CMR’s Response to Ukraine Crisis?

Drill, Baby, Drill!

How did “our” Rep. McMorris Rodgers respond to the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

“‘Tantamount to an invasion’: Northwest lawmakers denounce Russian incursion into Ukraine as tensions rise” by Orion Donovan-Smith appeared at on Tuesday, February 22. In Mr. Donovan-Smith’s article, Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are cited for working on a bi-partisan bill to impose additional sanctions on Russia. Amid quotes from other lawmakers condemning Russia’s move toward war, “our” congressperson’s, McMorris Rodgers’, response stood out as inane, tone-deaf, and, well, predictable:

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement Tuesday she would introduce a bill that would require the president to develop an “energy security plan” to ramp up U.S. oil production to counter Russia, whose economy depends heavily on oil and gas exports.

“Especially given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, America must flip the switch and aggressively promote our energy jobs, production and exports,” she said, accusing Biden of a “radical agenda to shut down American energy and embolden our enemies like Russia.”

“Especially”?? In other words, the GOP minority on this committee has thought all along that, although we are a net exporter of fossil fuels, the federal government should do all it can to subsidize the fossil fuel industry and encourage more extraction. Climate change and renewable energy be damned. A Russian invasion of the Ukraine? Just the opportunity they were looking for to further the agenda of the GOP’s corporate sponsors. And while they’re at it, they cannot resist taking a swipe at President Biden, even as they studiously ignore CMR’s “positive disruptor”’s, i.e. D. Trump’s, words of praise for Putin’s impending invasion.

McMorris Rodgers apparently thought that pandering to the GOP’s corporate sponsors and climate denialists was so urgent she needed to advertise her useless bill before it even had a number:

H.R. ____, The American Energy Independence from Russia Act — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

Requires the President to provide Congress with an energy security plan that evaluates U.S. oil imports and exports, assesses our energy security risks based upon oil imports, and encourages domestic oil production in order to offset Russian imports.

This is not the work of a serious legislator. In her committee statement (from which the above quote was taken), McMorris Rodgers adds her proposal to a list of bills already in the hopper. None of them has a chance of passage in the current U.S. House; they exist only to declare the GOP’s sell out to the fossil fuel industry. The bills signal to the Dominionist wing of the Republican Party the committee’s complete denial of the threat of climate change and environmental degradation. (CMR’s anemic response to any question about climate change has always been, “Save the Snake River dams!” Her committee statement rips off this thin veil that covered her climate denial.)

Finally, McMorris Rodgers, with her statement, falsely accuses the Biden administration of ignoring the real world energy consequences of an impending war. That is pure out-of-touch nonsense. Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration is actively involved internationally in trying to stabilize the energy markets, especially in the short term. And what benefit does McMorris Rodgers’ new, unnumbered bill demanding an “energy security plan” of the Biden administration add to that effort? Precisely nothing. 

I am ashamed of the woman who pretends to represent me in Congress.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The evening of the day after this post was written the Russian assault on Ukraine began. The next morning, Thursday, February 24, McMorris Rodgers once again harped on ramping up the U.S. fossil fuel industry. Since then the directive must have come out to Republican pundits and legislators: the invasion of Ukraine is an opportunity to pretend that President Biden is personally to blame for any rise in the price of gasoline (while ignoring both the effects of demand as the economy heats up after Covid and the rise in price due to uncertainty).

P.P.S. No one seems to notice the irony in this Republican call for the government to ramp up the domestic fossil fuel industry as an example of government interference in the “free market”—something that is supposed to be anathema for Republicans

Bannon and Goebbels

Harnessing Anger and Discontent in the Pursuit of Power

History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Sometimes that rhyming is loud and clear. We would do well to listen.

Never forget that Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party was elected. His and his party’s popularity was cultivated on the fertile ground of the decades-old German völkisch movement, a movement sometimes loosely translated as “ethno-nationalist”. Like most movements that thrive without one clear leader, “the Völkisch movement was not a homogeneous set of beliefs, but rather a ‘variegated sub-culture’ that rose in opposition to the socio-cultural changes of modernity.” It is impossible to read the wikipedia article on the völkisch movement in early 20th century Germany without drawing parallels to the “MAGA” movement. (and various other ethno- or religio- nationalist movements in the world today). 

