U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse speaking on the House floor (congressional video still)
U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse speaking on the House floor (congressional video still)

Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house has enjoyed a backbencher’s life as a Repub­li­can from a safe dis­trict in the inland West: He’s called for with­draw­al of fed­er­al pro­tec­tion from wolves, opposed rein­tro­duc­tion of griz­zly bears, and reg­u­lar­ly joined Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers (R‑WA-5th Dis­trict) in defend­ing salmon-destroy­ing dams on the low­er Snake River.

He had a sear­ing expe­ri­ence and flash of con­science ear­ly this year, how­ev­er, when a mob of Trump sup­port­ers invad­ed the U.S. Con­gress in a bid to stop the count of elec­toral votes mak­ing Joe Biden our forty-sixth president.

New­house sub­se­quent­ly became one of just ten Repub­li­cans to vote for the sec­ond impeach­ment of Trump in the Unit­ed States House.

The furies of the far right in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton were imme­di­ate­ly unleashed.

Par­ty groups cen­sured New­house. Ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brad Klip­pert, R‑Kennewick, announced he would chal­lenge New­house in 2022. He was fol­lowed into the race by Loren Culp, for­mer “chief” of Republic’s one-per­son police depart­ment and 2020 Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Governor.

New­house has rea­son to fear such folk. In cap­tur­ing the seat of retir­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Doc Hast­ings, he faced off in 2014 against Tea Par­ty Repub­li­can, Eltopia farmer Clint Didi­er. An eleventh hour “inde­pen­dent” expen­di­ture by main­stream Repub­li­cans – with foot­prints from ex-Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton — defined Didi­er as a kook and pow­ered New­house to a win. Didi­er is now a Franklin Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er who tried to repeal Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 restrictions.

U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse
Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house (seen here in a pho­to pub­lished by his office) is in the dog­house of the Trumpi­fied Repub­li­can rank and file in his district

The prospect of los­ing his seat in 2022 has pushed New­house fur­ther to the right. He may not like griz­zly bears, but Dan has become a seri­ous pan­der bear. Just this week, he stood up, in a House floor vote on Tues­day, for the likes of Jef­fer­son Davis, John C. Cal­houn, and pre-Civ­il War U.S. Chief Jus­tice Roger Taney.

The House vot­ed, 285–120, to ban stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ates from Stat­u­ary Hall in the U.S. Capi­tol, where Jef­fer­son Davis stands tall, as well as Cal­houn and oth­er pre-Civ­il War defend­ers of slav­ery… along with the infa­mous Roger Taney.

Taney, you’ll hope­ful­ly recall, wrote the infa­mous 1857 Dred Scott deci­sion, which held that Black peo­ple were not U.S. cit­i­zens, could not sue the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, and that Con­gress could not pro­hib­it slav­ery in Amer­i­can territories.

Six­ty-sev­en House Repub­li­cans joined a unan­i­mous line­up of Democ­rats in vot­ing for the stat­ue ban. All one hun­dred and twen­ty votes came from Repub­li­cans, main­ly from the “con­fed­er­ate” states that once rebelled against the Union and pro­ceed­ed to wage war on the Unit­ed States over slav­ery. All sev­en Wash­ing­ton House Democ­rats, on the oth­er hand, vot­ed aye, as did Repub­li­can Jamie Her­rera Beut­ler (R‑WA-3rd Dis­trict), the del­e­ga­tion’s most fre­quent aisle crosser.

Even Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers vot­ed for the measure.

Dan New­house was the only Ever­green State law­mak­er to vote no.

He has yet to explain his vote.

Mean­while, he is pan­der­ing on oth­er fronts.

Seek­ing to shore up Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion sup­port – the NRA backed him against Didi­er – New­house has joined onto leg­is­la­tion cat­e­go­rize those employed by the firearms indus­try as “essen­tial work­ers.” To “restrict the rights of law-abid­ing gun own­ers” in a time of cri­sis is “uncon­scionable”, claims Newhouse.

