I was in Moses Lake, WA. yesterday. Moses Lake is about 2-and-a-half hours from Seattle on I-90. I was in Moses Lake because Mike McGavick, the former Safeco Insurance CEO-turned-U.S. Senate candidate for the GOP, was doing a stop on his “Open Mike” tour there. I wanted to watch McGavick in campaign mode east of the Cascades.
Moses Lake is in Grant County, which went 69.6% for Bush in 2004, and voted to repeal the gas tax by 61%. About 16% of the people live below the poverty line, as opposed to about 9.4% in King County. It’s a big agriculture town, loaded with Mexican restaurants, motels, a couple of bars, and some bartenders that don’t seem to agree much with the Republican patrons.
At the end of the day, I ended up at a place called Sporty’s Steakhouse, across the drag from the Pizza Hut, talking to a 28-year-old self-described “cowboy” who makes $15 an hour, working a hay machine 90 hours a week. He told me he voted for Bush twice and believes the bible should guide public policy. He said gay marriage has to be illegal because it’s against the bible. He also said it would be wrong to legalize stem cell research because that’s “killing babies.” He also thought the U.N. was stupid. He was a big, blonde bearded guy, in a dirty gray baseball cap, who ran through this political check list with a drunk smile, as if he was nonchalantly cruising down the aisles of a 7-11 at 1am picking up a pizza, some beef jerky, a 12-pack of Mountain Dew, a burrito, and, oh, throwing in a box of hot tamales at the counter for good measure. He also said you can never vote against a President when the country’s at war. But then he said he loved Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report and that Democratic minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was his favorite politician. (?!?) He also said Bush was “the biggest liar of all the politicians,” but Bush is still good because “he stands by what he believes in.”
At that point, the 23-year-old bartender, a blonde woman named Michelle with a piercing just below her lower lip, jumped in: “Bush is retarded,” she said. “He’s uneducated. He’s just a rich kid.” The Bush/Reid fan, his name was Phil, then announced that he didn’t believe in condoms because they were birth control. “I don’t practice what I preach, though.”
“Well, that makes you a hypocrite,” the bar tender said. “Do you think the withdrawal method is against the bible?” She was on a roll. Then she said gay marriage was a civil rights issue. “Why withhold the right to start a family, just because someone is homosexual?” Finally, Phil, who confessed to being totally drunk (he was drinking it up because “some Mexican totaled my truck today”), told me the next time I run into him, he’ll probably “be a Democrat.”
I do wish Michelle and Phil had been at McGavick’s campaign stop. The “Open Mike” tour is McGavick’s folksy whistle-stop type campaign shtick where he rolls into town in a huge red rock tour bus and holds community meetings, taking questions from the audience for about an hour. Phil—talking about the withdrawal method in front of the crowd of mostly pot-bellied guys—would have been a marvel.
This “Open Mike”—with hot dogs and baked beans and Doritos and Gatorade—was in a park just off Exit 179, Moses Lake State Park, in the grassy southwest corner of town sloping down to the water. Later in the week, I’ll give a full report of the event, where I talked to several McGavick fans and hunkered down with Grant County Republican Chairman Tom Dent.
For now, I just want to Slog two kinda tense moments from my interview with McGavick today.
The first snippet is this: I played a quick round of that pop psychology game—where I would say something, and McGavick was supposed to say the first thing that came into his head.
Here it is:
JF: “I’m going to say something, and you say the first thing that comes to your mind. Ready. No one anticipated the breach of the levees.”
JF: “Hillary Rodham Clinton”
(A local Grant County Republican Precinct Committee Officer named Sherril Dormaier, was hovering nearby, and groaned: “Hillary? Corrupt.” More on her in a second.)
The game continued.
JF: “Paris Hilton’s singing career.”
MM: “No interest.”
MM: “$206,647?” … (Honestly puzzled, McGavick looked over at his campaign manager.) “$206,647? … Um…Random.”
