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Our current congresswoman follows Donald Trump's every tweet and call, but we can change that 

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Having served for years in government — first with the Navy's Special Projects Office (Polaris/Poseidon), at the time the highest priority R&D project in the country, and then in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as a budget analyst on the OSD Comptroller's staff, I learned that, when working with Congress we followed certain unwritten rules of engagement. The Tom Foleys of Congress got their phone calls answered immediately. Calls from the Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the world would go to the bottom of our stacks of things to do.

Why? Because McMorris Rodgers has never held a position of influence, nor shown that she can manufacture influence. The job she has, chair of the House Republican Caucus, is called a "leadership position" but is mostly ceremonial. She is the GOP's go-to photo-op woman. (There aren't that many to choose from, as we know.)

During these past 13 years in office, McMorris Rodgers has authored no major bills herself. When she claims more, she is adding bills she co-sponsored; this can be done with a signature. To knowledgeable outsiders, this says more about her district: Many conclude that the Washington state 5th District must be a backwater place that no one needs to care about.

Case in point: The Air Force decision not to send its new tankers to Fairchild. This was a big loss for Spokane. Lisa Brown would have put up a fight. McMorris Rodgers just wrung her hands.

In contrast, consider our district when Tom Foley was in office. He had clout, he had influence and he was a responsive, class act. Cathy McMorris Rodgers isn't a Tom Foley, and why? Foley set agendas and worked for consensus. McMorris Rodgers waits for orders to come down — nowadays from President Trump — and then she does as she's been told. The numbers don't lie: Statistically, she is one of Trump's most loyal supporters.

What we know about Lisa Brown is that she has always had her calls answered, and has never played the role of a party token. You don't get to be the state Senate majority leader unless you are a legislator respected by your peers. She's a quick study; as we used to say, she quickly learns her way around whatever building she works in. McMorris Rodgers? Well, she's had 13 years to figure things out and to make an impact. Based on the results, she still needs a corridor map.

This begs repeating: McMorris Rodgers does what President Trump and her party leadership tell her to do, and that's pretty much that. Her Trump loyalty rankings are the very highest among Republican members of Congress. Brown, to the contrary, has shown herself to be both independent and effective — as her work on the WSU Medical School and on getting funding to help save the Fox Theater. And she did all this while working a divisive budget through the state Senate during difficult financial times.

GOP dark money attacks on Brown now even include references to communism in her doctoral dissertation. What's important about this are not the cheap shots, but the fact that she actually wrote a doctoral dissertation and earned a Ph.D. at a respected university (University of Colorado at Boulder), all while McMorris Rodgers was getting a bachelor's degree from an unaccredited Bible college.

McMorris Rodgers holds what amounts to a ceremonial party position, and in a party with an ever-diminishing reputation amongst women she plays the role of the token. It's not a great look.

It's not all her fault. After all, she is a woman and a Republican. If you are a woman and don't want to have much political influence, the GOP is truly the place for you. We saw this very thing in the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — not one woman sat on the Republican side of the table.

Even more dramatic, consider the single most important committee in the House of Representatives, the Committee on Appropriations. Of the total committee members, the Republicans presently have 29 seats, the Democrats 22. Of the Republicans on the committee, 26 are men, only three are women. In stark contrast, of the 22 Democrats on the Committee, 12 seats are held by men, while 10 are held by women. And they aren't there as tokens.

Lisa Brown was chosen as Washington state Senate majority leader by her peers, not just because she's a woman, but because she is a person who is, as was Tom Foley, bright and able.

You want to know what to expect over the next two years should McMorris Rodgers win another term? Don't pay attention to what she says, just pay attention to what Trump tweets. That'll be her job.

With Lisa Brown, we'll get independence and fresh leadership. Goodness knows the 5th District needs it. ♦

The original print version of this article was headlined "We Need a Leader"

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