Healing the Amber Waves of Pain
by Kevin Taylor (Kevin@Inlander.com)
for the Pacific Northwest Inlander
article originally published at: http://www.inlander.com/topstory/286766598332577.php
[Note: Peter Goldmark is the Democratic US House of Representatives Candidate for Washington State's Fifth Congressional District. He is opposing the one-term incumbent, Republican Cathy McMorris, and his poll numbers are soaring. He's come up thirteen points in the polls in the last month and now trails McMorris by only seven points. The Democratic Central Campaign Committee has also named the Goldmark race as an emerging race where the candidate is poised to win in November. See also
On the first evening of August in the highlands to the east of the Okanogan Valley, the sun was aiming toward the western horizon but didn't appear to be in any hurry to leave, turning the sky a dog's-eye yellow as it illuminated all the hanging smoke from nearby forest fires.
The slant of its light was still firing up the tops of ripe wheat plants like so many candles even as the stalks and ground below were blanching with the first gray of dusk. It was a gray that matched the narrow gravel road running alongside the field, a thin stitch of a road where some stirred-up quiet and dust once more settled when two trucks came to a stop.
"This is tough country. You got to be tough to make it."
He was talking specifically about the wheat - a variety he created to handle harsh winters in the remote plateaus that form the western edge of the Colville Indian Reservation and where he farms and ranches on 7,000 acres. But he could just as well have been speaking about his decision to run for Congress as a Democrat - a decision he made after months pondering the tough times facing farmers throughout Washington's 5th Congressional District, which basically runs from Walla Walla to Ione and from Spokane to Omak.
The district is largely farm country, and farm country is largely Republican, but there's nothing quixotic about Goldmark's quest. Party lines may not matter so much, he suspects, when everybody's going down together under skyrocketing costs and prices that haven't budged, not only in years but in generations.
An hour or so earlier, sitting at his kitchen table and pulling on a tumbler of water, Goldmark says: "Welcome to the Depression in rural America. You can find it in Okanogan, Mansfield, Wilbur, Davenport, Harrington, Sprague, Ritzville ... but if you really want to see it, go to Lind."
Goldmark was in Lind recently for a speaking engagement. What he saw was troubling. Troubling for the pain in farm country and troubling also because nobody outside of farm country even seems to know it's there - especially, Goldmark contends, first-term Republican incumbent Cathy McMorris, who he is challenging for Congress.
"I arrived early, as is my wont, at 7:45, and I drove around Lind until I found the diner open. It was the only place open," he says. "The café looked like it hadn't been remodeled since the '50s. People came in and started pouring themselves a cup of coffee ... and it could have been 1958. Outside the diner there's nothing left in Lind. That's the extreme, but it's real."
Scarily real, agrees Read Smith, a Whitman County wheat farmer near St. John.
"We're in a desperate cost/price squeeze right now. The fertilizers we use are petroleum-based, and the fuel we need to run everything is up and we're being squeezed bad. The price we get for almost everything we produce is flat and has been for 30 years," Smith says.