The genius of Joseph Goebbels, chief propagandist[1] of the Nazi party in the 1920s, was to harness, mold, and focus the anger and energy of the völkisch movement as a broad base for the Nazi party. He understood the use of all the tools of his day—print media, radio, film, and dramatic ceremony—to unite these aggrieved, culturally purist, conservative “volk” under the Nazi flag and focus their anger and blame on “Jews, the Romani peopleJehovah’s Witnesseshomosexuals, and other ‘foreign elements’ living in Germany.” 

In 1923 Adolph Hitler, then the leader of the growing Nazi Party, was imprisoned on a five year sentence for leading two thousand Nazi followers in a coup attempt against the government in Munich (the “Beer Hall Putsch”). He only served nine months due in part to the press coverage of the trial. In those nine months Hitler dictated Mein Kampf. Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1924, attracted by the notoriety Hitler had achieved through his trial and early release from prison. Goebbels rose rapidly through the ranks. By 1927 he was a speaker at one of the Nazi Party rallies at Nuremberg. His speech, which you read in its entirety here, is chilling. It is a roadmap for channeling diffuse anger into the service of authoritarian power. Here is the eye-opening segment of Goebbels’ speech:

The essential characteristic of propaganda is effectiveness. The best propaganda is that which is most effective. It is good if I persuade three million people to believe in a political theory, but it is even better if those three million are ready to give their lives for the idea. But revolutions have never been made by millions, but rather only by small minorities. Propaganda does not need to be intellectual; it must be effective. It should express our worldview in a way that can be understood by the masses. The völkisch idea has existed for 50 years. I will grant that it was stronger 50 years ago than it is today. But one must remember that on 9 November 1918 it was not this idea, but another, that triumphed. If the völkisch movement then had understood power and how to bring thousands out on the streets, it would have gained political power on 9 November 1918. 

The Nazi Party’s Reichstag seats grew through the 1920s. Buoyed by a large jump at the onset of the Great Depression, by 1933 Nazis garnered 43.9% of the national vote and 288 of the 647 seats in the Reichstag. In 1934 Hitler became Chancellor in a complicated maneuver urged by several prominent politicians, industrialists, and businessmen seeking a unifying leader they thought they could control (sound familiar?). Instead, Hitler and his henchman, following the Reichstag fire, engaged in series of political maneuvers backed by violence, murder, and imprisonment of that opposition that made Adolph Hitler dictator of Germany. 

That same year, 1934, the Nazi Party held another Party Congress in Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s now classic propaganda film of that event, “Triumph des Willens” (Triumph of the Will), served dramatic notice to Germans (and to the world) of the rise of German nationalism under the Nazis. The 1934 display of military discipline at Nuremberg that Riefenstahl captured in “Triumph of the Will” was only one of a series of nearly annual Nuremberg rallies by the Nazi Party that ran from 1923 to 1938. They were masterpieces of propaganda meant to shore up and mold the völkisch movement into the instrument of power that Goebbel’s described in his Nuremberg speech in 1927. 

My interest in Goebbels, Riefenstahl, and the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s was piqued by a recent article in The Guardian

Steve Bannon compared Donald Trump’s infamous escalator ride [on 16 June 2015] to announce his candidacy for the White House to Triumph of the Will, the Nazi propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl, according to a book published on Tuesday. 

In Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted, the New York Times reporter Jeremy W Peters shows the former campaign chair, White House strategist and close Trump ally repeatedly invoking Hitler when discussing the 45th president.

That escalator ride was an intentionally staged—and hyped—media eventworthy of the comparison to Riefenstahl’s propaganda film. Trump’s rallies, short on substance and long on exhortation and dramatic rhetoric, serve the same purpose as a propaganda film: riling and uniting the aggrieved faithful against supposed threats, immigrants, the media, and Democrats. Never forget that Trump’s political rallies, unlike those of other presidents and presidential candidates, continued through his presidency—and continue to this day, Nuremberg-like propaganda events on a smaller scale. 

In 2016, a year after Trump’s stage escalator ride and just 88 days before the general election, Steve Bannon became the chief executive of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Without Bannon’s efforts, Donald Trump might well have failed to cobble together the popular vote minority that gave him victory in the Electoral Collage. Like Goebbels’ ability to channel the anger of the völkisch movement, Bannon was attuned to and able to channel the undercurrent of anger coursing on the internet, anger he was familiar with through his “gold mining” of the internet video game, the World of Warcraft, as well as his experience as executive chairman of the far right Breitbart “News”. One might attribute Trump’s surprise win in 2016 to Bannon’s use of social media propaganda to entice white nationalists and angry gamers to show up at the polls and vote. 

