Republicans have ruled Washington's 8th congressional district since its creation in 1983. But now the open seat, recently abandoned by Congressman Dave Reichert, is up for grabs in 2018. The Republicans are running interim state Senator Dino Rossi, who has spent the last week reminding people by e-mail that he's already raised a million dollars in a race that's likely going to cost a bunch of money, but failing to mention that in a recent poll he's currently losing to Generic Democrat.
Last night, North Central Washington United and Indivisible Wenatchee, two congressional activists groups that sprung up following Trump's election, brought the six leading Democratic candidates together at the Cashmere Riverside Center in Cashmere, WA, to make their pitch to voters. From left to right in the photo above, you got businessman Tom Cramer (aka Wild T-Baby Crame, aka Wild T), realtor Mona Das, Amazon manager and former congressional aide Toby Whitney, former prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, businessman Brayden Olson, and pediatrician Dr. Kim Schrier. Five of these people have GOT to fucking go.
The building didn't appear to be as full as it was when the whole town came out to host an "empty chair" town hall for Congressman Dave Reichert, but a crowd of 200 people, who organizer Michael Nash described as independents, "a couple Republicans," and moderates showed up.
The moderator and the audience asked several questions that weren't asked at the last candidate forum in Auburn. I shall tell you who won and who lost each question.
"How will you keep our side of the mountains on your radar?"
Winner: Jason Rittereiser. "I was born and raised here. My aunt is here [meaning in the audience,]" he said. "If I didn’t come here often enough, my grandmother would pick up the phone.” The rest of his answer was generic, pitting himself against Reichert instead of Rossi, and so Olson's promise to "create 5,000 middle-class jobs" in the district may have won the crowd.
Loser: Dr. Schrier didn't exactly build confidence by saying that she knows she has a lot to learn about “agriculture, drought, water, fires... immigration and concerns about immigration.... And there’s a farm bill that’s due for reauthorization—and I need to learn as much as I can about farming.” Though maybe saying that you're going to listen to people is convincing to constituents who feel neglected by Reichert? She also promised to keep two offices if elected: one in Issaquah and one in Wenatchee. This promise is very much in keeping with norm, as outgoing Congressman Dave Reichert also has an office in both of those places.
"How will you appeal to conservative voters?"
Winner: Everyone gave a bullshit answer to this except for Tom Cramer, who said he’s tired of Democrats compromising with Republicans: "I want Republicans to compromise with us!"
But just to give you a sense of their lines: Dr. Schrier said she's a "pediatrician, not a politician" and pretended as if political issues like the opioid crisis and healthcare are nonpartisan. Rittereiser said the election "wasn't about Democrats versus Republicans, it’s about right versus wrong, and standing up to a Trump administration that’s hell bent on burning this place down.” Olson said his strong business background will likely appeal to voters on the right. Das said the best way to unite the district was "to listen." Whitney said he'd been a business person since he was a child of 11 years old, called himself “a national security Democrat,” and then said that legislation he worked on (as a congressional aide to Jim McDermott) had some Republicans on it, though he gave no indication of whether he had any hand in those discussions.
"What do you think about tax reform?"
Winner: Olson got the most animated here. “First of all, it’s a bald-faced lie. There’s a lot of people you can lie to, but I’m not one of them," he said. "Lowering the corporate tax rate will only do one thing: eliminate middle-class jobs. It will not create new jobs. All net new job creation comes from new firms, from start-ups. So if you want to talk about tax cuts and tax reform, let’s incentivize that. Not the corporations that already have record profits. You could give tax cuts to teachers and people who are creating a future for our country." Whitney came in close second here with his strong, wonky response about closing loopholes and removing tax breaks for oil companies, but he sort of turned into a living instructional video by the end of his answer.
Loser: Das. For about half of the questions, Das read her answers off of prepared statements. This is fine, but she sounded more like she was reading and less like she was connecting with the group. People wanted to clap at ideas like taxing capital gains at the same rate as taxing labor, but she hurried passed them to get the full paragraph read.
