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The Real Washington 

Take it from someone who knows both Washingtons: Our nation’s capital could learn a lot from a place like Spokane

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I’m frequently asked where I live these days. My quick response: Washington. But I actually live in two Washingtons, though after 10 years in Congress I’m drawn more frequently back to the West Coast version, the place closest to my heart, and where my roots are — Spokane.

The reason for the draw is simple: This Washington is real; it’s where Mary Beth’s and my best friends are. Our doctors are here, and it’s our children’s favorite place. I’m part of a vibrant law firm (Lee & Hayes) making a name for itself in the far reaches of the world, right from its Spokane roots. Our family’s summertime is spent at our heavenly Priest Lake cabin. I’m on the board of our nation’s oldest silver mining company — Hecla Mining Company in Coeur d’Alene — and of another innovative, high-tech Spokane company, IP Street.

While the excitement and activity of the other Washington are compelling, I must leave our nation’s capital frequently to regain some sense of perspective. While I appreciate the in-depth reporting of the Washington Post, its focus is often at odds with my Spokane values, where the simple and straightforward trump glitter and self-importance. When the sophisticates of the D.C. area have concerns, they differ from those of Eastern Washington. Washington, D.C., could learn a lot from Spokane.

In Costco recently, I heard from numerous shoppers, telling me how genuinely worried they are for our country, citing America’s staggering federal deficits, our crushing federal debt and the lack of strong leaders in our capital city. Though the scale of values has changed, and the structure of our country is unsettled, we still long for a time when 62.2 percent of Americans believe our country is on the “right track” instead of now, with the figure reversed.

I was heartened by a recent courtesy meeting with Spokane Mayor David Condon, a young man committed to Spokane, unabashed in his love for our city and its potential. He and his family were enthusiastic Lilac Parade participants this year. My wife and I also saw a smiling Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Maria Cantwell riding in the Lilac Parade, and they aren’t even up for election! Likewise, the Lilac Parade crowd graciously welcomed them, recognizing that they were here because they deemed it important to celebrate Spokane.

As senior status befalls me, time spent equals importance attributed, and that’s why we love this important place. The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, founded by Bill Bialkowsky with Terry Goebel, is a national model for child abuse prevention. It illustrates how Spokane citizens see a problem needing attention, and then commit themselves to solving it. Hoopfest and Bloomsday set records for athletic participation, but not without a community-wide vision supported by scores of volunteers and sponsors. Spokane people solve community problems, improving lives.

This space often finds me fretting about the inadequacy of congressional and presidential actions, and offering antidotes to what ails our nation. So this week, rather than lament the Syrian dilemma or the creeping changes that have befallen America, I’m thankful to offer competing perspectives about two locations I actually know well, both with meaning for Spokane residents. While having a home near Washington, D.C., is enjoyable and our family is not unhappy there, returning often to Spokane is a goal. Here, people smile easily and say “Hello,” convincing evidence that their friendliness is genuine and unpretentious; physicians and dentists spend extra time addressing their patients’ needs; proprietors do good work for a reasonable price; pharmacists and grocers graciously provide excellent service; and here, one can only find the nation’s best sandwich at Domini’s in downtown Spokane. The other Washington has fewer of these valuable qualities.

The world’s large and vexing problems will continue to dog our country no matter our place of residence, or where we spend time. These are anxious and dubious times, but America’s future can benefit from the convictions of common sense and wisdom that are found in Spokane and its environs. That other Washington can learn from this one because we proudly boast of the steadiness of our world-class companies, a vital military presence, a standard of living that others, everywhere, should envy, fine schools and fine teachers, superior college sports and abundant natural resources that surround us.

So, don’t worry, I’m neither running for public office nor available for the top job at Greater Spokane Inc. But I continue to be exceedingly proud that Spokane’s the place I call “home.” 

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