Bannon left his employment at the White House on August 17, 2017, less than a week after the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. Trump, perhaps at Bannon’s urging, tipped his hat to the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who had helped elect him, declaring that there were “good people on both sides”. Since leaving the White House, Bannon, as a look at his wikipedia articleshows, has been very busy promoting national and international white nationalist movements. He retains ties with Trump. With the aid of a preemptive Trump pardon, he thumbed his nose at the legal establishment in 2020. He is currently facing trial for two criminal contempt charges, none of which adversity seems to have slowed him down.

Bannon’s theory of election success is parallel to Goebbel’s but Bannon expresses it in far coarser terms—channel the anger of existing movements to your own political ends using a flood of manipulative propaganda:

In an interview, Bannon told journalist Michael Lewis in February 2018, “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall. This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” He added, “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

Bannon contributes to this flood through his popular podcast now carried on Rumble, “Bannons War Room”, his way of keeping the extreme right angry and engaged. 

Bannon and Trump remain connected. Some consider Bannon to be Trump’s muse. We underestimate the power of this relationship and the propaganda value of Bannon’s work at our peril. Hitler’s rise to power, buoyed by Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda genius in harnessing the völkisch movement, was similarly marked by underestimation of the power of rallies, films, violence, domestic terrorism, and attention-grabbing legal scrapes that stretched over more than a decade. 

We must never forget that Bannon and Trump are students of the methods by which the Nazis rose to power.

Keep to the high ground,


[1] Note that the word “propaganda” carried (and may still carry) a different connotation in German (and other languages) than it does in English. Broadly: 

Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented.


In the 20th century, the English term propaganda was often associated with a manipulative approach, but historically, propaganda has been a neutral descriptive term of any material that promotes certain opinions or ideologies.[1][3] Equivalent non-English terms have also largely retained the original neutral connotation.

Keep this distinction in mind when reading Goebbel’s usage of the term. For him and for his listeners propaganda was a neutral concept.

P.S. From the wikipedia article on Bannon:

Bannon was influenced by Fourth Turning theory, outlined in Neil Howe‘s and William Strauss‘s The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, one of Bannon’s favorite books.[341] The theory proposes that “populism, nationalism and state-run authoritarianism would soon be on the rise, not just in America but around the world. [… Once one strips] away the extraneous accidents and technology, you are left with only a limited number of social moods, which tend to recur in a fixed order” and cyclically. 

With that book as background it is inevitable that Bannon would become a devoted student of Hitler’s rise to power. See Neil Howe’s article in the Washington Post.

Cathy the Dissident

She’s “Proud” of Kettle Falls

Thanks to the wonders of targeted email, Rep. McMorris Rodgers (CD-5, Eastern Washington) can be selective in choosing her audience. The Wednesday, February 14th email pasted at the bottom of this post was not delivered to an address associated with this writer.

With the limited audience she feels safe railing against vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and then going one step further with, “I’m proud of my Kettle Falls community for standing up for what they think is right, making masks optional for students and staff.”

Two days before CMR sent her email to her approving audience, the Kettle Falls School Board broke state law and, as reported in the Spokesman:

…voted Monday night to make masks optional for students and staff, prompting the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to issue a notice Tuesday to the school district to comply with the governor’s requirement.

With this grandstanding vote of dissidence the Kettle Falls School Board risked losing funding from the State. McMorris Rodgers is announcing she is “proud” of an illegal act. Did the Board know their defiance was an illegal act? Yes, explicitly. In a letter posted by the District Superintendent to the District website apologizing for NOT getting Kettle Falls signed on an August 18 letterprotesting to the mask mandate:

And, again, we checked with our legal counsel to find out what authority Governor Inslee has to mandate these things. Unfortunately, we learned that the gubernatorial mandates carry the weight of law,not following them could bankrupt our district and the school board could be held personally liable.

Of course, this is all a kabuki dance on the part of the Kettle Falls School Board, placating vocal District parents. The Board had to have known (or sensed) that mask mandates were soon to be rescinded statewide and the likelihood of a funding withdrawal getting underway in the remaining time was remote.

Like many of the most vocal anti-mask, anti-vaccine mandate parents (and even some now serving on local school boards (see Pam Orebaugh, CVSD) McMorris Rodgers never attended, nor does she have children who have attended Kettle Falls Public Schools. When she lived in Kettle Falls, Cathy attended the Columbia River Christian Academy and went directly from there to the then unaccredited Pensacola Christian College, totally eschewing public education.

