SPOKANE, Wash. – Protests are almost a weekly scene outside the Spokane office for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Voters have said they are frustrated about the congresswoman’s lack of availability to ask her questions face-to-face. Back in December, people were questioning why she accepted more than $100,000 in contributions to her re-election campaigns from Political Action Committees of drug companies at the same time she was vowing to fight them.
Many drug companies are donating big money to lawmakers from our area. After news of a huge price hike for EpiPens broke earlier this year, the outrage from the public was deafening. Families said they couldn't afford the life-saving drug for their children and people with severe allergies took to social media to voice their complaints.
At the time, KREM 2 repeatedly asked her office for an interview but was turned down. After our story on her campaign contributions aired in December, we received multiple messages from viewers who said they would now be contacting the Congresswoman to question what we found. Then, one of those viewers sent us an email from McMorris Rodgers herself.
It said our story confused Political Action Committees, to which any private citizen can donate, with corporations. She went on to say there are limits to each contribution she receives, from any entity, and that her campaign is overwhelmingly funded through grassroots support.
KREM 2 previously reported that we found public records of multiple donations from the Political Action Committees for Merck, Amgen and other big drug companies. The fact is, the Political Action Committees for over a dozen major drug companies did contribute more than $100,000 to the Congresswoman’s re-election campaigns. Also, Merriam-Webster defines a Political Action Committee as “a group formed (as by an industry or an issue-oriented organization) to raise and contribute money to the campaigns of candidates likely to advance the group’s interests.”
In her email to the KREM 2 viewer, McMorris Rodgers said she has a “long track record of supporting access to quality affordable medications” and that “moving forward, she will continue to champion policies that promote advancements in medicine…and help make health care more accessible and affordable for seniors and families in Eastern Washington.”
Still, after repeated requests to question the congresswoman directly about her efforts, KREM was denied. In fact, since November, we reached out to the congresswoman's office nearly a dozen times through emails, voicemails and text messages. She has made multiple public appearances, but never once agreed to talk. Although, within the last week, we did receive a statement from Press Secretary Molly Drenkard. It said, "The Congresswoman's top priority is making sure the people of Eastern Washington have access to affordable, quality health care." It touted her support for access to rural health care, legislation to protect those with pre-existing conditions and her efforts to repeal Obamacare. It said nothing about campaign contributions from drug company PACs.
This was not the only thing we wanted to ask the congresswoman. We had hoped to also question her about her recent telephone town hall meeting. Some constituents have vented frustration about why she won’t meet with them in person. Again, her office didn't response to our request for an interview, but did send KREM 2 this statement:
"The Congresswoman wants to hear from everyone in Eastern Washington, because hearing from all sides makes her a better representative. Congress is in session for the next six weeks, and the Congresswoman is hard at work in the nation's capital advancing the priorities important to everyone here in Eastern Washington, like the future of health care, jobs and the economy, and fighting for those with disabilities. As she moves forward with everyone's priorities, she is dedicated to finding common ground and bringing everyone to the table to have constructive, courageous conversations about how we can better our communities."
Since KREM 2 never heard back from McMorris Rodgers, we turned to the man who held that position before her, Republican and former 5th District Representative George Nethercutt, who served Eastern Washington for 10 years.
“If you're in an elected position, you should stand up before your constituents and answer their questions and explain your actions. It's like if you get called into the boss's office you don't say, 'No, I'll call you, or you can call me.' You say, 'I'll come in,'” Nethercutt explained. “It's part of the job. You signed up for it.”
To be fair, this is hardly the first time lawmakers have been accused of avoiding angry voters. Democrats took plenty of blows after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. There are plenty of people across Eastern Washington who believe McMorris Rodgers is doing a great job of representing the 5th District. She certainly is not the only Republican member of Congress who has opted for telephone town halls and Facebook live sessions instead of facing the crowds head-on. But, Nethercutt believes avoiding the confrontation is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
“It's a way to mask your fear of being criticized,” he explained. “I think any elected official has to explain himself or herself, what their actions have been, what the plans are going to be. The constituents want to know! They have a right to know!”
Some of those constituents are finding ways to put the pressure on. There are online "wanted" posters with the congresswoman's face that declare her "missing" and stickers have been spotted on milk cartons and other grocery items in several Spokane stores. Nethercutt’s best advice to lawmakers is to get home and see their people.
“No one likes to be criticized. And that’s what they try to avoid,” he said.
He believes the boil over from angry voters will eventually simmer down as long as everyone does their part.
“Offer suggestions to Representative McMorris Rodgers, and suggest ways they can solve the problems that exist. They gave me ideas, and helped me do my job better,” said Nethercutt.
To be very clear, this story is about the frustration of voters, who are wanting to meet face-to-face with Representative McMorris Rodgers as well as KREM 2’s repeated attempts to ask her direct questions. She has sent us written statements that go out to all news outlets and she did answer some voter questions on Facebook and on the phone. But again, the last time we spoke with Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers office, we were told she was not available for questions. But our invitation still stands.
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