Commentary: Retiring WA congress members have been champions for the economy


Recent announcements from U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Derek Kilmer that they will not seek re-election to Congress caught the political world by surprise. They are both relatively young and at the same time have served long enough to have acquired substantial seniority, which translates to influence in the world of Washington, D.C.

What do their decisions say about the state of U.S. politics? What will they do next? And how will their decisions shake up the political landscape in their respective districts?

Those are good questions, but before we get too deep into election season, it’s worth pausing for a moment to recognize the contributions that both of these elected officials have made to our state and to thank them for their strong support of the employer community. They have each proven to be a champion for the economy and have demonstrated a willingness to listen to employer concerns.

The Association of Washington Business, which represents businesses of all types and sizes and from every part of the state, is fortunate to have enjoyed productive working relationships with both McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from eastern Washington, and Kilmer, a Democrat from western Washington. And not just during their time in Congress. Prior to their election to the House of Representatives, they both served in the state Legislature in Olympia.

McMorris Rodgers served in the state House of Representatives for more than a decade before winning election to Congress in 2004. Since then, she has risen in seniority until, at the start of last year, she became the first woman to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee — a committee that dates to 1795.

In November 2022, the day after the election that propelled McMorris Rodgers into the chair position, she spoke at an energy summit organized by AWB in the Tri-Cities.

Energy has quickly become one of the most important issues for Washington’s economic future, making her position as chair of the committee especially important for our state. At the event, McMorris Rodgers voiced strong support for hydropower, calling it foundational for Washington state, and noted that eastern Washington is leading the way on energy solutions including nuclear power.

Kilmer served in both the state House and Senate before being elected to Congress in 2012. During his tenure, he has been a strong supporter of international trade, infrastructure and rural communities — critical issues for Washington’s economy. And he served as chair of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which produced more than 200 bipartisan reform proposals to make Congress work better.

When AWB hosted a federal affairs summit in 2019, Kilmer and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse sat beside me on stage and spoke about the ways in which members of Congress have been working together, often without much attention, in a bipartisan fashion.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which McMorris Rodgers and Kilmer demonstrated an understanding of employer concerns. In addition, they have both been strong supporters of Washington’s manufacturing sector, a key driver of the economy. When AWB began touring the state each year in October to highlight the important role of manufacturing in the state’s economy, McMorris Rodgers and Kilmer both joined in parts of the tour, visiting shop floors and listening to employer concerns.

Employers are often too busy running their businesses to pay close attention to what’s going on in Olympia or Washington, D.C. That’s why it’s vital that our elected officials understand the challenges employers face and that they listen to learn how their decisions impact business. Our state is stronger for having had public servants like that in McMorris Rodgers and Kilmer.


Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.