New­house was one of one hun­dred and eighty-eight House Repub­li­cans who vot­ed no on Wednes­day when the cham­ber approved House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi’s pro­pos­al to set up a select com­mit­tee to inves­ti­gate the Jan­u­ary 6th insur­rec­tion that so upset and angered him just a few months ago.

Only Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Liz Cheney (R‑Wyoming) and Adam Kinzinger (R‑Illinois) vot­ed aye. They are the two peo­ple in the House Repub­li­can cau­cus who have been the most will­ing since last Novem­ber to break with Trump.

New­house has also signed up for the Repub­li­cans’ cul­ture wars.

He has joined as a cospon­sor of two bills that would seek to block crit­i­cal race the­o­ry from being pro­mot­ed by gov­ern­ment or taught in America’s pub­lic schools. “Teach­ing stu­dents to be ashamed of our coun­try and to judge each oth­er based on the col­or of their skin is wrong and divi­sive: Crit­i­cal race the­o­ry has no place in our schools,” New­house said in a state­ment last week.

Huh? New­house comes from an old farm­ing fam­i­ly in the Yaki­ma Val­ley. Migrant work­ers, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Lati­no and His­pan­ic, have long faced bul­warks of dis­crim­i­na­tion designed by those in power.

As Yakima’s Catholic Bish­op Joseph Tyson point­ed out in a mem­o­rable homi­ly, the state’s agri­cul­ture indus­try is built on the backs of new Amer­i­cans… work­ers who are in many cas­es undoc­u­ment­ed, but who belong to our soci­ety nonetheless.

What else? At-large vot­ing has dilut­ed work­ers’ polit­i­cal pow­er. The one minor­i­ty-major­i­ty leg­isla­tive dis­trict in the val­ley had a big dent in its bound­aries exclud­ing Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods. Sure­ly New­house is aware of work­er hous­ing con­di­tions for years exposed by Hil­da Bryant in the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer.

The state Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, once head­ed by New­house, was long imper­vi­ous to work­er com­plaints about pes­ti­cide and her­bi­cide use.

The strug­gle for civ­il and human rights in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton can no more be ignored than the region’s sum­mer heat. Trans­for­ma­tion of the Yaki­ma Val­ley over the past eighty years has every place in class­rooms of the val­ley, and the state.

But social jus­tice is anath­e­ma to the Repub­li­can base, so New­house deliv­ers the boil­er­plate he knows is expect­ed of him. “Biden has aban­doned his com­mit­ment to equal treat­ment under the law with his most recent pro­pos­al to fund crit­i­cal race the­o­ry pro­pos­als,” reads anoth­er broad­side from the congressman.

And then there is New­house­’s rhetoric on China.

The world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, cur­rent­ly con­trolled by Xi Jin­ping and the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty, is New­house­’s most recent bête noire.

The con­gress­man is warn­ing that the Unit­ed States can nev­er become depen­dent on Chi­na for “our domes­tic food sup­ply”. This from a guy whose dis­trict exports agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts worth bil­lions of dol­lars to Chi­na and many oth­er countries.

New­house wants to pro­hib­it Chi­nese-con­trolled enti­ties from pur­chas­ing any more agri­cul­tur­al lands in Amer­i­ca, and make exist­ing Chi­nese-owned land inel­i­gi­ble for fed­er­al farm programs.

Such is the price seem­ing­ly extract­ed from one prin­ci­pled moment tak­ing on Don­ald Trump. The cult-like Trump fol­low­ing is not of a mind to for­give, or forget.

Nor are lead­ers of the Loren Culp cult like­ly to over­look a new mon­ey-mak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. “Hang Pence!” chant­ed Trump fol­low­ers at the U.S. Capi­tol on Jan­u­ary 6th. Sim­i­lar cries are now being heard in Cen­tral Washington.

The pan­der bear has become an endan­gered species.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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