NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 27th, 2023

After picking up WA-03 and Alaska in 2022, PNW House Democrats are now on defense

The deplet­ed ranks of Con­gress’ once-abun­dant Blue Dog Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus received an unex­pect­ed replen­ish­ment in these parts last year with the elec­tion of Marie Glue­senkamp Perez in WA-03 and Mary Pel­to­la in Alaska.

Each did the repub­lic a ser­vice. Glue­senkamp Perez (MGP) defeat­ed extrem­ist MAGA Repub­li­can Joe Kent, an extrem­ist who pro­posed putting pres­i­den­tial pan­dem­ic advis­er Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci on tri­al for mur­der. Pel­to­la halt­ed the polit­i­cal revival of 2008 Repub­li­can vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, ex-Gov­er­nor Sarah Palin, becom­ing the first Indige­nous Alas­ka native to serve in Congress.

The Repub­li­cans have already tar­get­ed both as low hang­ing fruit in 2024. Alas­ka has not vot­ed Demo­c­rat for Pres­i­dent since Lyn­don John­son car­ried the 49th state in 1964. Don­ald Trump has twice car­ried the 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict in South­west Wash­ing­ton, and rur­al Wash­ing­ton has become very Republican.

The fates of MGP and Pel­to­la will have nation­wide implications.

The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is almost even­ly divid­ed. Con­trol rests uneasi­ly with 222 Repub­li­cans, who have fought two bloody inter­nal bat­tles over the speak­er­ship. The House cur­rent­ly has 214 Democ­rats, with a pick­up like­ly in a spe­cial elec­tion if Rep­re­sen­ta­tive George San­tos, R‑New York, gets expelled for his fab­ri­cat­ed back­ground and mul­ti­ple mis­deeds, or resigns.

Repub­li­can chal­lengers are already lin­ing up.

Alaska’s Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Gov­er­nor Nan­cy Dahlstrom announced her can­di­da­cy last week, promis­ing “to stop the assault on Alas­ka from Joe Biden and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., lib­er­als.” Already in the race is Nick Begich III, a Repub­li­can scion of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic fam­i­ly which has pro­duced one U.S. Sen­a­tor and a House mem­ber. Begich III lost to Pel­to­la last year along with Palin. Alas­ka now uses ranked choice vot­ing to select its lone mem­ber of the U.S. House.

Joe Kent is seek­ing a rematch with MGP. He has raised more than $1 mil­lion, won an endorse­ment from the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty and is retool­ing to focus on dis­trict issues. Anoth­er con­tender is Camas City Coun­cil mem­ber Leslie Lewallen, a one­time King Coun­ty deputy prosecutor.

She is a self-described “con­ser­v­a­tive fight­er who wins.”

The Repub­li­cans tend to throw resources into one-size-fit-all cam­paigns. They are already seek­ing to asso­ciate Glue­senkamp Perez with very very lib­er­al Seat­tle Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal. Lewallen labels MGP “Port­land Pro­gres­sive Perez.”

In the face of the Israel-Hamas war, Kent decries MGP for vot­ing “to keep our troops as sit­ting ducks in the Mid­dle East war zones like Syr­ia where we have no nation­al inter­est to jus­ti­fy the deployment.”

MAGA Repub­li­cans have a knack for win­ning pri­maries across the coun­try but los­ing gen­er­al elec­tions. Don­ald Trump flew to Alas­ka last year to boost a Repub­li­can chal­lenger to Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, one of sev­en Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who vot­ed to impeach him after the Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol. He heaped abuse on Murkows­ki and show­ered praise on Sarah Palin. Murkows­ki won, while Palin lost to Peltola.

In Wash­ing­ton State, the Trump-backed Kent best­ed six-term Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler in the August 2022 Top Two elec­tion, only to be defeat­ed by MGP in Novem­ber. Her­rera Beut­ler was one of ten Repub­li­can impeach­ment votes in the House. She is now run­ning for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands.

Alas­ka has, in Pel­to­la, one of Con­gress’ few pro-oil Democ­rats. Wash­ing­ton has one of the few Democ­rats who has opposed Biden’s stu­dent loan for­give­ness plan. Glue­senkamp Perez argues that the coun­try has short­changed tech­ni­cal train­ing and should be devot­ing resources to “peo­ple who make stuff.”

The low hang­ing fruit may prove hard to pluck.

