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Michael Baumgartner joins crowded field in 5th Congressional District race

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(The Center Square) – Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner made it official Monday afternoon that he is a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who announced earlier this month that she won’t seek re-election this year and will leave when her current term ends in January 2025.

“I’m running for Congress to protect the American Dream,” he said in a news release. “We see all around us serious challenges that are not being fixed: fentanyl and other drugs pouring in the country; law breakers entering by the thousands every day; homeless encampments and forlorn people crowding the sidewalks and underpasses. It’s got to stop. Overseas, America is in retreat, while China and Russia bully their neighbors.”

Baumgartner grew up in Colton, Wash. where his mother was a long-time kindergarten teacher and his father was a forester for WSU Cooperative Extension. He earned his undergraduate degree in economics from Washington State University, then spent a year working in Mozambique with a Jesuit organization.

He returned to pursue a master’s at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, joking during a Saturday speech at Lincoln Day Dinner in Davenport – the largest city in eastern Washington’s Lincoln County – that mentioning Harvard might not be a popular move right now, but he doesn’t regret his time there.

“I had my views challenged and sharpened every day,” Baumgartner said.

He described the campus conservatives as calling themselves the “Phone Booth Club” because there were so few of them they fit in a phone booth. “Now I have to explain to my kids what a phone booth was.”

After finishing his graduate degree in public administration and international development, Baumgartner accepted a job as an economic development advisor to the government of Dubai. In a post 9/11 world, Baumgartner said he felt “called to do something bigger than myself” and worked in Afghanistan with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project involved counter-narcotics efforts to cut back Afghanistan’s opium production by working in the provinces distributing wheat seed. While working in Helmand province, he met British journalist Eleanor Mayne in 2008. They married in 2010 and have five children.

After his return to eastern Washington, Baumgartner was recruited to run for the Washington State Senate, defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Marr in 2010 to serve Spokane’s 6th Legislative District. He ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2012. Baumgartner has served as Spokane County Treasurer since 2019.

“Working in county government has been a privilege and a great learning experience on issues directly affecting people’s everyday lives,” he said.

Baumgartner has been openly exploring the possibility of a run for the open congressional seat, saying Saturday that he couldn’t “stand on the sidelines as the American dream dies. The most important thing we can do is fix the border. That’s job No. 1.”

Baumgartner joins an already crowded field that includes Republican candidates Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber of Republic, Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel, Spokane City Councilmember Jonathan Bingle, retired state worker John Guenther, and Liberty Broadcasting System radio personality Rene Holaday.

Three Democrats are also in the running: OB-GYBN Dr. Bernadine “Bernie” Bank; Carmela Conroy, former chair of the Spokane County Democrats; and marketing firm owner Ann Marie Danimus.