Going Rogue: Two Renegade Northwest Congressmen on Key Votes

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In a bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives, two Northwest Congressmembers strayed from party reservations in floor votes on Friday. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, was one of only two out of 221 Democrats to vote against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, passed by the House on a narrow 219-212 vote. The legislation is a priority and defining measure for the Biden Administration.

Hours earlier, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was one of only eight Republicans to vote in favor of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, which creates 1.5 million acres of new protected wilderness (126,000 acres on the Olympic Peninsula) and would put the kibosh on uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park.  It passed 227-200.

Schrader is one of the most conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats in the House, having voted against electing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.  He is in his seventh term from Oregon’s 5th District, which ranges from far-south Portland to the Willamette Valley to the Oregon Coast. He drew Democratic primary opposition in last year’s May primary from Milwaukie, Oregon, Mayor Mark Gamba, a Bernie Sanders supporter who ran as a backer of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.  Gamba is a former National Geographic photographer. Schrader won in a landslide, with 71,799 votes to 23,817 for Gamba.  The results mirrored Washington’s 2nd and 6th Districts, where “Berniecrat” challengers to U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Derek Kilmer were blown away in the August primary.

Mike Simpson is best known these days for a $33 billion plan that would remove four Army Corps of Engineers dams from the lower Snake River, restore Snake and Salmon river salmon runs, and make good for lost power and removal of barge transportation down reservoirs. Simpson was elected to Congress in 1998 and has batted away challenges from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.  It helps that he is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, and a member of the House Republican Steering Committee. He defends gun rights, but authored legislation creating the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Area.

Schrader topped 70 percent of the vote in his 2020 primary.  He was vociferously denounced by Twitter liberals.  Such left groups as Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and Salem Democratic Socialists of America endorsed Gamba.  But the left politics of Portland has not picked up any more support beyond the city any more than Seattle’s litmus-test left has in Washington.

In Southeastern Idaho, Simpson has topped 60 percent of the vote in all of his primaries and topped 70 percent in 2018.

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

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