Former EWU professor mounts bid for Congress

Democrat Lisa Brown works to build grassroots movement in bid to use Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in November


Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

By Brandon Cline, Editor in Chief

The 2018 midterm elections may not be taking place until November, but Congressional campaigns can never start too early, as candidate and former EWU professor Lisa Brown held court at the Wren Pierson Community Center on Sunday night in a town hall-style event.

Brown, a Democrat, is challenging longtime Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Washington’s 5th Congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Brown taught economics at EWU from 1981 to 2001, and served in the Washington State Senate from 1997 to 2013, holding the position of Senate Majority Leader from 2005 onward.

Most recently, Brown was the chancellor of the Washington State University campus in Spokane, holding the position from 2013 until August 2017. During her time as chancellor, Brown oversaw the creation of a public medical school in Spokane, as well as the formation of the WSU College of Medical Sciences.

Over a dozen topics were brought up at the event, which was moderated by former Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove. Much of the conversation centered around dealing with infrastructure, protecting and reforming social services, highlighting the effects of global warming and climate change have on the environment and the farming economy, and finding bipartisan solutions between the two major political parties.

Agricultural issues were at the forefront of the forum, with Brown pointing out that no representative from Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana was currently serving on the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Tom Foley represented the 5th Congressional District for 30 years from 1965-1995—and was the Speaker of the House for those final six years—and chaired of the House Agriculture Committee from 1975-1981, ensuring that farming issues relevant to eastern Washington would not be forgotten.

Brown said she would “welcome” the opportunity to serve on that committee if elected to the House, and has held agriculture roundtables to better understand the concerns from the farming community. She’s heard concerns about the Trump Administration’s policy on country-by-country trade agreements rather than multilateral trade agreements-the current safety net on crop insurance-and the impact climate change has on agriculture.

“We certainly need a representative in Congress who advocates for research and supports the kinds of policies that would not just be a denier and act like there’s no problem, but would start to engage with each sector—agriculture and others—to figure out where we go from here,” Brown said.

Brown also brought up the issue of student loan debt, and said that advocating to create relief for students and making higher-education more affordable is at the top of her list of priorities if elected to Congress.

“The student loan debt load has risen to over a trillion dollars, and two-thirds of it is held by women,” said Brown. “If we can refinance our homes and our cars, why should it be that there can be no refinancing of student loan debt? That’s definitely something [Congress] should address.”

The topic of agriculture came up throughout the forum, as Brown noted that it plays a large part both economically and culturally in the region. But Brown also believes that the agriculture sector is diversifying and changing, and that it isn’t as homogenous as some might think.

Lisa Brown adresses a crowd Sunday night at the Wren Pierson Community Center. Brown would be the first Democrat to win Washington’s 5th Congressional District since 1992 | Bailey Moneith for The Easterner

“We have an agriculture sector that is [made up] of large farmers, but also smaller farmers and specialty crops,” said Brown. “There’s a whole new generation of younger farmers coming into the business … so I think that continues to be a source of employment, but it’s more than [just] employment. It’s a vital cultural part of our economy and our way of life, as well.”

Brown said that besides working on agricultural issues in the state legislature, one of the issues she worked on was providing competitive incentives for the motion-picture industry by helping to establish the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program. The program aims to help support local film projects as well as providing incentives for out-of-state productions to shoot their projects in the state, such as “Z Nation,” a post-apocalyptic television show airing on the Syfy channel that films most of its episodes in the Spokane region. Brown says the program, which was renewed for another 10 years in 2017, gives the region a “creative” economy sector.

A Democrat has not been elected to represent the 5th Congressional District since Foley was last re-elected in 1992, and Brown knows she faces an uphill battle. But Brown’s campaign has already raised more money than any of McMorris Rodgers’ recent challengers, and her campaign has raised the most money of any candidate challenging an incumbent in Washington’s 10 Congressional Districts. Brown has also received research and organizational assistance from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but emphasized that local efforts will be what makes or breaks this election.

“The essence of what will [help us] win this race is the energy and momentum right here on the ground and the thousands of people that have already stepped up and said that they want to get engaged and be a part of this,” Brown said.