After talking to them last spring, I got to hear 8th Congressional District candidates Dave Reichert and Dave Ross debate each other earlier this month. To my disappointment, Dave Reichert had started peppering his speech with enough Republican talking points that he now sounded like his robotic primary opponents. The spontaneity and rambling stories were really the only thing that took the edge off his hard right stances. Dave Ross seemed to have tightened up his speaking style, and was more engaged with the audience, but was recognizably the same Ross.
Not long in, the candidates were asked why someone from their party should be sent to Congress.
Reichert thinks the district should vote Republican because it's better for small business, and for him specifically because he's in touch with the community on things like the methamphetamine and handgun problems, and because he thinks marriage is between a man and a woman. He said that he differed from the president because he was concerned with the budget deficit, and that he would cut spending.
Ross said the district should vote Democratic because the "Republicans have had their chance" with their control of Congress, while failing to get a transportation bill to add a lane to I-405, and losing close to a million jobs. He said he differed from his party in favoring results based social programs that include faith-based initiatives, which should be supported only if proved to work.
The debate turned quickly to security issues with a question about the PATRIOT Act. Ross said it was important for law enforcement to be able to follow a person, instead of just a phone number, citing an example of a part of the law he supported. But he followed by saying that people were spooked by provisions allowing sneak-and-peek searches and searches of library records, causing him to support efforts to amend it. Reichert said that "since September 11th, this world has changed forever." He compared 9-11 to Columbine, offering the Colorado school shooting as another example of an event that changed the approach of law enforcement. He said the Act would evolve over time.
On Iraq, Reichert said he agreet that "we should fight terrorists where the terrorists are." He said it was premature to set a date for withdrawal, and that even if there was disagreement about getting to Iraq, the country should be made free and safe. Ross said that having been in Baghdad last summer, he thought the problem was the American face on the war, something it might be 19 months too late to correct. He said that "the best way, ultimately, to spread democracy is by example, not by force."
In responding to a question on the war on terror, Reichert said that we can't give up, even though 9-11 set the stage for a long war. He repeated the tagline that it was important to fight the terrorists where they are, not here. Ross had reported from Ground Zero, and said that of course we needed to fight terrorists. But he said that we also needed to fight for hearts and minds, that we couldn't win if we were seen as bullies. Ross said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was right to ask if the U.S. was killing more terrorists than it was creating.
On transportation, Reichert said that he already had a record of bringing $28 million to the Sheriff's office, and would try to get on the congressional committee. He said he'd get money to expand the state road infrastructure. Ross said that it was important for the state delegation to work to develop a regional consensus, and find some middle ground between liberals who want to only add bike paths, and conservatives who only wanted to add roads. He said it was important to fund whatever moved the most people for the least amount of money, and to look at improving roads outside the major King County metropolitan area in places like Woodinville.
Reichert's healthcare plan is tort reform, medical savings accounts, medical associations to bring down insurance costs, and letting doctors make medical decisions instead of insurance companies. Ross said that Reichert's plan was mostly the Bush plan, costing more without helping those without coverage, didn't treat illness early, and pointing out that tort reform has a spotty record of results. He proposed the reimportation of discount prescription drugs and extending Medicare for all uncovered children.
On dealing with the deficit, Ross said he favored of rescinding the top bracket of tax cuts, saying that interest on it was $390 billion a year. He also said that there would be significant savings in getting people early healthcare when they first needed it, and that we couldn't afford not to try it. Reichert pointed to a history of cost cutting in his department, even to trimming costs from the purchase of patrol cars.
Reichert said that he "[didn't] really see a conflict there" between balancing the budget and cutting taxes. He said that spending cuts would fix things. Ross suggested cutting the $100 billion for the missile defense system that scientists say doesn't work. He didn't see why tax cuts for the top 1% should be kept with the costs of Iraq, healthcare, and transportation needs.
On outsourcing, Ross suggested reversing tax incentives to encourage companies to bring profits back home, as well as funding research and bringing new products to market. He said that the local Redhook brewery was started with a Small Business Administration loan, a program he says the Bush administration cut, and that he supported. Reichert said it was important to keep taxes low, world tariffs low, and to do away with bureaucratic rules and regulations.
Ross' education plan includes supplementing retraining, funding primary research at the University of Washington, and fully supporting special education. He said that the "best way to stop outsourcing, in the long run, is to be better than those countries" where the jobs are going to. Reichert said that he mostly agreed with Ross' education platform, saying that businesses supported these programs because they benefit from well-trained workers.
Ross said that the country couldn't afford to waste talent in a global economy. When it came to helping college students, he said that "talent is sprinkled everywhere, [but money and income] are only sprinkled some places." Reichert said that business partnerships should be encouraged to help college attendees, because they were the ultimate beneficiaries.
On the question of whether or not there should be federal parity legislation requiring companies that offered Viagra to offer birth control, Reichert said that he'd never been asked the question and would consider it. Ross said that "if [a plan] covers Viagra, it can sure as heck cover birth control."
Reichert said that federal money should not be spent on sex education "at all," favoring only abstinence education. Ross said that federal money should not be spent by ideology, and that results shouldn't be predetermined. He said that with abstinence and sex education, professionals should be entrusted with running these programs, and that funding should be cut off if they didn't work.
Reichert said that as a male, he couldn't understand the decision involved in abortion. But going to personal experience, he cited the Green River case, and a daughter who couldn't have children deciding to adopt. He said he would only support abortion in the case of incest, rape, or a threat to the mother's life. Ross said that being pro-choice didn't mean being pro abortion. He said that decisions need to be left in the hands of families, and that Congress was ill-equipped to make the decision for them.
As priorities, both candidates cited jobs, healthcare, and transportation. Ross said it was important to support both roads and transit, support research and small businesses, educate the workforce, and fix a healthcare system which left some families afraid to go to a doctor. Reichert briefly mentioned the issues, but as an afterthought to again solemnly proclaiming that the nation had changed after 9-11, and that soccer moms were now security moms.
In closing, Reichert said Congress needed someone who was a doer. He said he'd seen the chaos caused by lack of education and unemployment in the poorest homes, and the problems created when government bureaucracy got in the way of child protective and DSHS services.
Ross said that he felt the nation had taken a wrong turn in the last four years. He said the election was between ratifying those choices, or deciding to change direction. He said that national security wasn't only about terrorism, but also about having jobs and healthcare.