Joe Kent will be dogged by such actions as his speech at a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., ral­ly decry­ing pros­e­cu­tion of the U.S. Capi­tol insur­rec­tion­ists. He has argued that the FBI “con­tin­ues to take us down the road to total­i­tar­i­an­ism.” He has also pro­posed “tak­ing away the teeth of the FBI” by defund­ing it.

In the mean­time, hard­ly a week goes by that MGP does not intro­duce a new “bipar­ti­san bill” with Repub­li­can cospon­sor. The lat­est, this week, leg­is­la­tion to increase trans­paren­cy and over­sight of for­eign own­er­ship of Amer­i­can farm­land. Glue­senkamp Perez has mount­ed a full-court courtship of rur­al voters.

“Talk is cheap, results mat­ter,” said Dahlstrom, announc­ing for Con­gress in Alas­ka. “Alas­ka needs Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to stop work­ing against us and no one will work hard­er for Alaska’s way of life than me.” Begich is promis­ing to “unlock the full poten­tial of our nat­ur­al resources while ensur­ing envi­ron­men­tal sustainability.”

But Pel­to­la, along with Murkows­ki, have pro­duced results.

The Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion, defy­ing its envi­ron­men­tal base, recent­ly approved an ener­gy megapro­ject on Alaska’s North Slope west of Prud­hoe Bay. The Cono­co-Phillips Wil­low devel­op­ment is already under­way. It will yield a max­i­mum 180,000 bar­rels of crude oil a day at max­i­mum pro­duc­tion, 40 per­cent of dai­ly pro­duc­tion in the Last Frontier.

Pel­to­la has opposed the Peb­ble Mine, a pro­posed megapro­ject to locate an enor­mous open pit gold and cop­per mine between two of Bris­tol Bay’s prime salmon spawn­ing streams. Com­mer­cial and sport fish­eries, as well as Alas­ka native cor­po­ra­tions, have fought against it. The Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion has just about killed Peb­ble through use of the Clean Water Act.

Under its crusty pub­lish­er Bob Atwood, news sto­ries in the Anchor­age Times used to refer to “self-admit­ted con­ser­va­tion­ists.” Atwood is deceased and the Times shut down. While still allied with the petro­le­um indus­try, Murkows­ki and Pel­to­la have tak­en a more bal­anced approach than Alaska’s old-time boomers.

While polls are rare, Pel­to­la appears to be Alaska’s most pop­u­lar politician.

She is a long­time advo­cate for Alas­ka fish­eries and chairs the Amer­i­can Seafood Cau­cus in Con­gress. She was recent­ly wid­owed when hus­band Eugene “Buzzy” Pel­to­la died in a plane crash after leav­ing off a hunter in west­ern Alas­ka. Two oth­er state lead­ers, for­mer Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Ted Stevens and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nick Begich (grand­fa­ther of the House can­di­date) have lost their lives this way.

Glues­en­camp Perez and Pel­to­la share can count on one oth­er plus in seek­ing to hold House seats. Both are sup­port­ers of repro­duc­tive rights, an issue which has boost­ed the Democ­rats. Alas­ka is a “red” state but of a lib­er­tar­i­an bent, and WA-03 has a lib­er­tar­i­an streak too. Sen­a­tor Murkows­ki has sur­vived wrath of the Repub­li­can right while being both pro-choice and a sup­port­er of mar­riage equality.

The elec­tion is near­ly a year off, but cam­paign­ing is already under­way. The Clark Coun­ty Repub­li­cans are fea­tur­ing Joe Kent, along with Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh and MAGA Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Semi Bird, at a Christ­mas social on Decem­ber 9th.

Many of the nation’s 435 House dis­tricts are heav­i­ly gerrymandered.

For instance, the dis­trict of House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jim Jor­dan snakes west-to-east to bunch togeth­er Repub­li­can counties.

Only 45–50 dis­tricts are tru­ly com­pet­i­tive. Hence, mil­lions of dol­lars will be spent to defend or depose Glue­senkamp Perez and Peltola.

It takes days to count mail-in bal­lots in Wash­ing­ton, and weeks under Alaska’s ranked vot­ing sys­tem. Con­ceiv­ably, the nation could be kept wait­ing next Novem­ber for a final vote on which par­ty con­trols one house of Congress.

One thing is cer­tain: The Blue Dogs are the hunt­ed rather than the hunters.

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