McMorris Rodgers’ email is a bit of targeted political posturing delivered to her receptive faithful at a convenient moment. Read the rest of her missive in which she claims [with no evidence] that the rise in fentanyl deaths is “a direct result of President Biden and the Democrats’ reckless open border policies”. She should be ashamed of herself.

Notice at the bottom of Cathy’s missive that she is advertising town halls again, in carefully selected locations targeted at her faithful as she conspicuously avoids holding a town hall in the City of Spokane.

If you can spare the time, click the links and sign up. Her town halls almost never full. She doesn’t relish taking difficult questions. Note that she is holding one in person tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 24, 2022, 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM PT at Centerplace Event Center, 2426 North Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, Washington 99216.

Keep to the high ground,


Received Wednesday, February 14th.

It’s Time to Get Back to Normal

For the last two years, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on each one of us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Like so many of you, I’m tired of the lockdowns, the fear, the isolation, and the despair

Too many Americans have lost their jobs or businesses. Our kids are falling behind after being kept out of the classroom. Mental health issues, drug overdoses, and violent crime are on the rise all across the country. All because of heavy-handed government policies that are doing more harm than good.

It’s time to get back to normal. That’s exactly what I told President Biden in a letter with more than 70 of my colleagues last week calling on him to abandon his overbearing and authoritarian approach to combating COVID-19.

We are not in the same place we were on day 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have safe and effective vaccines, treatments, and many now have natural immunity. Federal and state COVID-19 policies should start reflecting that, which means no more mask mandates.No more vaccine mandates. No more school closures or lockdowns.


  • Cleaning Up Our Environment – Yesterday, Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent and I highlighted the success of the EPA’s Brownfield program in Eastern Washington before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. This program has helped transform abandoned and contaminated land in Spokane and Palouse, and I hope we can remain vigilant and preserve it for years to come.
  • Supporting Our Schools – Today, I met with Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard to talk about the challenges students and teachers are facing due to school closures, mask mandates, and labor shortages. We need to work together to put our kids first, so I appreciate Mr. Swinyard taking the time to share his perspective with me! 
  • Advocating for Important Programs – This week, I will meet with YMCA members from across Eastern Washington – including Karen Hedine from Walla Walla and Josh Paparazzo from the Palouse – to discuss how their organization is investing in our communities’ youth through early learning, afterschool, and summer learning programs. Thanks for all you do for our kids!

Last week, I asked if you think Governor Inslee should end the mask mandate on children in Washington like so many states across the country have already done. The results are in, and an overwhelming 80% of you believe the mask mandate on kids should end. I could not agree with you more! 

Unfortunately, we know Governor Inslee is not going to lift the mask mandates for our kids until the CDC updates their guidance. That’s why I told CDC Director Walensky this week that it’s time for America to catch up and abandon policiesthat harm children and aren’t based on science or data.

We know that children are at low-risk for COVID-19. They’ve suffered enoughdue to misguided policies. I’m proud of my Kettle Falls community for standing up for what they think is right, making masks optional for students and staff. I’m urging Governor Inslee to abandon his command and control mandates and unmask our kids!

Q: Do you connect the drug overdoses and deaths to the Democrats’ open border policy? – Joanne from Colville

A: Thanks for your question. There is no doubt the unprecedented amount of illegal fentanyl crossing our southern border is a direct result of President Biden and the Democrats’ reckless open border policies.

Last year, Customs and Border Protection seized more than 11,000 pounds of fentanyl, which is enough to kill every American nearly 7 times over. Additionally, since President Biden took office, nearly 2 million illegal immigrants have been apprehended at the southern border. We have not seen numbers of this magnitude in more than two decades.

These increases are not a coincidence, and it’s time for the Biden administration to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, get serious about strengthening our border security, and protect our communities in Eastern Washington.

What question would you like to see answered next week?

Submit a Question

Right now, Russia is increasing its troop presence at the Ukrainian border, signaling the potential for invasion. Do you support the United States getting involved if Russia invades Ukraine?

Select One:

Yes, I support the U.S. getting involved.


No, I do not support the U.S. getting involved.


Unsure or undecided.


I will be hosting six town halls over the next two weeks to hear from constituents across Eastern Washington about the issues importantto them and their families. I will be making stops in Fairfield, Nine Mile, Elk, Newport, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake – so I hope you’ll join me! Space is limited, so these events are first come, first served.


Are Book Burnings Next?

