Progressive Group Holds Congressional Candidate Town Hall Meeting in Spokane

Feb 21, 2018

Democratic congressional candidate Lisa Brown listens as Lewis and Clark High School student Scyla Dowd talks about the mood at LC after the recent Florida school shooting.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Congressional members are back in their districts this week, reconnecting with voters. Today (Wednesday), for example, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers visited Spokane Community College and Gonzaga.

One place she was not was at a town hall meeting organized for congressional candidates by the progressive group Fuse Washington.

As people filed into Riverside Place in downtown Spokane on Tuesday evening, the event’s lead organizer, Jim Dawson, invited them to interact with him using one of the new tools for political organizing.

“Throughout this event you’re going to be invited to get involved in campaigns by texting words to the same number, 30644," Dawson said. "So if you haven’t already signed in, please do so now, following the instructions up there on the screen. And if you have any trouble signing in, ask a young person,” drawing laughs.

By the time the program began, the auditorium was mostly filled. Dawson noted the growing national interest in Washington’s Fifth District Congressional race. And he announced his group is organizing two other town hall meetings, March 29 in Pullman and May 2 in Walla Walla. But it was having trouble getting candidates to attend. He said all who had declared their candidacy were invited. Eric Agnew, an independent, accepted but then suspended his campaign a few weeks ago. One of the two Republicans in the race, Jared Bonneau, wasn’t there. As for the second Republican in the race….

“So despite every town hall being scheduled during a congressional recess, when our representative is supposed to be in the district, and despite the months of notice, Representative McMorris Rodgers has declined to attend all three of these town halls,” Dawson said, prompting boos and shouts of "No!"

To encourage McMorris Rodgers to attend, Fuse Washington volunteers passed out postcards with a pre-written message urging the congresswoman to commit to the other forums. All they had to do was fill in their names and addresses and turn in the cards.

That meant the fourth candidate had the forum to herself and that seemed to be just fine with the crowd.

“Please join me in welcoming Lisa Brown," said forum co-organizer Autumn Reed. The crowd enthusiastically applauded.

Brown has been a college professor, an influential elected official at the state level and the chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus. But in her introduction, she went way back and talked about how her political beliefs were formed.

“I was shaped by those experiences, the experiences of the movements that made social change during the time I was in high school and college. From the civil rights movement to the women’s movement through the first wave of the ecology movement, as it was called, the anti-nuclear war movement. I was shaped by that,” Brown said.

And then she made her case for why voters should elect her.

“I’m running for Congress to bring the voices and the interests of eastern Washington, rural and urban, people of all abilities and backgrounds, of all religious faith traditions, to the other Washington, not to bring talking points written in the other Washington and deliver them here,” Brown said to applause.

Several speakers were chosen to ask Brown questions about selected issues, including affordable housing, climate change and violence against Native women. One speaker, Lewis and Clark High School student Scyla Dowd, went to the mike to share her views about the latest school shooting in Florida.

“I know that later that week, I don’t know if any of you are familiar when you blow up one of those brown paper bags and you pop it really loud," Dowd said. "It used to get like super laughs, but I was walking on the bridge between schools and everybody just parted, almost like the Red Sea, just to each side. And we all just looked at each other. And it was really scary because, you know, it could happen.

"When you see students you go to school with every day react in the same way you do, that we’re all absolutely terrified that it might happen and we walk into school every day knowing this could be the last time,” she said.

Fuse Washington says it’s working this year on reforming Washington’s tax system. It also supports efforts to gather signatures for a climate change initiative and to win support for Initiative 940, which may appear on the November ballot. Its organizers say the measure is aimed at de-escalating violence encounters between police and suspects.