JF: “The insurance industry is your biggest contributor and that’s how much you’ve gotten from them.” (This is as of his first quarter campaign finance reports. 6 of his top 20 contributors are from the insurance industry.)
MM: “Random.” Then he suddenly locked me in a stare. “We have systems that we use to finance elections. But then we play this game that people own people? You can’t own me. I don’t care who you are.I don’t care who. you. are.”
This exchange wouldn’t have struck me as noteworthy, if there hadn’t been a similar snippet earlier in the interview, when, once again, McGavick got a little too icy, a little too quickly.
JF: Here in Washington state, the legislature passed a gay civil rights bill last spring. Do you support that bill?
MM: I have my hands full with federal issues. I do not and will not talk about state issues. Because, I’m working at the federal level. I’ve got my hands full.
JF: But surely you have an opinion…
MM: Again, you can look at my record at Safeco to understand that Safeco was a very welcoming employer and had very generous and very aggressively non-discriminatory benefits.
JF: So, Tim Eyman tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal [the gay civil rights bill]. Would you have voted for that?
MM: Again, I’ve been asked about the gas tax last year. I’m now being asked about this. I’ll be asked about other things. I do not comment on state initiatives because I’m focused on the federal issues. There’s plenty of issues to ask me about all day long. And by the way, the precedent for that was set by Scoop and Maggie. [Former Washington Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson & Warren G. Magnuson].
JF: The precedent for not answering…[McGavick’s eyes darkened]… questions?…
MM: You can think it’s funny, I think it’s appropriate. As a senate leader working on federal issues to not wander into every state issue going on at the legislature…
JF: I’m just curious what you believe. I mean, you’re a Washingtonian. I’m a Washingtonian. This one issue is raging in our state. I want to know what you think about it.
MM: There are lots of issues that I will be able to affect as your Senator. So, let’s talk about them.
McGavick did go on to say, if the Washington state Supreme Court invalidated the state DOMA, it would give him a reason, if elected to the U.S. Senate, to vote for a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.
As I was leaving the picnic, Sherril Dormaier, the Republican PCO from Grant County who didn’t like Hillary Clinton, called to me form her car and asked what paper I was with. She clearly wanted to be interviewed. So, I took out my notebook and asked her what she thought of McGavick. She got out of her car. She was wearing red pants and a white tank top. She had a thick mop of gray hair, a prominent gold tooth, and she was wearing a cross around her neck. She started out saying she thought McGavick had “integrity”, and that “he couldn’t be bought and sold.” She said “he would uphold the Constitution” and that “he believed in the rights of citizens.” Then she started quoting the bible to me, telling me she was pro-life and that “nations will be judged that don’t defend the innocent.” She told me that “our country was founded on God,” and that “we would be judged if we abandoned that.”
I reminded her that McGavick said he would have voted for the Senate’s recent stem cell research bill…And while McGavick said he believes in parental notification laws and outlawing partial birth abortions, he also said, beyond that, he was committed to choice. Dormaier said McGavick was “a little soft” on that, but he was closer to her principles than Maria Cantwell.
She then told me that “God has already started punishing us.” I asked her what she meant, and she said, “…the weather. Are people so dumb that they can’t see that?”
Indeed, there’s plenty to say about Saturday and McGavick’s stop in Moses Lake, from the folks like Dormaier at the picnic eating Doritos mashed up with baked beans in styrofoam bowls to McGavick’s campaign strategy to the Democrat from the local community college (Big Bend Community College) who crashed the event with a nervous anti-war question.
There was also another liberal bartender at a place called Michael’s on The Lake—the Soc restaurant in town with corner couches, a marble bar top, cozy couples, servers in matching peach shirts, khakis and brown aprons, and a deck overlooking the water. This bartender, his name was David, had worked for a non-profit in NYC for a year helping low-income students. The non-profit was run by Eliot Spitzer’s wife. He said that everyone he knew in Moses Lake had voted for Bush, and when he asked them why, they said because Bush made them “feel safe.” “They’re scared of everything because they never leave here,” he said.