History Rhymes

As a youth and a bibliophile, I found newsreel clips of book burnings from 1930s Germany deeply disturbing. It is only now that I understand that, as dramatic as these images were, their purpose was not to destroy the books themselves but to send a chill through all those harboring any ideas that might be contrary to those staging the conflagrations. The pinnacle of methods for suppressing opposing views were recently on display in bills passed by the Trump Republican dominated Texas legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. 

In an excellent, highly recommended (and free) article entitled “Reading While Texan” Doug Muder discusses the latest chilling reaction to the Republican extremism of state laws recently passed in Texas:

NBC News received an audio recording of an administrator in the Dallas suburb of Southlake [1], telling teachers that a new law (HB 3979) requires them to offer an “opposing” perspective if they have books about the Holocaust in their classroom libraries. When a teacher asked “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” the administrator didn’t offer a suggestion, but replied “It’s come up. Believe me.”

How long will it take before a science teacher in Texas is hauled before a board for broaching the subject of biological evolution without giving equal time to Biblical creationism? 

Dr. Heather Cox Richardson, a much published professor of american history and author of Letters from an American, wrote a detailed dissection of what’s in and what’s out in teaching history in Texas established by the new law S.B. 3, the text of which you can read here. One among the many atrocious additions and deletions Professor Richardson details in the law that stuck out for me was the line through (deletion of) “the history of Native Americans” from “the essential knowledge and skills” for the K-12 social studies curriculum. 

If your response to all this is “Oh, well, that’s just in Texas” I have news. Most of this push in Texas is riding on the wave of idiotic outrage Republicans have whipped up over “critical race theory”, a subject not touched on as such in K-12. The words “Critical Race Theory” is the new fairy dust of Republican outrage. Critical race theory outrage is nearly always interwoven with the anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-evolution hysteria among the folks making school board meetings intolerable in Spokane valley’s Central Valley School District (CVSD). Similar groups, similarly inspired have forced Spokane Public Schools School Board meetings to go virtual in order to comply with public safety rules. If one scratches the surface of the groups instigating these assaults on school board meetings, one often finds a reactionary, fundamentalist religious fervor, a desire to impose the group’s idea of doctrinal purity on the broader society. 

It is this type of quasi-religious reactionary fervor in Germany in the early 20th century, the Völkisch movement, that, in the 1920s, took control of the German Student Union. In 1933, just months after Adoph Hitler became Chancellor, it was the German Student Union that announced a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit” that would climax in a massive burning of books on May 10, 1933. On that occasion, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda meister, gave a speech heard by tens of thousands. Goebbels exhorted his listeners against “decadence and moral corruption” and in favor of “decency and morality in family and state.” Those words (not unlike rhetoric you hear today) were code for a hugely broad range of literature, including the works of H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, and “all historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures.” This last should sound chillingly familiar in the context of current anti-CRT hysteria. (Read more of the wide range of literature condemned to the flames here.)

The German Student Union/ Nazi book burnings of the 1930s, while broader in scope, served the same two fold purpose as recent state laws passed here: rouse the faithful—and instill fear in anyone holding a view or wishing to pedagogically consider any view that might run counter to the orthodoxy. 

When I started writing this post, book burnings, as far as I knew, had not been carried out recently in the United States. That changed on February 2 at the “Global Vision Bible Church” about fifteen miles east of Nashville, Tennessee. Pro-Trump, anti-mask Pastor Greg Locke said he was “called by God” to stage a book burning of offensive materials—like the Harry Potter books. It made national news. For a full account of the event visit this “Nashville Scene” article.

The primary intent of Pastor Greg Locke’s book burning was to rouse and unite his fundamentalist flock, though we should have no doubt that if Pastor Locke were able to sufficiently spread his views he would be happy to instill fear among those he considers the unbelieving heathen. 

Surely we are not yet at a stage of actual national book burnings like those of 1930s Germany, but the same fundamentalist, reactionary sentiments of the German Völkisch movement are alive and well in the anti-CRT, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-sex education salvos we now see directed at local school boards.

Recognize where these movements are coming from. History rhymes, but it doesn’t have to repeat.

Keep to the high ground,

WPC and the Spokesman

Pay attention to whose axe is being ground–and by whom

For decades I read the Spokesman Review’s Opinion page without paying much attention to the identity or the income source of article authors. That was my mistake. 

On February 4 the Spokesman published a Guest Opinion with the title, “In state income tax fight, it feels like Groundhog Day all over again,” written by Chris Cargill. “What state income tax?” should to be the reader’s first question. Another Spokesman article, notably appearing the same day, “Capital gains tax court battle begins with Douglas County hearing,” offers the needed explanation:

The Legislature last year passed a 7% tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, businesses and other investments, if the profits exceed $250,000 annually. Exceptions include the sale of all real estate, livestock and small family-owned businesses.

