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Monday, October 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kate Riley / Times staff columnist

This GOP waterboy should go

In her challenge of Republican Congressman Dave Reichert, Democrat Darcy Burner's ads and scripted-to-the-accented-syllable rhetoric try to splash him — unfairly — with the all-too-real transgressions of the House Republican leadership.

Now, if only I could rearrange candidates, I'd move Burner from the 8th District and plop her in Central Washington's 4th District. There, all of her allegations — about the incumbent and his complicity with the Republican leadership's record of corruption, obfuscation and all but disenfranchising Democratic members of Congress — would be true.

That's right. I'd have her take on Congressman Doc Hastings, the Pasco Republican who appears to be skating toward his seventh term, despite the challenge of a sincere but underfunded opponent.

Hastings rode into Congress on the wave of the 1994 Republican revolution and, from day one, swallowed Newt Gingrich's Contract with America Kool-Aid. Ever since, Hastings has been entirely complicit with the GOP leadership's shameless efforts to secure, protect and exploit their majority — an overreach that likely will cost them House control this year. Good riddance.

Early on, Hastings abandoned the strategy of his two predecessors to join committees dealing with major local issues, such as Hanford and energy, and instead joined the agenda-setting Rules Committee. As the reliably partisan waterboy, he has been referred to as Speaker of the House Denny Hastert's protegé.

Hastings did a favor for his boss by taking over the House Ethics Committee after the flinty former Republican chairman was fired for being too attentive to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ethical lapses. Doing that sensitive job — or not doing it, as he's frequently being criticized — might earn him chairmanship of the Rules Committee. And there's speculation he's on the short succession list for speaker of the House.

Saints, preserve us.

The congressman now is busy running the ethics probe of how his political benefactor Hastert and the leadership team handled the creepy proclivities of former Florida Congressman Mark Foley, who sent sexually-charged e-mails to teenage pages. In a press conference about the impending probe, Hastings said, "I think the speaker has done an excellent job." Soon after, to salvage some sense of impartiality, Hastings added he was not referring to Hastert's performance in the "matter at hand."

Right.

Hastings' challenger, Richard Wright, has a similar background — a Pasco-raised business owner. Hastings was in paper supply; Wright runs a chain of Tri-City physical therapy clinics. Wright hits many of the same themes as this year's crop of Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents.

But where Burner conjures rage and scratches for the political jugular, Wright is indignant but polite. He does have an artful commercial: With a push broom, Wright sweeps away news headlines about Hastings' lassitude on the ethics committee. It's the only political ad I've seen this year devoid of nuanced lying, but it won't get much play because of limited resources.

Wright's campaign has struggled with a fraction of the money and none of the national party help flooding the other Democratic campaigns challenging Washington incumbent Republicans. The third is Democrat Peter Goldmark, who seems to be gaining on GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris in Washington's easternmost 5th District.

Hastings is unthreatened. He's reportedly scarce in the district during the campaign, and his staff is sometimes openly hostile with the media. Hastings sent The Seattle Times-owned Yakima Herald-Republic, which sometimes has not endorsed him, a signed fax, saying he would not be stopping by the newspaper office in the heart of his district. It read: "In my case, since I'm not seeking the Herald-Republic's endorsement, it won't be necessary to include me in your endorsement interview schedule this year."

So there. The one Washington Republican who can be blamed directly for the Republican abuses in Congress is not worried, not at all.

Reichert is innocent of many of the scripted partisan accusations his opponent has hurled at him. In February, Reichert was rated a "centrist" by the respected National Journal, a nonpartisan publication. He is not the right-wing freak show Burner tries to paint him as.

Hastings, on the other hand, is guilty of the conspiracy. In an ideal world, Hastings would be the one to go.

Kate Riley's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is kriley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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