Hastings leaves House as colleagues move right

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 23, 2014 

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series looking back at the career of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

There's no question about where retiring Rep. Doc Hastings stands on the political spectrum — he has built a reputation of supporting Republican leadership.

He has been a political force in a reliable GOP district, first elected in 1994 as part of the Republican landslide that made Newt Gingrich speaker of the House of Representatives.

But Hastings, who announced recently that he won't seek re-election after 10 terms, leaves a much more polarized Congress than he entered.

He was rated the House's 72nd most conservative member by the National Journal in 2009, just before the tea party wave election of 2010. By 2013, he was ranked 175th most conservative.

"Doc Hastings stood where he always stood, the people around him moved right," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"I don't think he got the visibility that would allow you to describe him as a national figure, but certainly in Washington (D.C.) he was very high profile," Baker said.

Baker particularly noted Hastings' key role as chairman of the House Ethics Committee in 2005 and 2006.

During that time, the ethics committee investigated convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as former Rep. Mark Foley in a scandal involving underage Congressional pages.

Congressional watchdogs initially criticized Hastings for inaction on the investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on campaign finance charges. DeLay later resigned from Congress after being indicted. Hastings has said his committee would have investigated DeLay had he continued to serve.

Leading a committee that sits in judgment of colleagues requires someone who is held in high esteem, Baker said.

"They want upstanding people, and Doc Hastings certainly was that," he said. "Even at a time when polarization took hold, he certainly rose above the partisanship."

The highest praise of all came from Hastings' boss, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said Hastings has served in Congress with "honor, humility and distinction."

"In addition to being a skilled legislator and leader, he's the epitome of grace and class, and he's a very dear friend," Boehner said. "I'm grateful for Doc's service to our institution and our nation."

Lightning rod on resources

Hastings took over as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee in 2011 after the Republicans regained control of the House, giving him a leadership role on several issues key to the Mid-Columbia.

It has jurisdiction over most of the nation's public lands and plays a pivotal role in shaping federal energy, environment, land use and natural resource policies.

Hastings recently took on the Endangered Species Act, calling for an overhaul of the law to curtail lawsuits and give more power to states.

That made him a lightning rod for criticism from environmentalists.

"Good riddance," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, of the news of Hastings' planned retirement.

"Doc Hastings has stood as an example of the worst anti-environmental sentiments of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party," Suckling said. "His record as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee is one of profound disregard for the plight of our nation's most endangered species and the health of the planet we all share."

Hastings and other GOP critics contend the 40-year-old law has been abused by environmental groups seeking to restrict development in the name of species protection.

"The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species," Hastings said earlier this month when 13 GOP lawmakers proposed "targeted reforms" for the law that protects imperiled plants and animals.

Hastings battled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the listing of the White Bluffs bladderpod, a yellow flowering plant thought to grow only along the Columbia River in Franklin County. Farmers fear the listing might eventually lead to restrictions on the use of their agricultural land.

One of those farmers, Kent McMullen, credits Hastings for laying the groundwork for his replacement to reform the Endangered Species Act.

"In 20 years he has not just done a lot for Washington, he has done a lot for the country," McMullen said. "It's a tough battle, but Congressman Hastings has stayed pretty true to the issues."

'Constituents came first'

Hasting also pushed a bill through the House to require Fish and Wildlife to allow some public access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain. It's the highest point near the Tri-Cities, but few have seen the view from the top.

The idea has failed to get traction in the Senate. However, House approval has sent a signal about congressional wishes to Fish and Wildlife, which manages the Department of Energy land.

Hastings supported more water storage for the Yakima River Basin and has proposed that a portion of the funding Congress approves for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation be set aside to pay for new and expanded capacity for water storage.

"We have needed storage in the Yakima River Basin for some time and we are now moving closer to that," he said. "There may be light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully sooner rather than later."

Hastings has worked hard to protect the dams along the Columbia River, said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, a Portland group that represents public utilities such as those in Benton and Franklin counties.

Hastings fought budget proposals that would have required the Bonneville Power Administration or other agencies to raise their rates, instead of selling electricity to consumers at cost, Corwin said. He even opposed potential rate increases when they were proposed by the administration of Republican George W. Bush.

"His local constituents came first, and he pushed back against the administration in that instance," Corwin said.

Herald staff writer Annette Cary and McClatchy Washington Bureau correspondent Rob Hotakainen contributed to this story.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service