It would bring in about $415 million for the state to pay for child care and early learning. The tax technically went into effect in January, but payments don’t begin being made to the state until 2023.

The tax would affect less than 1% of taxpayers, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.

Nowhere in Mr. Cargill’s article will you find any hint of the scope of the contested capital gains tax or any indication of what it is earmarked to fund. Nowhere, of course, does he acknowledge that Washington State has the most regressive tax structure of any state, i.e. the least wealthy citizens in the state pay the highest percentage of their income in aggregate taxes. Mr. Cargill’s wants the reader, instead, to focus on this idea [the bold is mine]:

They [supporters of the capital gains tax] want to sock it to people in the higher income brackets, then extend the tax later to everyone else.

Recognize that slippery slope argument? “Once those evil folk have their foot in the door, the next thing you know they’ll be after your money! You must resist now or they’ll be coming to get yours!” Cargill is coming from a place where any hint of a progressive tax must be resisted. It is a familiar argument coming from a familiar source, the Washington Policy Center (WPC). The WPC is the local manifestation of the libertarian/conservative “think tank” network of 5019(c)(3)s detailed by Jane Mayer in her comprehensive study, Dark Money. Funded by tax-deductible dollars from undisclosed wealthy donors, their purpose is to mold public opinion for their own benefit one speech and one article at a time.

The donors to the Washington Policy Center have an axe to grind—and they hire staff who have demonstrated skill in grinding that axe. WPC provides its hires with a prominent platform from which to speak. Substance and and expertise takes a back seat to demonstrated skill at consistently pushing the “right” argument, in this case, the slippery slope argument that any tax that might selectively affect the WPC donors is to be feared by the common citizen, too. 

Mr. Cargill was not supported by WPC (or by the Spokesman, see below) because of his expertise in tax policy. Like others on the WPC payroll, Mr. Cargill was hired on account of his particular political bent layered on his education and experience in communication, specifically political science and television news. Mr. Cargill is, no doubt, sincere in his opinions, but his opinions are selected and elevated for what they are—not for any demonstrated subject expertise.

The Washington Policy Center through a Chris Cargill Guest Opinion has been offered a platform on the opinion page of the Spokesman at least every two weeks for nearly a year, over which time there has been a subtle shift in the manner in which the paper presents his opinions.

Until September, 2021, Mr. Cargill’s mini-bio following his opinion pieces was:

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Seattle and Olympia. Online at

As of October a more accurate and transparent mini-bio appeared and is appended to each of Mr. Cargill’s later articles:

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director of Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities and Olympia. Online at Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center, and sit on the organization’s board.

It may be a small change, but it is a positive change in the interest of transparency. One hopes that readers of the Spokesman will pay attention to the financial backing and background of the folks whose opinions are put forward to influence public opinion.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you wonder where you’ve heard of Chris Cargill before this, it might be from his election last November to the City Council of the City of Liberty Lake, Washington. The “Eastern Washington director of Washington Policy Center” now has a city council seat.

Shawn Vestal on Al French

Scathing Commentary on a naked power play

The column by Shawn Vestal copied below appeared in the Spokesman on Friday, February 11, 2022. Vestal’s column appeared in response to statements by County Commissioner Al French sent in an email to several recipients including Mr. Vestal. In that email Mr. French tried to justify Spokane County Commissioners French, Kerns, and Kuney’s revision of the Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health (SRHD BOH) last November. French sent the email the day before the Commissioners put the finishing touch on their power takeover of the SRHD BOH by finalizing three new, handpicked SRHD BOH appointees

Vestal is not buying Mr. French’s explanation, nor should we. I would only add one point to the opprobrium: As I detailed in last Friday’s post, I have good reason to believe that by shrinking the SRHD BOH from twelve to eight the Commissioners broke the law; they exceeded the authority they are allowed under state law.

I urge you to subscribe to the Spokesman. Shawn Vestal’s writing alone is worth the subscription. 

Keep to the high ground,


Shawn Vestal: Commissioner demands to be held blameless for terrible decisions

Fri., Feb. 11, 2022

Al French would like you to know it’s not his fault, nor the fault of his fellow county commissioners, that they have done what they have done to the board of the Spokane Regional Health District.

The law allowed it, so they’re not responsible.

Al French would also like you to understand that, when it comes to serving on the health board, there’s no real benefit to having medical expertise.

If you thought there was, well, that’s on you.

