Along the road to Washington’s tallest mountain, Bill Steel explained last week how his choice in head wear — a ball cap emblazoned in gold lettering with “Vietnam Veteran” — captured his sentiments about America’s lingering budget stalemate.
“I wore this today because I’m really upset with all this B.S.,” said Steel, 67, a Greenwater, Pierce County, resident and retired planning director for nearby Crystal Mountain ski resort. “It’s appalling how they’re treating veterans in all of this.”
Steel, who served a tour in Vietnam 44 years ago, said he seethes when seeing reports about how the federal government shutdown has delayed benefits to families of fallen soldiers. And the next time he fills out his ballot, he’ll remember that anger.
“This has changed my feeling about all people in Congress,” Steel said. “I probably won’t vote for any of them again.”
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The partial shutdown reverberates across rural Enumclaw and its surroundings — gateway to the shuttered Mount Rainier National Park, and home turf to the increasingly scrutinized Republican Representative Dave Reichert.
And here — in one of the reddest parts of the Puget Sound region’s lone red congressional district, where Reichert won nearly two-thirds of the vote last election — the drone of partisan bickering some 3,000 miles away is starting to grate.
The GOP’s resolve on linking government financing to defunding or changing Obamacare — officially known as the Affordable Care Act — has been pushed by House leadership. Caught in the middle are moderates like Reichert, who treads a fine line when supporting the tactics while offering overtures of compromise for his district.
Reichert has voted with House leadership and joined them in blaming Democrats for repeatedly blocking the House spending bills. But when pressed, he recently said he would vote for a “clean” spending bill stripped of conditions on Obamacare.
Highly unscientific and wholly conversational, a recent sampling of opinions in this chunk of the 8th Congressional District — from the livestock auction yard just outside Enumclaw to a medical cannabis collective near Black Diamond — reveals growing frustration over the shutdown.
Some say they’re ready to clean house — in the Senate, too, for that matter.
From the chair of his roll-top desk, Ron Mariotti’s deep voice filled an office already cluttered with horse bridles, auction gavels and other knickknacks accumulated over nearly 40 years of running the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion.
“The president is completely out of control,” said the 72-year-old livestock auctioneer and regular viewer of FOX News. “There’s been no negotiation of any kind.”
Mariotti, who blames population growth, development and increasingly higher taxes for his eroding business over the past three decades, worries that if Obamacare moves forward, its costs will kill other small businesses.
“Obamacare is the biggest problem,” Mariotti added, “but there’s fault on both sides.”
A longtime Reichert supporter, Mariotti said he’ll likely vote for the congressman again.
“Dave came in here the last time around, and we talked about farming, the Green River slayer, everything but politics,” Mariotti said. “And his brother lives just up the road here.”
“I think Dave’s doing pretty well,” he added. “Politicians kind of become family once they get back to Washington, D.C. They never leave. But I think they’re starting to realize if this thing doesn’t end soon, there could be a real calamity.”
“Vote for new people”
About 20 miles east of Enumclaw, past the ranger station posted with a notice telling visitors, “This office is closed due to a lapse in federal funding until further notice,” the Greenwater General Store greets visitors with its own sign:
“Welcome to Bigfoot Country,” it reads. “Report all sightings here.”
But these days, with compromise in the nation’s Capitol as elusive as the fabled Sasquatch, store owner Mike Smith said a congressional restructuring is in order.
“The shutdown only proves to me we shouldn’t have parties running the government,” he said.
Smith, 69, a Los Angeles transplant who came to Washington 33 years ago, doesn’t align himself with any political party. He voted for Reichert last election, but said he won’t again.
“The thing is, I’m only going to vote for new people,” said Smith, who also works fighting fires for the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s time for a fresh start, because of this.”
“I’m fed up”
Farther up the road at Wapiti Woolies, a Greenwater fixture selling outdoor clothing and huckleberry ice cream, owner Bob Grubb said the recent closure of nearby Mount Rainier National Park hasn’t hurt business.
That’s because the state-owned highway to the park through town remains open, he said, so tourists continue to drop by. But when they do, conversation invariably turns to federal funding.
“We get people from France, from Michigan, wherever, and for most of them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” Grubb said. “So when they get up here and can’t go into the park, they really feel cheated.”
After one visitor complained that a park employee told her taking a photo of the mountain amounted to “digital trespassing,” Grubb said he called the park superintendent.
“I can understand (employees) are upset, too, and probably tired,” Grubb said. “But, come on.”
Grubb, who voted for Reichert last election, said he wants to make a change.
“I’m fed up with all of them,” he said. “I’ll vote them out, but for who? Will there be anyone better?”
Inside a Black Diamond convenience store, Martha Miller blamed the shutdown on hubris.
“Our fate is really in the hands of these politicians,” she said. “But it’s like they don’t even see our problems.”
Still recovering from a stroke several years ago, the 56-year-old mother of five said her only income these days is a disability check for $186 per month. It’s not enough to afford an apartment, so she lives in her car.
But recently, Miller received a letter from the federal Social Security Administration, informing her that, due to an error, the government has failed to pay her an additional $600 monthly disability payment.
The mistake isn’t related to the shutdown, Miller said, but other residents here who depend on government payments have told her the political fighting worries them.
“People are getting nervous,” Miller said. “Whether what they do in Congress will affect us, only seems to depend on whether they’re having a bad hair day.”
“They’re all liars”
A green cross and an American flag adorn a converted home on the Maple Valley-Black Diamond Highway, where Dan Tyree weighs out doses of medicine by the gram.
The 64-year-old manager of the medical marijuana Country Care Farms Collective minced no words when explaining how Congress got America into the current mess.
“They’re all liars,” Tyree said. “All of them should be fired.”
And, Tyree said, he intends to do just that.
“I will not vote for another incumbent, period.
“If there needs to be fat trimmed, let’s trim the fat,” he added. “But let’s not do it under the guise of political lies.”
“The dictator’s fault”
Over constant blasts from the nearby shooting range, Cork Carpenter articulated his view of the shutdown from the cinder-block confines of the Black Diamond Gun Club.
“It’s the dictator’s fault,” he said of President Obama. “He wants Obamacare, and doesn’t care how he gets it.”
The gun club’s 71-year-old board chairman noted his political opinions are solely his own — not those of the club. He voted for Reichert last year. “Whether I vote for him again really depends on how he handles Obamacare,” Carpenter added.
“The Republican Party called my house the other day looking for my annual donation,” Carpenter said. “So I told them, with all that’s going on, don’t expect a donation from me this year.
“I mean, all of these senators and congressmen, they don’t listen to us. I think we need to clean house. I’m ready to jump ship to the tea party.”
Seattle Times Washington, D.C., reporter Kyung Song contributed to this article.
Lewis Kamb: email@example.com or 206-464-2932. Twitter: @lewiskamb