McDermott finds a receptive crowd on Vashon

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) visited the Island Saturday, fielding questions from a standing-room-only crowd at the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie.  - Michele AnnLouise Cohen Photo
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) visited the Island Saturday, fielding questions from a standing-room-only crowd at the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie.
— image credit: Michele AnnLouise Cohen Photo

With a cup of coffee in hand, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott met with a packed gathering of Islanders at the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie on Saturday, answering questions about health care, the economy and a potential war with Iran.

The lively but casual give-and-take was the seventh such gathering McDermott has held at coffee shops in his district, according to his spokesperson Kinsey Kiriakos. McDermott, 75, who is seeking his 13th term in Congress, has opted for coffee house meetings over the more traditional town hall-style gatherings, Kiriakos said, because they’re more conducive to conversations.

And sure enough, after McDermott talked briefly about the bitter partisanship that has created what he sees as paralysis in Washington, he turned the meeting over to his constituents — and hands shot into the air.

Some asked detailed questions about President Barack Obama’s attempt at sweeping health care reform. Others asked about the president’s decision to sign the National Defense Authorization Act in December, which includes a provision allowing indefinite military detention without a trial.

And one constituent, Melvin Mackey, asked McDermott when Islanders “might get the pleasure of you living on Vashon,” a reference to the fact that the congressman owns a nine-acre parcel on Maury Island.

McDermott, noting the sun-drenched day outside, said he caught sight of Mount Rainier on his way to Vashon and hoped he’d someday actually get around to building his dream house on the Island.

But if McDermott is close to a quiet retirement on Vashon, he showed no sign of it Saturday, instead talking about his belief that it takes decades of activism to make change happen and his determination to continue the fight.

“I would never, ever say you should quit,” he told a woman who asked about the lack of Head Start on Vashon. “Because if you quit, they win.”

McDermott, a psychiatrist by training, pointed to health care: It was 1972 when he first read about Saskatchewan’s implementation of a government-run health care system and thought it was an idea that made sense.

“The thing about politics,” he added, “is that you have to be like a bulldog.”

McDermott, whose 7th District seat is considered one of the safest in the country for a left-leaning Democrat like himself, was clearly among friends at the gathering. No one asked a question challenging his stance on an issue, although several took aim at some of Obama’s actions.

Rob Crawford, a University of Washington professor who teaches courses on human rights, the Holocaust and torture, commended McDermott for his speech objecting to the National Defense Authorization Act, then questioned Obama’s statement, made during his recent State of the Union address, that the United States is safer for having fought a war in Iraq.

McDermott, noting that he doesn’t support the president on every issue, said he, too, took exception with Obama’s contention. “It was a mistake to go into Iraq. There were never weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie,” McDermott said.

He went on to express concern over the saber-rattling currently coming out of Washington over Iran, noting that the Middle Eastern country is considerably larger than Iraq. “We’ll create a much worse problem for ourselves,” he said.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “crazy,” he added. “The reason we’re not doing things here is because we have two wars we can’t afford to pay for.”

But even while occasionally distancing himself from the president, McDermott also talked about the importance of seeing him re-elected. He spoke forcefully about the sour climate in Washington, where Republican lawmakers are challenging Obama on every front — a kind of acrimony far worse than he’s seen in his more than two decades in Washington.

“It’s been a hard year for people like me who want to get stuff done,” he said.

Asked why the Republicans hate Obama so much, McDermott said he believes the country is witnessing a “Titanic battle over the controls of government.”

Obama, he added, “doesn’t fit the mold and they’ve got to get him out.”

But McDermott said he believes the tide is shifting, in part because more than half the people under the age of 21 are people of color.

“We can see it coming, and they can see it coming,” he said, adding, “What you’re seeing is the last gasp of the Republican party to retain control.”


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