And Al French would also like you to understand that the latest terrible decision he and fellow County Commissioners Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney have made – in an impressively long string of terrible decisions regarding public health – was technically within the letter of the law and therefore not their fault. Just as it was technically within the letter of the law when they shrank the board by booting everyone who’d disagreed with them about their past terrible decision to cover up the botched firing of the health officer.

The law allowed it. They bear no responsibility.

“The appointments we are making today are in complete compliance with the law,” French said Monday before voting to appoint a naturopath to the health board. “If there are those that are unhappy with the law, then talk to your legislators.”

French has a chapped hide about media coverage and public criticism over the commissioners’ decision to ignore entreaties to appoint a doctor or medical expert to the board, among other issues.

He made a series of comments before taking that vote Monday and was so proud of these comments that he emailed them to some people who weren’t there to hear them, myself included, in an effort to help them be “better informed and accurate.”

In the remarks, French whines about the criticism he and his fellow health-district underminers have received. It’s nothing but misinformation and political posturing, he said.

One of the things people just don’t understand, French says, is that there’s no reason to have medical expertise on a health board.

“The Health District Board is a ‘community’ board and not a ‘medical’ board,’” French insisted. “This differentiation is critical to this process. The Health District Board provides oversight and community input to the programs and functions of the Health District. The Board DOES NOT make medical decisions.”

This is his argument for appointing a naturopath to the position on the board that is required by law to represent “public health, health care facilities and providers.”

Regional hospitals, French notes, don’t have boards that are made up entirely of doctors (though he proceeds bizarrely to cite the fact that every one does have doctors, actually). And for many years, he says, there were no doctors on the SRHD board. And – even though it absolutely, definitely doesn’t matter to French whether there is medical expertise on a health board – it was Al French himself, he notes, who years ago appointed a doctor to the board, a doctor who he would later help fire in a storm of dishonesty.

Yes, amazingly, French patted himself on the back for putting Dr. Bob Lutz on the health board back in 2011, all while arguing how beside-the-point it would be to put a doctor on the health board now.

The confusion is deep, but the pique is understandable. After all, it’s been very difficult for the commissioners, as they’ve made one terrible decision after another, that so many people have noticed.

Starting with their efforts to undermine public health at the start of the pandemic and continuing through the disastrous firing of Lutz – about which they have repeatedly told blatant falsehoods – and evolving into the latest putsch to take greater control of the board by eliminating dissenters, the commissioners have been consistently criticized in public.

French, for one, is tired of it.

“There has been a lot of misinformation and political posturing over the last many months over the creation of a new Health District Board to comply with the legislation adopted last year,” French said. “Even the legislator that sponsored the bill has criticized us for following the law and not his intent or what was in his mind when he voted for the bill.”

French is referring to the law sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, which attempted to broaden community representation and medical expertise on health boards. The law had fatal flaws that the commissioners have cynically exploited. While the law aims to expand boards by requiring districts to balance community members and elected officials, commissioners met the legal standard by shrinking the board instead, consolidating their own power and thumbing their noses at medical expertise.

The law wasn’t clear enough in requiring commissioners to do the right things, and it allowed room for them to do the wrong ones.

For this, Al French demands you hold him blameless.

Spokane County Commissioners Run Amok

The Illegal Trashing of the SRHD Board of Health

On November 15, 2021, the Spokane County Board of Commissioners, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney, voted to dissolve the Spokane Regional Health District’s Board of Health (SRHD BOH) as of December 31, 2021. In a brazen display of power politics, the Commissioners reconstituted the SRHD Board of Health effective January 1, 2022. By removing five BOH member positions currently held by city representatives and selecting appointed member of their own choosing, the Commissioners gave themselves a likely supermajority on the Board. At least viewed from the standpoint of many, Resolution-21-0791 seemed to come out of nowhere, without warning or time for public comment. The Spokesman article by Colin Tiernan that covered the Commissioners’ action, quoted two members of the dissolved Board of Health, President of the City of Spokane City Council Breean Beggs and Mayor of Millwood Kevin Freeman, saying that even they were not made aware that the Board on which they sat was about to be dissolved. 

For a month the audacity (and opacity) of Resolution-21-0791 apparently so stunned all concerned that no one thought to ask if the Commissioners had broken the law with their action. Then, on December 8, a guest opinion piece appeared in the Spokesman written by Dr. Pam Kohlmeier, MD, JD, entitled, “Was shrinking SRHD Board of Health illegal?”. In the article, Dr. Kohlmeier details multiple apparent violations by the County Commissioners, including violations of the Bylaws of the SRHD BOH, the Washington State Open Meetings Act, and other state laws, including one that authorizes commissioners by way of a resolution to establish a single county health district like SRHD WITH a Board of Health to govern it, but not the authority to gut an existing Board of Health.

