-2004; Min. ldr. 2002-04.
Professional Career: Owner-operator, Peachcrest Fruit Basket orchard, 1984-98; State legislative aide, 1990-94.
The congresswoman from the 5th District is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican elected in 2004. She spent much of her childhood in northern British Columbia, graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida and got an MBA from the University of Washington. Her background suggests she is primed for the leadership track. While working in a family-owned orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, she was appointed and later elected to the state House, where she served for 10 years and chaired the Commerce and Labor Committee. She eventually rose to minority leader, the first female House leader in state history. In 2004, George Nethercutt, who defeated Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 to become the first person to defeat a House speaker since Charles Denison defeated Galusha Grow in 1862, ran for the Senate. McMorris Rodgers and two other Republicans filed to compete for his seat in the Republican primary. McMorris Rodgers was backed by the economic conservatives of the national Club for Growth. The three primary candidates agreed on most major issues. Each opposed abortion and favored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Each supported tort law changes and making the Bush administration tax cuts permanent, and each criticized the Endangered Species Act. McMorris Rodgers won 50% of the vote in the primary to 27% for state Sen. Larry Sheahan and 23% for Spokane lawyer Shaun Cross.
|Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)||211,305||(65%)||($1,139,376)|
|Mark Mays (D)||112,382||(35%)||($101,027)|
|Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)||96,584||(56%)|
|Mark Mays (D)||34,251||(20%)|
|Barbara Lampert (D)||19,645||(11%)|
|Kurt Erickson (R)||12,155||(7%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (56%), 2004 (60%)
The Democratic nominee, Don Barbieri, a wealthy businessman, had a geographical edge over McMorris Rodgers. He was from Spokane, while she was from rural northeastern Washington. Barbieri also had a heavy financial advantage. He had no primary opposition and was well funded going into the general. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent heavily on McMorris Rodgers’s behalf, including airing an ad charging that Barbieri had put “profits before jobs” when his hotel-development company laid off workers following a merger. McMorris Rodgers highlighted her pro-business credentials and agricultural background as a farmer's daughter. That was enough to give her a comfortable victory, 60%-40%, another sign of how much has changed in Foley’s old district, where these days Democrats rarely win anything. She carried every county.
In the House, McMorris Rodgers was elected the freshman representative to the Republican Steering Committee, which makes House committee assignments. She is now the ranking Republican on the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee.
McMorris Rodgers has had a mostly conservative voting record, but she is not a rubber stamp for the Republican Party. In 2007, she voted to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, a move favored by Democrats but opposed by President George W. Bush. She has backed Bush’s Iraq war policies, but she also criticized the administration on veterans’ health care and on a delay in rules for country-of-origin meat labeling. In 2007, she introduced legislation that would impose federal penalties on registered sex offenders who access websites with the purpose of contacting children. During her first term, she won passage in the House a bill to increase the number of qualified teachers for advanced-placement courses.
In 2007, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington listed McMorris Rodgers as one of 96 lawmakers who had hired family members for their congressional campaigns in the last six years. The following year, she faced five opponents in the primary, including two who campaigned for support among the district’s conservatives. McMorris Rodgers won the primary with 56% of the vote and then won the general election by defeating Democrat Mark Mays, the primary runner-up, 65%-35%.
That November, congressional Republicans suffered another drubbing at the hands of Democrats. Afterward, McMorris Rodgers was elected vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference. Her candidacy was backed by Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who had befriended McMorris Rodgers in 2005, when the two served on the Education and Labor Committee. Her first task was to head a 10-member Select Committee on Earmark Reform with the goal of producing recommendations to reform the practice of individual lawmakers inserting special spending projects into appropriations bills. She pledged not to seek earmarks for her district for an entire year. By April 2009, the task force had not yet produced recommendations, and McMorris Rodgers submitted requests for 35 earmarks worth $120 million to the Appropriations Committee.
In April 2007, McMorris Rodgers and her husband had their first child, a boy, Cole McMorris Rodgers, who was born four weeks premature and was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Only eight women, all of them in the House, have given birth while serving in Congress, inclusive of McMorris Rodgers. She formed the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus in the spring of 2008 to raise awareness about institutional barriers that individuals with Down syndrome face.