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Labor power backs a Republican for eastern Washington congressional seat


Labor power backs a Republican for eastern Washington congressional seat

May 25, 2024 | 8:00 am ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Labor power backs a Republican for eastern Washington congressional seat
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A Republican state lawmaker who opposed several major labor-backed bills last session has won the support of Washington’s largest federation of unions in her bid to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, received the endorsement of the Washington State Labor Council, a federation of 600 local unions representing 550,000 workers, on May 18. So too did Democrat Carmela Conroy, a former Spokane County deputy prosecutor and United States Foreign Service diplomat.

Labor power backs a Republican for eastern Washington congressional seat
Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (Maycumber campaign)

The decision reflects the labor council’s commitment to building independent political power that isn’t tied to a party, said Osta Davis, the organization’s political and strategic campaigns director. 

“We do consider how candidates fit their district. We want to encourage both Democrats and Republicans to push a pro-worker agenda,” she said. Maycumber and Conroy each grew up in a union family and demonstrated an understanding of issues that matter most to union members, Davis said.

Maycumber and Conroy are two of 11 candidates vying to represent the 5th Congressional District in eastern Washington. The top two finishers in the Aug. 6 primary will face off in November with the winner securing a two-year term representing the district that encompasses the 10 counties of Spokane, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln, Whitman, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin, along with parts of Adams and Franklin counties.

Endorsements can often lead to an influx of contributions and volunteers but there were no promises of either to the candidates, Davis said.

‘Willing to listen’

Conroy’s selection isn’t a huge surprise given the labor organization’s propensity for backing Democratic candidates for state and federal offices this election cycle.

Labor power backs a Republican for eastern Washington congressional seat
Carmela Conroy addresses the Washington State Labor Council delegates on May 18, 2024. (Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)

She says on her campaign website she is a dues-paying member of the union representing U.S. Foreign Service personnel. Her father and grandfather were union members too.

Maycumber, a former law enforcement officer, is a somewhat surprising but not totally unexpected choice. Her labor ties trace back to a great-grandmother who was a Teamster, she said. Her father and grandfather belonged to unions and her husband is part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 

In Olympia, she authored legislation promoting development of regional apprenticeship programs for high school students. She’s also led House efforts to pass bills lowering the cost of insulin and prescription drugs.

“These policies benefit all the people of Washington state and received support from both sides of the aisle,” she said. 

For labor, her voting record in Olympia didn’t shine in 2024. She earned a 20% on the labor council scorecard including votes against bills to provide unemployment benefits to striking workers and to hasten Puget Sound Energy’s transition away from natural gas

But her promotion of apprenticeships, respect for collective bargaining and willingness to meet with rank-and-file union members earned her support of labor leaders.

“I’m willing to listen to everyone. We may not always agree, however, I will never turn away the support of the hard-working people who protect and build this nation,” Maycumber said.

Another factor may have been one of her opponents: Michael Baumgartner.

Baumgartner, the Spokane County treasurer, is a former state senator. In his eight-year Legislature tenure, he introduced bills to make Washington a right-to-work state, meaning employees can work at a job without joining a union or paying fees for representation.

In a stint as chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, he bottled up numerous labor-backed measures.

“I’d say that in building our independent political power that isn’t tied to party, the Washington State Labor Council acknowledges the contrasts between candidates within parties,” Davis said.

On Wednesday, Baumgartner said he was “not surprised at all” at the council action supporting Maycumber. It signals, he said, that there are “a number of issues on which she’d be much more aligned with big labor and progressives.”

He contended it won’t carry much weight in the Republican-leaning district. “I think it will very likely work against her,” Baumgartner said.

Maycumber said her conservative voting record speaks for itself.

“It’s how you listen to people. Building a relationship with the person you don’t agree with is the kind of person you want in D.C.,” she said.