What exactly is the power relationship between the three member Spokane County Board of Commissioners (French, Kerns, and Kuney), the State of Washington, and the SRHD Board of Health? 

We claim to be a nation governed by “the rule of law”. Law is composed of words contained in a hierarchy of documents: the federal and state constitutions and federal, state, and local laws and ordinances. Power flows from and is constrained by the words in those documents, documents to which most of us pay little attention. A major portion of the practice of law is devoted to arguing over what those words mean, i.e. what the words authorize and forbid. 

The power of the Spokane County Commissioners flows, as it does in all other Washington counties, from the Washington State Constitution and state law (the Revised Code of Washington or “RCW”). Commissioners French, Kerns, and Kuney must act within the confines of those laws—and—if not—should be called to account.

In shrinking the membership of the SRHD Board of Health and thereby clawing back voting power from local cities and towns and shoring up their own voting power on the BOH, French, Kerns, and Kuney have overstepped their authority—a polite way of saying they have broken the law. 

The single county Spokane Regional Health District was established January 1, 1997 by Spokane County Resolution 1996-0825. This was done in several steps in response to the then recent passage of a state law (SB5253), part of the 1995 “Public Health Improvement Plan Implementation.” Having established the SRHD and the SRHD’s Board of Health, the three commissioners at the time, by law, as a threesome, relinquished some of their voting power to the members of the Board of Health, based on membership specified through a series of resolutions, under the authority granted under state statute RCW 70.05.030 which states:

The board of county commissioners may, at its discretion, adopt an ordinance expanding the size and composition of the board of health to include elected officials from cities and towns and persons other than elected officials as members so long as persons other than elected officials do not constitute a majority.

Take special notice of the words “an ordinance” and “expanding”. Note the wording is not “ordinances”, nor does the law allow for the county commissioners to “shrink” or even to “alter” the composition of the board. 

Furthermore, as laid out in RCW 70.46.060:

The district board of health shall constitute the local board of health for all the territory included in the health district, and shall supersede and exercise all the powers and perform all the duties by law vested in the county board of health of any county included in the health district. 

Over the years various Spokane County Commissions have passed resolutions that have expanded the number of BOH members—and they have tinkered with the details of who gets to be a member (e.g. adding representation for the City of Spokane Valley after it incorporated), but Resolution-21-0791, violates state law, breaking new ground by shrinkingrepresentation in a naked attempt to solidify their control over the duly constituted Spokane Regional Board. It is not only a shameful act, but it is illegal on its face.

The city governments of Spokane and Spokane Valley need to challenge this County power grab, in court if necessary, lest the three current county commissioners under the leadership of Al French continue to shamelessly claw back power that is not theirs to wield. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. As I read RCWs and historical Spokane County Resolutions in preparation for this post I was very much struck by this: The historical tone of past laws and resolutions was one of cooperation in pursuit of better and broader representation and inclusion in pursuit of the common good of Public Health. It is with regret and sadness that I note the tone of the current county commissioners as quoted in the Spokesman, which expressed, for example, sentiments made by Commissioner John Kerns: 

Kerns also emphasized that the commissioners followed the letter of the law. He said if Riccelli wanted more public health professionals and more elected city officials on the board, he should have written that into the bill.

“It’s his law,” Kerns said. “I would say Rep. Riccelli’s rhetoric doesn’t match the bills that he drafts.”

That statement reeks of a politician’s version of the schoolyard taunt “Nah, na, ni, na, na.” AND, as I’ve just demonstrated, the Commissioners most certainly did not “follow the letter of the law”. Instead, they broke the law and assumed in their audacity that no one would call them on it.

P.S.S. The SRHD BOH, as a government entity related to, but separate from, the County Commission, established Bylaws which include the rules for membership on, and conduct of, business by the SRHD BOH, including a procedure to amend those bylaws. Once a single county health district is established by county commissioners and a Board of Health for that district is put in place then the BOH of that district is governed by its Bylaws, not solely by the county commissioners (although they retain votes on the board). If that were not so, then any decision made by a vote of a quorum of the twelve member BOH that was conducted under its Bylaws could be summarily overruled by just two of three commissioners voting in a commission meeting. That doesn’t make any sense.