Thursday, August 19

Luke Esser (R WA-8th CD)

State Senator Luke Esser has served in the Washington State Legislature for six years, and enjoys representing the 48th Legislative District in Olympia. The Bellevue native feels that his experience as a legislator will be helpful in his run for Congress, and in dealing with taking steps to improve the economy for the region. He cites his nomination as Majority Floor Leader after only 11 months in the State Senate, the seven bills he worked to get enacted into law last year, and his willingness to work across the aisle.

Esser said that jobs and the economy are the top focus in this election, at a time when he said that so many are out of work or underemployed. Esser worked as part of the team that encouraged Boeing to assemble the 7E7 here in Washington State, participating in the effort to craft a package of legislation that would make the state appear more competitive. He said the project will create new jobs, and stabilize existing ones, serving as a powerful symbol of the state’s manufacturing jobs. He said he’s concerned by the fact that Washington State seems to be fighting two other states for the worst unemployment rate in the country.

Regarding ethical investigations into Boeing’s dealings on a military contract, Esser said it was an instance of one individual misbehaving. Esser said it’s appropriate to have rules regarding conflicts of interest, and a lot of scrutiny in public dealings where lobbyists are involved. Yet he also said that it’s inappropriate to question policies based on the suspected motives or industry ties of the person proposing the policy. He believes lobbyists for Washington State labor unions have made the state uncompetitive, and wonders if state employees should be the ones performing services like landscaping and food service at universities. He wants to open more state jobs to competitive bidding, and would like to expand the use of performance audits for state employees.

Esser said that it’s more important to look at getting more for the money the state does spend, especially in education. Though educators at local colleges have raised concerns about the way the number of students is calculated, he said that per student funding hasn’t changed much over the last few years when adjusted for inflation. He wants to see a more performance oriented way of looking at education based on the outputs of test scores and college acceptance rates, saying that money spent on education doesn’t always produce as much value as expected.

A specific funding problem for education that he said he’s concerned about is the way the primary education system pays its employees. He said that because a statewide payscale and per student funding standard is used, the school system ends up underpaying for teachers and students in urban areas, and overpaying in rural areas. It’s because of this that Esser said schools in rural areas of Washington state do better than those in other parts of the country. He said that private industry and the military deal with the issue by using cost allowances adjusted for the local cost of living. He said that only Hawaii, with a single school district for the whole state, has a more centralized education system than Washington State.

Esser said that he’d like to see the nation’s deficit drop, saying that the “key is to not let spending get out of control.” He said that military spending is at appropriate levels, but that domestic spending is exploding. He said that the economy is bouncing back, and the tax cuts are working, but it’s important to keep spending down. As an example, he said that the state budget grew more slowly last year than it ever has, but that he thinks they did a good job of funding necessary agencies with what they had.

Esser said it’s important to maintain vigilance here at home, and said that the country’s commitment to security shouldn’t be measured only in dollars. Though he said that federal funding for law enforcement and port security has improved. He said it would be a good idea to take advantage of technology like cargo containers that can be electronically sealed at their point of origin, as well as looking for better technology to use for border security.

On recent allegations of torture and prisoner abuse in Iraq, Esser said, “I haven’t heard anybody defend what went on. I think it’s important to us as a country and our credibility in the world to make certain that those responsible are held accountable.” But he said it’s important not to change our direction in Iraq, and to continue to track down terrorists wherever they are. He said our troops will probably be there for a while, and showing signs of weakness would just embolden terrorists in the area and here in the U.S.

Talking about his legislative record, Esser believes he probably does better than the average Republican in the eyes of the environmental community, and that he’s somewhat independent of his party on the issue. He said that he recognized the need to respect the will of the voters on the issue of a voter initiative to restrict bear and cougar hunting, even though he disagreed with the bill. He’s concerned that hatchery salmon might not be counted when fish stocks are measured to determine if stocks are endangered, and that they should be included if there are no meaningful differences.

Esser expressed interest in technology and intellectual property issues. He gave the example of a bill he sponsored making it a crime to take a hand held video camera into a movie theatre and make a recording, saying that there were huge problems with intellectual property involved. He said it’s “hard to believe that wasn’t specifically a crime in the state of Washington beforehand.”

Another issue that came before the state legislature during this last session was a bill that would have extended the state’s anti-discrimination laws to gay citizens. Esser said the bill was not good policy, citing concerns brought up by the Catholic Church that it would have put them in a position of having to hire people they disagreed with into their parochial school system. He said that his background as a Catholic is as much a part of what he brings to the legislature as his law degree. Esser said he would vote for any of the proposed federal Constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, but would prefer a version that simply prevents states from having to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

Regarding abortion, which is mostly a federal issue, Esser supports the usual exceptions including permitting the procedure in case of significant health risk to the mother. He said we approved of the partial-birth abortion ban passed recently by Congress, and said he knows of experts who don’t think it’s the case that its language would also restrict procedures used earlier in pregnancy than the last trimester. The law does not include a health exception.

While Esser feels there may be a lot of issues that the public should consider more often, he said, “People are busy. And that’s one thing I think we all need to keep in mind if we lament the fact that pople don’t spend enough time thinking about particular political issues.”

Find out more at his website.

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