However, it didn't help that some guy in the audience told her in a condescending way to stand up when she was talking so they could better see and hear her. She did stand up—so I guess she really is ~listening~—but I would not blame her for telling that guy to shut the fuck up and calm the fuck down. Her strength and restraint in that moment was apparent, and showed that she can hold her own under pressure.
If you could wave magic wand and get what you want, what changes would you make in healthcare?
Winner: Everyone did really well on this one. Olson had the crowd charmed and laughing. “If I could raise a magic wand and get what I want, it would be to make the other side reasonable.” Ha ha ha. But seriously folks, “If you look at the numbers—for ever dollar that we spend in prevention, we save $3.77 in emergency rooms. The tax payers are already paying for universal healthcare, it’s just the immoral version of it!” How this phrase got the biggest laugh of the night I do not know, but it did. Dr. Schrier gave a quick and confident list of things she wants to do, and she sounded like she couldn't wait. Rittereiser got points for referencing the needs of a local hospital. Das supports Medicare for All, so.
What are your thoughts on gun legislation?
Winner: Rittereiser. He had a good list of policies at the ready: "If you’re on the no-fly list you can’t get a gun. If you’re a domestic abuser, you don’t get a gun. If you are a dangerous individual, we need to provide the tools and resources to prosecutors to make sure you can’t have gun." He also had a good line for conservatives: "Turns out, if you’re a hunter, there is no scenario in which you need to get a gun in three hours. Background checks: that’s a simple solution.” Olson talked about people who buy guns off the dark net and leveraged his youth, saying we need to get someone into Congress who understands that kind of stuff. Dr. Schrier, though, appeared to move the crowd the most with her story about teenage boys who commit suicide, and her line about seeing guns as a public health issue.
Loser: No one really fucked up this one.
"How much money do you need to win the election and where are you going to get it?"
Winner: Whitney. He most convincingly made the argument that money doesn't win elections. Das gave her strongest performance, though, citing the recent Democratic wave election as evidence that in 2018 people will be looking for candidates who look like her.
Loser: Dr. Schrier. She said she's going to rely on community and "feet on the ground" and "groundswell," but she's also relying on a lot of large donations and support from (very good!) national groups such as Emily's List.
One kind of important thing: Last night all the candidates went on the record saying that they'd support whichever Democratic candidate survived the primary. That's good. But Washington has a "top 2 primary," which means that two Republicans could potentially face off against one another in the general if all the Democrats split the vote and if the GOP decides to toss in another Republican candidate last-minute to help confuse people. This is why some of these people need to go, and soon.
Related: Though he is extremely entertaining to me on a personal level, Tom Cramer is wasting everybody's time. Again he showed up to the forum 30 minutes late in blue jeans and a blazer with his now iconic homespun name tag pinned to his lapel. In previous posts I've described him as "the Bernie Sanders" of the race, but he has since proven himself to be an insufferable windbag. When asked if he supports a woman's right to choose, Cramer equated anti-choice attitudes with rape, reassured the crowd that he didn't support rape, but then said, "I don’t believe in promoting abortion, but I do believe women have a right to do what they want with their own bodies. That’s constitutional.” This answer suggests that Cramer conflates support for abortion with promotion of abortion, and, further, that he might not fight to preserve a woman's right to choose for fear of how it will look. The position didn't appear to be popular in the room.
Incidentally, Dr. Kim Schrier had the best line on this issue. After three men spoke about their positions on Roe v. Wade, she said, “Do you remember that picture with 13 men standing around the table talking about reproductive rights? Yeah, that ticked me off too. I think we need a woman doctor in Congress, because I think that isn’t a decision that should be made without a woman at at table.”
Anyway, Cramer is still offering vague, pie-in-the-sky proposals. Raise taxes to 73 percent for people who make over 3 million a year! Bring back the payroll tax holiday! Get everybody to buy electric cars! Raise everybody's wages by "changing the economic policy!" Nice try, Tom. Please exit the field.