The legacy of a conservative

The retirement of Washington Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, marks a fault in the state’s political landscape. Hastings, who has represented central Washington’s Fourth Congressional District for two decades, is the last of the 1994 “Contract with America” farm team, both doctrinaire and principled. The question is whether those principles still track with the district’s changing demographics and political culture.

The paradox of the Fourth District, like the paradox of much of Eastern Washington, is the oversized hand of the federal government and the majority population that bites off its fingers. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation gave birth to the Tri-Cities, and Franklin Roosevelt and the Bonneville Power Administration made the Eastern Washington desert bloom. From aluminum plants supported by cheap power, to agriculture, to the military, the economy east of the Cascades has been spoon fed by the federal government. As writer Blaine Harden observed in his book “A River Lost,” federal goodies don’t translate into a big-government-adoring electorate. Just the opposite.

Eastern Washington became a political barometer, as Reagan Democrats became Reagan Republicans, and moderate Democrats such as Tom Foley were unseated.

The consummate moderate was Republican Sid Morrison, who represented the district from 1981 until 1993. The ideal successor to Hastings would be a Morrison clone, a sensible-center Republican or Democrat (perhaps a Latino) repelled by ideology and tuned to the greater public interest of the district and the state.

Hastings works hard, and has been superb at constituent services. But not unlike Jim McDermott, the Seattle Democrat whose district now extends into south Snohomish County, Hastings is a hidebound partisan. It makes getting to no easier than getting to yes.

As chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings has followed the path of a past chair, Rep. Richard Pombo, sandbagging wilderness proposals and angling to water down landmark conservation laws. His unwillingness to help fellow Republican Dave Reichert with the Pratt River Wilderness or to hold a hearing for the Wild Olympics bill for his friend, Norm Dicks, illustrates that Hastings ia an equal-opportunity denier. It’s an abysmal conservation record, more in keeping with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s.

A fitting Hastings’ send-off would be to secure funding to replace the leaking 1940s-era underground tanks at Hanford, the most contaminated place in the Western Hemisphere. That’s would be a constructive capstone to a long public career.

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