This year marks the first time since 1992 that the 4th Congressional District seat has not seen an incumbent running for re-election. Republican Rep. Doc Hastings caught people by surprise when he announced that he would not seek an 11th term in Congress, but it’s no surprise that this once-in-a-two-decade opportunity has attracted a large field of entrants — at least six had announced as of Friday and possibly more are on the way.
It’s also no surprise that in the solidly conservative 4th, all the declared candidates are Republicans save for one independent. Democrats, largely devoid of elected officials in this territory, are scrambling to find a candidate who conceivably could survive a top-two primary — given the split GOP field — but who would face a steep uphill climb in a general election.
Open seats offer opportunity — not only for the candidates, but also for the electorate by bringing a new dynamic into the district’s politics. There is opportunity, too, for groups that have felt ignored in our political process; especially in a crowded primary, a few hundred votes — or fewer — can determine who advances to the general election and who heads home.
What follows are some qualities that we would like to see in the 4th District’s next congressional representative:
• Understand the overarching issues of the district. We get that most candidates will tailor their messages to Republican Party faithful, and we can expect to hear our share of red-meat rhetoric. But candidates need to be conversant about larger federal issues, especially overall economic policy, farm policy, trade, immigration, foreign policy and the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation.
• Understand the integral role of the federal government. Between Central Washington’s massive irrigation projects and the Hanford site, this district is largely a creation of the federal government. The point isn’t how to get federal government out of our lives, but to make it work in line with the interests of the 4th.
• Know the needs of agriculture. This will be a challenge in a sprawling district that extends from Oregon to Canada and includes orchard country, wine country, potato country and wheat country, just to name a few. The ag constituencies have their own needs that require the attention of our representative.
• Advocate a water solution. A three-decade effort that brings together stakeholders has laid the foundation for a more reliable water supply balanced with fishery restoration in the Yakima River Basin. Our new representative needs to argue without hesitation for federal government support — especially financial support — to bring this effort to fruition.
• Be inclusive of an increasingly diverse population. The Latino numbers continue to grow, and there is a strong tribal presence in Yakima and Okanogan counties. But diversity shows in other ways. While it is sprawling district whose soul lies in its farms and small towns, it does contain urban centers like Yakima, Tri-Cities, Moses Lake and East Wenatchee with their own set of issues. The new representative must tend to a forest products industry in the northern part of the district, and the renegotiation of the Columbia River treaty will have repercussions on the region’s power supply and fisheries industries.
• Understand the importance of overseas trade. Just last week came word that the state’s apple and cherry growers sent about 30 percent of their crops to other countries, with the largest apple customer being Mexico. Agricultural trade not only increases demand for Valley products; it also creates transportation and port jobs in other parts of the state.
• Actively work for a comprehensive immigration solution. Immigration policy needs to balance the labor needs of business, the rights of workers and their families, and the challenges faced by local governments and school districts. Avoiding a solution is a tacit statement that the current system is working, when in fact it’s not working for anybody.
• Keep the federal government on task with the Hanford cleanup. Cost overruns and delays have plagued the cleanup of the nation’s most polluted nuclear waste site — and especially the vitrification plant that is designed to turn waste into glass for storage. The 4th District’s representative must be vocal about keeping the feds accountable for the cleanup.
• Work with others, including Democrats. Washington state’s delegation historically has exerted outsized influence relative to its size because senators and representatives cooperated to further the state’s interests. Hastings, while a Republican loyalist, did win praise from Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for his work on Hanford issues.
That’s a long list; well, it’s a large district. We look forward to hearing how the candidates intend to represent the nearly 700,000 residents of Washington’s 4th District.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.