“Daniel, you lying piece of shit. You’ve done it. You’ve started it. Don’t you EVER call me. You understand?” That message left on the voicemail of Daniel Walters, staff writer for The Inlander, a Spokane weekly newspaper. It was left by Jenny Graham, the incumbent Washington State Representative from the 6th Legislative District (SW Spokane County and the City of Spokane suburbs to the north, west, and south). When Mr. Walters called her back she responded with a homophobic slur, “”You cocksucker! You cocksucker! Don’t ever call me again,” and the line went dead. The language is jarring, especially considering that some of it was knowingly committed to a voicemail recording, but an examination of the circumstances leading to Ms. Graham’s invectives is warranted. She was incensed by Daniel Walters’ article in The Inlander, posted the day before her tirade, August 26, “Blind Links: Rep. Jenny Graham forwarded her Facebook followers to bizarre conspiracy sites without realizing it.” Note that the title itself offers Ms. Graham an “out” from the potentially damaging observations about her Facebook posts and shares. (I urge you to click and carefully read this article. It sets the stage for everything that follows.)
More than two weeks passed, ample time for Ms. Graham cool off from her towering rage, call Mr. Walters, and discuss the substance of the original August 26 piece. (This unwillingness to engage with the press is reminiscent of Matt Shea’s [WA LD4 Rep], Heather Scott’s [N ID state rep], and Donald Trump’s categorical refusals to engage with news outlets they deem unfriendly.) His calls unanswered, at the end of those two weeks Walters wrote a second article describing his experience with Graham, “After an Inlander article about her links to conspiracy theory websites, Rep. Jenny Graham responds with profanity, threats and another conspiracy website,” published September 14.
The next day, last Tuesday, September 15, the national spotlight briefly turned to Spokane: the Washington Post published “A Washington lawmaker shared conspiracy theories. She threatened a reporter who wrote about it,” (The Post article gives a nod to two other of our local politicians who spread conspiracy theories, Matt Shea [LD4], and Matt Shea’s acolyte, Rob Chase. Chase is currently running for a seat in LD4 against a Lance Gurel, a decent, well-grounded accountant.)
On the heels of the Washington Post article, the story blew up local and some nationwide coverage in the Spokesman, The Hill, The New York Daily News, Fox 28 Spokane. For a balanced and thoughtful discussion of the controversy I thought the coverage on KREM was best. It also offers a chance to meet Mr. Walters.
[Jenny Graham’s sharing Facebook posts from websites pushing twisted conspiracy theories is not an isolated phenomenon. This is a symptom of a disease of division that runs all the way to the top of our politics and government. I strongly recommend you take the time to watch The Social Dilemma, a documentary currently featured on Netflix (currently the #4 most watched Netflix video).*
We need to pay attention to the intellectual integrity of the people we elect. In the age of Covid, maintaining a legislator in Olympia who runs fast and loose with the facts and refuses to calmly engage with this media is dangerous, regardless of their good intentions, Ms. Graham is a one-term Republican running for re-election in LD6 (See P.S.) She won her position in 2018 against Dave Wilson by a mere 324 votes (among a total of nearly 69,000 votes cast). Graham has a credible challenger on the ballot this November, Tom McGarry, a practical, decent, data-driven candidate.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. I am ashamed to admit that until four years ago I did not know offhand what Washington State Legislative District (or U.S. Congressional District) I live in. If you’re in that same boat as I was I encourage you to orient yourself by visiting myvote.wa.gov. There, click “My Elected Officials.” Better, especially if you like maps, check out https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/
*A month of Netflix Basic streaming is $9.79. The trick is to cancel before it rolls over the next month and becomes a phantom drain on you credit card for months and months. If you don’t have an account already, they might offer a free trial.