Public health is something Brent Hennrich has been around his whole life.
“My mother was a public health nurse, public health administrator. (She) was very influential in creating the Oregon Health Plan. She then created a private nonprofit HMO to service the Oregon Health Plan,” he said.
“It didn’t matter the holiday — they were still talking work and talking about the next domino they needed to get pushed over to expand people’s access to health care … It was just one of those small fires that my mom lit that was always just festering there.”
It would make sense then that Hennrich — the son of an influential Multnomah County Health Department mother and aviation mechanic father — would go on to have a career in movie theaters.
But some things tend to come full circle.
Now a stay-at-home father, Hennrich, 42, of Vancouver, is the latest Democrat attempting to flip Washington’s 3rd Congressional District after more than a decade of Republican control. Health being a common theme in his life, his campaign logo features a Band-Aid as well as a promise to “heal Washington.”
Though early in the race, Hennrich is already among 11 total candidates vying for the seat — including incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who’s competing for her seventh term. Still, Hennrich appears to be primely situated to be the leading Democrat going into August’s jungle primary, which will also feature the likes of Republicans Joe Kent and Heidi St. John.
Hennrich has so far courted $45,366 in donations since fundraising began for him last spring. That number is relatively small compared to the three leading Republicans, which includes Herrera Beutler with more than $1.7 million and Trump-endorsed Kent with nearly $1.1 million.
Talk of a Republican red wave has also run rampant nationally, with U.S. voters possibly dissatisfied with the Biden Administration’s progress on COVID-19 and the economy, and as congressional Democrats struggle with a slim majority in the House and Senate.
Still, Democrats will no doubt attempt to court vocal excitement to make headway going into the 2024 presidential election.
“He says the reason why he's doing this is because he sees the need that the people aren't being represented," Lewis County Democrats Chair Carol Brock said of Hennrich. "He knows there's a lot of problems. He knows there's a lot of divisiveness. He knows that our health care is in something of a crisis.”
"He sees that just about everything to keep our society and democracy intact needs healing of some degree, and with that he's willing to help do that. He's a great guy. He takes the time and tries to educate himself ... He doesn't say he knows it all," she continued.
In an interview with The Chronicle last week, Hennrich laid out his background and priorities if elected to the seat. He said he backs proposed legislation on voting rights and infrastructure, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which was derailed when Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, said he would not support it.
When asked about a central issue he’s running on, Hennrich said he’s running largely on health care — specifically, the discussion around how “everything is health care.”
“As far as addressing the climate, it’s a matter of health care. Good paying jobs are a step toward people being able to have health care. It’s being able to raise the threshold to get on Medicaid, it’s reducing the age to get on Medicare — and keep chipping away to work toward a universal health care system that everyone has access to,” he said.
Hennrich — a father of three children — notes that he’s for the free child care legislation in Build Back Better and is “100% pro choice.”
His views on women’s reproductive rights stem from experiences he and his wife had, according to his campaign website.
Back in 2012, he and his wife Amber, 20 weeks pregnant, were expecting their second child when she suffered a placental abruption, effectively killing the child.
The couple was faced with a daunting decision — they could go through with the labor and pray Amber would come out fine, or they could induce labor with Pitocin to save Amber and be able to hold their daughter during her final hours.
“The choice was clear. I had to save my wife and we could hold our daughter while she faded,” Hennrich says on his campaign’s website. “No doctor, no nurse, no physician's assistant should hold sway over judgment of care at any point. That is why all potential avenues of reproductive care must be accessible and offered at all times to every patient, in any and all situations.”
Hennrich has lived in Southwest Washington since 2005, when he and his wife bought a home in Vancouver. The two later married in 2009.
Born in 1979, Hennrich grew up in a southeast neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, where his mother still lives today. His neighborhood hasn’t changed much, he said. His father also worked as a small business owner, he said, and was at times a stay-at-home dad similar to himself today.
Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, Hennrich previously worked as a project manager for Dolby Cinema. Over the years, he tallied more than 150,000 miles flying 220 days annually around the world installing movie theaters. A relative newcomer to politics, he holds no previous public office experience, though has supported Democrats in Oregon.
Having grown up in the Portland metro area, Hennrich is aware of the continued issues surrounding the Interstate 5 bridge spanning the two states. He believes replacement of the bridge falls under the purview of the federal government.
“We need to push and really lean on the administration to say ‘This is Interstate 5. It connects from Canada to Mexico. It is the route, north to south, on the west coast. And if this bridge goes into the river in a seismic event, what does that do for being able to connect those two states and being able to move goods up and down the west coast?’” he said.
Hennrich, who just earlier this month held a kick-off over Zoom, said his campaign will largely be driven through online interaction, noting that he doesn’t plan to buck the trend of Democratic candidates hosting socially-distanced gatherings. The few in-person events he has been to have been small in scale, he said.
That may prove challenging in an effort to court moderates, who will have a plethora of candidates to choose from come August.
“Brent is a novice politician. He’s got a big heart and he’s in the right place. This is a major step for someone who has not been involved in politics from what you do in front of your computer,” said Marsha Manning, a Clark County Democrat who was a former executive committee member for the Washington State Democrats between 2010 and 2016.
Hennrich said he so far has received “public support” from former Vancouver, Washington Mayor Royce Pollard; Dr. Vin Gupta, an outspoken voice on the COVID-19 pandemic; and even Carolyn Long, the Vancouver Democrat who twice previously challenged Herrera Beutler in the general election.
Long — who didn’t return an email request this week to speak for this story — has even been advising Hennrich’s campaign, though he was adamant about emphasizing that she has not yet given an endorsement for any candidate in the race.
“She knows she casts a big shadow,” he said.
Manning said Long courted a great deal of support and excitement when she challenged Herrera Beutler in 2018 and 2020. Finding that excitement again may prove tricky.
“Carolyn was a name on our minds for a long time. So, when she ran, everyone involved in Clark County politics were very supportive,” Manning said.
The two Democrats as candidates appear completely different, Manning said. Long is something of a stalwart constitutionalist Democrat, who could “see through laws,” she said, while Hennrich embraces a more warm, engaging, “average person” persona.
A big focus of this year’s midterm will be the response to Herrera Beutler’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting a mob during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Could Herrera Beutler court more moderate Democrats this August solely for her impeachment vote? It’s something Daily News columnist Andre Stepankowky suggested Democrats consider in this upcoming election in a column Wednesday.
Manning, a Texas native, said she wouldn’t personally vote for Herrera Beutler, but that doesn’t mean others won’t. In the end, she feels Herrera Beutler’s vote to impeach won’t impact her ability to get into the general election.
“It was probably good for her to do that, although for me it doesn’t really represent how she thinks or how she votes,” she said.
Filing week for candidates in Washington state opens May 16.