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Rep. Reichert’s Retirement

Chris Petzold - 09/29/2017

How Indivisible Groups Made Washington’s Eighth District “A Whole Different Ballgame”

In the original Indivisible Guide, we described what we thought it would look like when Members of Congress dealt with constant pressure:

Every time your MoC signs on to a bill, takes a position, or makes a statement, a little part of his or her mind will be thinking: ‘How am I going to explain this to the angry constituents who keep showing up at my events and demanding answers?’”

Rep. Dave Reichert (WA-08) became a real-life example of this when, after nine months of constant pressure from constituents, he announced he would not be running for reelection.

Rep. Reichert is only one of a wave of several retirements. For more about Indivisible’s impact in these districts, see Think Progress: Recent GOP retirements follow months of progressive pressure

Republican Rep. Dave Reichert (WA-8) announced in early September that he would not be seeking re-election in 2018, joining the growing list of GOP representatives who’ve decided to leave Congress.

Indivisible Washington’s 8th District and our coalition of in-district grassroots partners have been pressuring Congressman Reichert since before the inauguration and it looks like it’s had the desired effect. Here, we share how we did it.

Congressman Reichert is frequently characterized as a moderate Republican in the media. He’s won five re-elections in our very gerrymandered district without participating in a debate since 2008. He has not held a legitimate town hall for as long as anyone can remember. His key to success seems to be to place some token votes in support of environmental causes and to fly under the radar. We endeavored to make that impossible for him.

Our strategy from the beginning has been to shine a light on Rep. Reichert, tying his votes to Trump’s agenda, driving accountability, and forcing him to answer to his party line voting record in this district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. We used a variety of tactics – including rallies, social media, phone calls, an adopt-a-district town hall, in-person meetings and tracking him down to his (rare) public events.

Indivisible WA-8 members have been seen out by Rep. Reichert’s district office more times than we can count, rallying at a busy intersection two blocks away. We called attention to Rep. Reichert’s record on health care, DACA, tax reform, and his multiple Ways and Means Committee votes against getting Trump’s tax returns.  Our first rally was the Wednesday before inauguration. We left on his office’s doorstep a bowl of 43,100 popcorn kernels, each representing a person in Rep. Reichert’s district who would lose their health care should the ACA be repealed.

We’ve also been busy on Twitter. We saw that Rep. Reichert was going to retweet his Ways and Means Committee’s misleading daily tweets about “tax reform” in August. We organized an effort to tweet back facts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Suddenly, his retweets stopped. What was supposed to be a 31-day campaign turned into about five days before it was abandoned by the congressman.

Have I mentioned the phone calls? In January, Congressman Reichert lashed out at us in a media interview, stating that his office had taken 700 phone calls in one day. He complained that his staff was unable to serve his constituents because of all the phone calls, almost as if we aren’t his constituents. We have daily actions with topics to call about and have special pushes around different priorities, for example creating a “1000 calls to Dave Reichert to save the ACA” event on Facebook when the House was close to taking up the vote.

Incidentally, Rep. Reichert voted against his party, voting “no” at the last minute on the AHCA.  He had already voted for the ACA repeal twice to get it out of committee and we had been pressuring him for months, yet he remained evasive and non-committal as to how he would vote on the floor. One hour before the vote was taken, we received notice that he would vote “no.” As progressives, and just decent people, we labored over thanking him for doing what we’d asked. In the end, we decided that the vote was too late. (Seattle Weekly:  Reichert’s ‘No’ Vote on Trumpcare Came Too Late for Some Indivisibles.)

 

One of our proudest moments was when we hosted an adopt-a-district town hall, with neighboring congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-7). We were thoughtful about the optics, holding the town hall at a college in the very town where Rep. Reichert lives. Rep. Jayapal gave us “congressperson envy” and served as a stark contrast to Reichert, who refused our invitation. You didn’t see any of the shouting matches that Reichert feared. Rather, you could hear a pin drop as members of our community shared their personal stories about why the ACA is so important in their lives. The adopt-a-district town hall got some great press and was attended by four of the Democratic candidates lined up to run for the seat in 2018.

What was Rep. Reichert’s answer to the question about why he doesn’t hold town halls? He finds that small group meetings in his district office are more productive. Well, we tried that too. Many members of our team have met with the congressman in groups of eight, the maximum he will allow. In this setting, Reichert can control the situation and, when pressed on the issues, can walk out. Constituents who experienced him walking out on them shared these experiences via letters to the editor in local papers. When several group leaders met with him for the second time in April, we could see that our months of consistent pressure were getting to him. Reichert shared that he had been under pressure during the Tea Party time but that “it was nothing like this.” (Indivisible for the win!)

What may have very well been the last straw for Rep.  Reichert was when we “bird dogged” him during August recess at what he expected to be a friendly annual event at a community health center. We heard about this (rare) public appearance and quietly organized a small group of our members to be outside and a couple on the inside.

Our team could tell that he was unpleasantly surprised because of the way that the congressman and his team hesitated to walk past them and enter the building. He ignored our “hellos” and “good mornings,” pausing only to say that one of our signs was “incorrect.” We’re sure this moment solidified for him that we were going to track him down anywhere and everywhere he tried to go, including to events that had, in previous years, been good optics for him.

All of the tactics above amounted to constant, consistent pressure on the congressman since January. Between that and all of the Democratic challengers lined up to face him in 2018, Reichert realized that he was facing a whole different ballgame.

This is a tough battle, and it has been uncomfortable for all of us. When we met with him in April, he wondered why he has been such a target for us, since Trump is really who we are fighting. Here’s what I said in response:

“We can’t stop. We won’t stop. We’re not gonna stop until you quit being a rubber stamp to Trump’s agenda.”

Congressman Reichert really has had a life of public service, and we sincerely thanked him for that in a public statement after his retirement announcement. So many of us are feeling the pain of the Trump administration and it is incredibly unfortunate that the hyper-partisanship has taken hold in our system to the extent that a lifelong public servant has to step aside because his party does not support any meaningful pushback against Trump. Yet.

We give tremendous credit to the Indivisible folks in D.C., and to the Guide itself. The strong coalition we’ve built across WA-8 and across the state have inspired us to stay strong. We won an important battle, but the fight continues.