WSU student running for Congress in 2018

DAN DOUCET, Evergreen opinion editor

A WSU student has decided to run for U.S. Congress in the next election, and he would be the youngest representative to be sworn into the legislature since 2001.

Matthew Sutherland, who hopes to represent the 5th Congressional District of Washington as a Democrat, would be 26 years old by the time he would take office. Sutherland said he decided to run to show people that there are no real barriers to getting involved in politics, even if they’re a student or a member of the working class.

“If you have a voice that you feel can be represented, you should be able to run for Congress, or run for local office, or run for state office,” Sutherland said.

He said the Democratic party talks a lot about representing marginalized groups, but those in office have really only been representing a single demographic.

“We need to change that,” Sutherland said. “We need to work on having as many different voices from as many different backgrounds and experiences as we can.”

His campaign is running under the tagline, “The New Blue,” which he said is a movement to reunite, expand and rebrand the Democratic party. Sutherland said he and his campaign will work to draw in new voters and change the party to bring in people who are unsure of it by sharing “The New Blue” message.

“This is not the party that focuses on large donations,” Sutherland said. “This is not the party that is elitist. This is not the party that runs one type of demographic in all our races. This is a party for all people, the working class. We can represent rural interests. We can run races in Eastern Washington.”

Sutherland said he will be competing against Ben Stuckart from Spokane for the Democratic nomination. He said his campaign has requested to debate with Stuckart, but has so far been denied.

If the Sutherland campaign makes it past the primaries, he will be competing against incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R), who has served as the 5th District representative since 2005.

“We are here to win,” he said. “Cathy McMorris Rodgers has not represented her constituency well, in our opinion.”

Sutherland said he joined the Army when he was 17 and is still in the Army National Guard. He is currently going through the process of becoming an officer.

Sutherland said he believes his military background will help bridge a gap from his campaign to conservatives and the large veteran population in the district.

Sutherland said he understands many veterans struggle to get timely medical care through the Veteran’s Affairs system, and with homelessness, unemployment, addiction and depression.

“As someone who is intimately familiar with those people and who works with them pretty consistently and knows them on a personal basis,” he said, “I’m the one that hears their stories.”

The source of U.S. energy, student debt, veterans affairs and healthcare are some of the issues Sutherland said he feels strongly about, although his platform is broad and covers many others. He said people interested in finding out more about his campaign platform can find it at his website.

Sutherland said he is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Michael F. Lange Foundation, an organization whose mission statement is, “To support and promote global social change, social justice and peace.”

Sutherland already graduated from WSU with a pre-law degree in political science, but said he is back in school as a certified physics major. He said he has worked in jobs ranging from janitor and construction worker to being in the food service and retail industries.

“I think that the most important part of my background is that I do represent the working class, the young Americans,” Sutherland said. “We have a strong base of people who want to uplift and empower marginalized voices.”

His campaign manager is WSU Young Democrats President Gavin Pielow and his campaign team currently consists of about 25 volunteers working on all parts of the campaign, including designing graphics and organizing events.

“It’s a growing list and it grows every day,” Sutherland said. “We intend to have an inclusive campaign, so if someone wants to be a part of it, they are welcome aboard.”

In the 2016 5th congressional race between Joe Pakootas and McMorris Rodgers, Pakootas spent about $350,000, while McMorris Rodgers spent about $3.42 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Sutherland said he hopes to raise somewhere between those amounts with a campaign fundraising goal of at least $500,000.

He plans to finance the campaign with small donations from average people, he said, and unlike his competition, his campaign won’t seek out large donations. By accepting donations from large donors, Sutherland said he would be disproportionately responsive to their interests rather than those of the rest of the constituency.

“We want to represent the people,” Sutherland said. “We feel that if our funding is coming from the people, then that’s who we are going to be accountable to.”

Experience is not a qualifier by itself, he said, and his young age in comparison to many of the legislators he would be working with does not disqualify him from running and doing a good job.

He added, “To say that the experience of the working class, or the experience of wearing the uniform, the experience of students, are not valid enough reasons to have representation in Congress is a dangerous precedent to set.”