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.
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.
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.