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0000017b-f971-ddf0-a17b-fd73f3950000Election coverage from SPR and the Northwest News Network:Statewide Election: WashingtonSpokane County ElectionStatewide Election: IdahoStatewide Election: OregonU.S. House and Senate

Two 4th District Farmers Run for Congress on Republican Ticket

Rowan Moore Gerety
Northwest Public Radio

Washington’s top-two primary system has given 4th district voters the choice between two Republican farmers in the upcoming congressional elections. Both men are campaigning as defenders of central Washington’s farm economy. But when it comes to agricultural policies, they find plenty to disagree about.

You don’t have to study the 4th district congressional race for very long before hearing a familiar theme. “Meet Conservative Dan Newhouse, a Central Washington farmer,” begins one campaign ad. “Clint Didier’s not a career politician! He’s a farmer, and a businessman,” says another. Washington’s top-two primary system has given voters the choice between two Republican farmers. Clint Didier raises alfalfa on the plains near Pasco; Dan Newhouse grows hops and tree fruit in the Yakima Valley. Making use of a well-worn trope in American politics, both campaigns have made sure to include reference to life lessons learned on the family farm in every press appearance and public statement.

Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / Northwest Public Radio
Northwest Public Radio
Dan Newhouse debating in Yakima Valley.

Voter Sergio Marquez says this campaign messaging brings a familiar refrain: “‘I am a farmer and I know exactly what they need…I know what they want and I’m gonna give it to them.’”

And while both men are campaigning as defenders of central Washington’s farm economy, they find plenty to disagree about on policies affecting agriculture. To Marquez, who grows apples in Wapato, the problem is clear: “Our biggest problem right now is we need more help.

By help, he means workers to pick his fruit. This year alone, Marquez says he’s had ten of his 50 employees deported. Both Didier and Newhouse support some form of visa program for farmworkers and stricter immigration enforcement. But they part ways on tone and emphasis.

says Europe can provide a model, “Many countries have allowed workers from other countries to cross their borders, work, and go home,” he says. “Through an enhanced guest worker program, through legal status, I think we can get there.” He describes migrant farmworkers with words like “undocumented” and “hardworking.”

Didier outlined his own plan for Mexican immigrants at a campaign appearance with the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce. “Give ‘em an opportunity to come forward,” he said. “If they don’t come forward--we gotta have profiling, there’s nothing wrong with it--we catch ‘em, we deport ‘em.”

Didier wants to bolster border security with a heavy military presence. He would send troops to South Texas and Arizona to run drills using artillery and live ammunition. But most of his positions call for less government. “On the Didier campaign, we have a simple equation,” he says. “More government equals less freedom. Less government equals more freedom.”

That view sometimes clashes with federal support for agriculture here. Didier received almost $300,000 in farm subsidies up until 2010. Then he abruptly renounced them before running for public office. His farm relies on water from a federal irrigation project, but he wants to strip federal control of the water supply it creates.

Newhouse sees it differently. “I feel very good about advocating for further funding our water projects in this state,” he says. “As a conservative, I can make the case that those are not only good investments, they are commitments of the federal government.”

Newhouse served as head of Washington’s Department of Agriculture, and he has the backing of the biggest names in agribusiness.

Farmer Rella Ryman is an avid Didier supporter who grows corn, apples, and potatoes in Pasco. Weary of the Republican “establishment, she hopes Didier will help cut through her industry’s ties to politics. “Because of the taxation, because of the rules and regulations through the pesticide department, department of ecology, and on and on and on,” she says.

Never mind what those rules and regulations are meant to accomplish. “People are fed up with institutions that don’t work, and don’t care,” says Mike Gempler, who runs the Washington Growers League. Gempler sympathizes with that frustration and sees it as an important part of Didier’s appeal. But he says there’s a danger in what he calls Didier’s “emotional approach” to policy.

Rather than a comprehensive solution on immigration reform, he says, “Didier would rather focus exclusively on enforcement, which is a destructive path. I think anybody who boils immigration down to fear and anger, as Mr. Didier appears to have done, is being unrealistic.”

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