Sausage and grit

A review of "Sausage" by Denny Heck


Sausage: Pulling Back the Curtain on Congress, America's Board of Directors, by Denny Heck. Published October 13, 2021. Kindle edition available at 

Sausage is made by mixing a bunch of different cuts of meat and spices and salt and fillers together—to preserve the meat in a casing. When Congress crafts legislation, members (and, increasingly, their lobbyists) mix a bunch of (sometimes disparate) policies and ideas together to preserve those policies into the law.  Both sausages and legislation are made in various national and regional recipes (ideas, policies, perspective), spices (funding and budget), and cooking methods (the labyrinth of outdated procedural and seniority rules).

One might expect Sausage, Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck’s new book, to simply be the former 10th District Representative’s own take on “How a bill becomes a law,” with some insights into his 10 years serving in Congress (2010-2020) in the Other Washington, trying (successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully) to add some meat to the mix to make a difference.  However, to jump to this conclusion would be to do the book a great disservice.  Sausage is much, much more than that.  

The book is a journal. It is a memoir. It is documentation of historic events in turbulent times.  The first indication of the author’s perspective is his “Dedication” to his fellow members Adam Schiff, John Lewis, Nancy Pelosi, and Derek Kilmer—colleagues of whom the author has the highest regard, and whose efforts toward “change we can believe in” he details throughout the volume with admiration.

The book’s  ”Introduction” discusses why Sausage is not “How a bill becomes a law.”  Indeed, the author starts off by describing and recommending his favorite two books that do so: The Dance of Legislation by Eric Redman (which Heck writes that he has read 11 times) and Master of the Senate (a tome about Lyndon Johnson) by Robert Caro.   The author adds, though,  that as “…seminal as my two favorite books are, I’m not sure either fully captures what it is like to actually serve as a member of Congress.  What are the day-to-day pressures?  Where is the joy?  Where are the frustrations?  From a member’s perspective, what makes the place work and too often not work.” He finishes the Introduction by stating:

“This book is from my perspective as someone with my life experiences and representing the district I served.  It could not be written without taking on some aspects of a memoir of my time in Congress.  I hope it is more than that. I will also deal with some of the institutional issues that stubbornly plague Congress, and while it is not a policy manifesto, I also set forth my prescription for the biggest challenges I see facing us, challenges which I think gnaw at the foundation of a healthy democracy and planet.  So the opportunity for those who read on is, simply put, to walk in my shoes.  I hope they are a comfortable fit.“

Sausage is broken into chapters that reveal Denny Heck’s focuses, titled:  Gratefully, Daily Chaos, Campaign stuff,  Intelligence (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence); Faith and Politics; Staff; Military and Veterans; Indian country; Giving voice to Bloviating, and “What Would it Take?” There is an Epilogue, a Conclusion, several speeches, some FAQs, and his eloquent remarks to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and  “On Impeachment.”

The book starts out with his letter announcing his retirement from Congress and ends with his suggestions for “dealing with the pernicious problems facing our democracy. He writes:

“The American Spirit of a shared sense of purpose is sapped and our increasing differences are hardening into brutal tribalism.

“If working hard and playing by the rules does not lead to opportunity, then we will no longer be shareholders in America.

“A renewed American spirit and a level playing field economically won’t matter if the political system is rigged.”

This is an extremely personal, readable, fast-paced, stimulating book that reveals a man committed to public service,  authenticity, his constituents, his State, his nation, the rule of law,  the constitution, and his “obligation to those who follow.

Sausage’s pages are sprinkled with a mixture of people and anecdotes and stories—of home, family, Gonzaga, colleagues, committee meetings,  votes,  reflections,  investigations,  political maneuvers and “when-you-least-expect-it” moments.

Mostly, however, the book recounts the efforts of our new Lieutenant Governor to make a difference in that other Washington and what he was able to do and not able to do.

Marcia Hamilton is a retired international development consultant who has been involved with Democratic Party politics in Thurston and Mason Counties.



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here