We used to have a leather-longed, publicity-craving group of Seattle-area seniors — several of them labor union veterans — who specialized in descending on Republican members of Congress with accusations the GOP was mounting an assault on Social Security.
Sen. Slade Gorton couldn’t stand them, declined to meet with them, and let uncomfortable colleagues defend his record. A Seattle P-I photographer, Paul Joseph Brown, took a memorable 2000 picture of Slade ducking down the back stairs from his Bellevue office as the militant seniors entered via the front door.
The seniors received a far different reception when I covered their arrival at the office of GOP Rep. Dave Reichert. Reichert invited them in, greeted each one, sat them down at a long conference table, and poured coffee. He then heard them out. Anticipating hostility, the intruders were flummoxed by his hospitality.
Dave Reichert retired from Congress in 2018, visibly uneasy at the combat politics of the Trump presidency. A crowd of 700 anti-Trump demonstrators had descended on his office in the spring of 2017. The largely suburban 8th District seat, Republicans’ one foothold in the Puget Sound area, fell to Democrat Rep. Kim Schrier.
Reichert is on the comeback trail, just announcing a plan to run for a governorship held by Democrats ever since Booth Gardner flipped it in the Reagan landslide year of 1984. The onetime King County Sheriff appears as the great hope of Washington’s more traditional, conventional Republicans. The reception of the MAGA crowd is less welcoming: A ”Yakima GOP” Tweet has characterized Reichert as the sheriff of Nottingham.
A member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, Reichert was comfortable in what used to be a collegial Washington congressional delegation. He mounted a discharge petition, teaming with Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, to force a House floor vote on reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, vital to Boeing’s overseas jet sales. Republican leaders had let reauthorization languish in committee. It passed and Boeing hosted a reception, at which a Yakima businessman praised Reichert for having cojones. The sheriff beamed.
Reichert sponsored legislation to add the Pratt River to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and extend Wild and Scenic River Act protection to the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River, closest mountain valley to our population centers. But an ultraconservative Washington colleague, Rep. Doc Hastings, who chaired the House Natural Resources Committee, sat on the legislation.
Reichert was rescued by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who persuaded Hastings to relent and used her Senate leadership position to insert Alpine Lakes protection into a defense authorization bill just before Congress adjourned in 2014. Reichert and Murray teamed up in the rain for a presser where forks of the Snoqualmie River come together.
Where will Reichert get his votes if he runs for Governor? Unlikely on his old home turf. King County has lately delivered 400-500,000 majorities to Murray and outgoing Gov. Jay Inslee. True, Reichert did know how to stay on voters’ good side while Democratic presidential candidates carried his district. He was, for instance, only of 15 GOP House members voting to repeal the Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy, which forbade “out” gays and lesbians from serving in the military. He signed a GOP letter opposing oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Nowadays, however, Washington has become a solidly blue state. Nor will MAGA Republicans forgive anyone giving hint of moderation. They ousted Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler after she vote to impeach Trump. Rep. Dan Newhouse barely survived when a trio of MAGA types split the primary vote against him. Seeking to reclaim what he described as “my mother’s Seat” in Congress – Rep. Jennifer Dunn preceded Reichert – King County Councilman Reagan Dunn didn’t even make it out of the 8th District primary in 2022.
Of the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner, it’s become an axiom of Washington politics: Nobody outworks Bob Ferguson. The Democratic AG repeatedly took on the Trump Administration, starting with successful legal challenge to first Muslim travel ban. Reichert endorsed the ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, saying: “My first and most important job is protecting families in our region and the American population.”
While Ferguson stuck his chin out, Reichert was keeping his head down. After narrowly surviving his first two reelection races, Dave was given a safer House seat when the 8th District crossed the Cascades to take in Kittitas and Chelan Counties. He traveled extensively as chairman of an international trade subcommittee of the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee.
Ferguson is not letting up. He has amassed a war chest that tops $3 million, with show-of-strength fundraisers filling ballrooms in Seattle and Tacoma, with events lately in Bellingham, Spokane, and Walla Walla. Endorsements have come in from the King County Labor Council, the National Congress of American Indians, five members of Congress, ex-Gov. Christine Grégoire and a bevy of labor unions.
No interview with Dave Reichert goes by without Reichert mentioning that he was King County Sheriff and served 33 years in law enforcement. He looks the part, tall and silver haired. In covering him, however, a question kept coming back to me: Does Dave Reichert work very hard? The question now: Has Reichert mapped out a lane in which to run, and support to make the run? The race for statewide office belongs to the relentless.