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Lisa Brown thesis from 1986 prompts new GOP attacks

September 7, 2018

Conservatives seized on sections of a 32-year-old economics thesis prepared by Democratic Congressional candidate Lisa Brown, fanning new flames Thursday in a long-burning political attack tying her to socialism.

Brown declined to comment Thursday on the new accusations, stemming from her 1986 economics thesis for the University of Colorado at Boulder, and instead issued a statement through a spokeswoman slamming the attacks as “misleading allegations and innuendo.” Republicans quickly moved to tie Brown to economic theories they said were wrong for the people of Eastern Washington.

Excerpts of the thesis, which were highlighted by the Washington Examiner, a conservative-leaning newsweekly based in the nation’s capital, quoted Brown’s words from 1986 praising Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a socialist activist and communist leader with deep ties to workers’ movements in Spokane.

“As a feminist, my intellectual heroine is Simone de Beauvoir,” Brown wrote, referencing the French theorist who is credited widely with kick-starting modern theories of feminism in the 1940s. “I am also inspired by great women activists, such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Emma Goldman.”

Flynn rose to become the president of the Communist Party in the United States and in the 1950s was convicted for conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government, part of a wave of national prosecutions led by the FBI targeting communist leaders. The Supreme Court later prohibited similar prosecutions under a ruling protecting speech unless it presented “a clear and present danger.”

Flynn cut her political teeth advocating on behalf of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as “the Wobblies,” in Spokane in the early 20th century, taking part in protest against a city law that banned public speeches downtown.

Brown did release a direct statement on her support for Flynn and other female thinkers through a spokeswoman on Thursday afternoon.

“Do I find women who got engaged in the issues of our time inspiring? The answer is yes – from Joan of Arc, to Amelia Earhart to Aretha Franklin – I’m motivated by women who stood up, spoke out, and got involved during some of the most critical moments in history,” Brown said in a statement.

Tracy Mott, a professor at the University of Colorado in Denver who was Brown’s faculty adviser, said he believed the accolades were inspired by their public stature, not just their beliefs.

“As for being inspired by women who are considered ‘radical’ thinkers, I believe that was due to these women having been outspoken advocates of women’s rights,” Mott wrote in an email.

Tom Karier was a colleague of Brown’s at Eastern Washington University in the early 1980s and is listed in the acknowledgments of a shorter version of her thesis that was published in a 1984 installment of the Eastern Economic Journal. He has also donated to Brown’s campaign, according to FEC filings.

Karier called the Democrat “a good economist.”

“Theses are pretty abstract, and they could easily be misinterpreted,” Karier said.

The Examiner also included a quote about the beliefs of feminists about marriage. Brown identifies herself as one in the opening paragraphs of her work.

Describing one feminist theory, Brown writes that “modern marriage is a key institution linking public and private subordination of women in socialist-feminist analyses. In the household, it provides men with personal services rendered by their wives, who are dependent on this relationship because of their inferior position in the labor market.”

Brown does not identify herself as an adherent of this analysis. The statement occurs in the text during a portion of the paper dealing with historical developments of feminist theory. The conclusion of her thesis argues that feminist thought could benefit traditional economic theory, but does not explicitly state her position on marriage or a woman’s role in the economy at the time.

Keeley Smith, communications director for the Brown campaign, said Thursday afternoon that Brown was traveling to Walla Walla and was not available for comment on the article. A campaign event was postponed at Whitman College and will be rescheduled at a later date. Smith referenced other McMorris Rodgers campaign ads that had omitted details about Brown’s voting record and said the thesis was distracting from the main issues of the campaign, including health care, as well as the turmoil in Washington, D.C.

“When you’ve got a president under investigation for possible collusion with Russia, and Congress won’t stand up to him or the administration, it’s interesting that these things would be insinuated against Lisa,” Smith said.

Though some national Democrats have rose to prominence this year and won primary contests by embracing the socialist label, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Brown has not followed that pattern. In a recent TV ad, Brown attacked the Republican tax reforms and latest budget proposal that seeks to make changes to Social Security and Medicare, two basic pillars of social welfare in the United States.

McMorris Rodgers said at a town hall last month the GOP had no plans to cut Social Security or Medicare.

National Republicans quickly seized upon the publication of the thesis by the Examiner saying the document showed a different economic philosophy for the longtime state senator and educator.

“Liberal Lisa Brown sounds like she’d be a better fit running for office in Venezuela instead of Eastern Washington,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee based in the nation’s capital.

McMorris Rodgers, who has already released ads depicting Brown as a tax-and-spend liberal, did not mention her opponent by name in a statement on the Examiner story. Instead, she condemned the political and economic theories discussed in the document.

“America is the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known because of our belief in God-given freedom, free markets, and equality of opportunity no matter your background,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “Socialist, communist, and anarchist inspiration doesn’t belong in Eastern Washington or America – just look at the damage these beliefs are inflicting on people in Central and South America right now.”

The latest salvo against Brown bears the hallmarks of attacks she received in 1993 and 1996 as a candidate for state offices. Republicans accused Brown, who had visited Nicaragua in the early 1990s as a teacher, of harboring sympathies for the ruling socialist party in the country. Brown pushed back, saying she was there to teach free-market theory and learn from local residents.

Brown won each of those campaigns, including a victory over incumbent Republican state Sen. John Moyer in 1996.

Tom Trulove, Brown’s former boss at Eastern Washington University as chair of the economics department, defended his former employee on Thursday. Brown served as a professor of economics at Eastern Washington University in the 1980s and during her time in the state Legislature, before moving on to a position at Gonzaga University and later chancellor of WSU-Spokane.

Trulove has given $300 to the Brown campaign, according to FEC filings.

“All the time I’ve known Lisa, she’s been a solid mainstream economist,” Trulove, the former mayor of Cheney, said. “She was very popular among students.”

Trulove said he hadn’t read Brown’s full thesis, but read the Examiner piece and that it didn’t match with the educator he knew in his time at Eastern.

“What they described in that article is just so alien to what I know about Lisa,” Trulove said. “She was always very careful to include a range of ideas from the liberal to the conservative.”

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