The six candidates for the U.S. House seat representing Southwest Washington offered differing views on how to get the economy back on track, and on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during a forum Thursday night.
They are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, who is retiring after serving six two-year terms.
Many national analysts view the race for the traditionally liberal 3rd Congressional District seat as a toss-up this year because of voters’ concerns about the economy and anxiety over pressing national issues, including health care and immigration reform. By one estimate, Democrats have held the seat for 46 of the past 50 years.
Financial planner David Castillo, ex-Marine David Hedrick and state Rep. Jaime Herrera of Ridgefield are running as Republicans. The two Democrats are Denny Heck, former state House majority leader, and anti-war activist Cheryl Crist. Norma Jean Stevens, a small-business owner from Ocean Park, is the lone independent in the race.
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The candidates didn’t stray far from their respective parties’ views during the forum, which was sponsored by The Olympian, the League of Women Voters of Thurston County and Thurston Community Television in partnership with TVW.
About 200 people attended the forum, held at The Olympia Center.
Castillo, a Navy veteran, said the federal stimulus has “done nothing” and supported easing government regulations and reducing the corporate income tax to create jobs.
Crist said the government does have a hand in improving the economy by providing retraining money and tax credits. She said the federal stimulus has been effective, noting, “We were ready to fall off a cliff, and we didn’t.”
Heck said Congress must do more to get credit flowing again to businesses and consumers. He suggested additional investment in the country’s “embarrassing infrastructure gap” and creating clean-energy jobs through reduction in the reliance on foreign oil as ways to spur economic growth.
Hedrick, who advocates a strict interpretation of the Constitution, said the federal government needs to get out of the way by reducing regulation and taxes.
“The federal government cannot create wealth,” he said. “It’s created by innovation. It’s created by individual entrepreneurs.”
Herrera, who repeatedly said she has a track record as a state lawmaker of reining in government spending, said she’d continue to do so if elected to Congress and would work to create an environment in which businesses and entrepreneurs can flourish.
Stevens said she would listen to business owners and oppose new taxes and environmental mandates that hurt business and economic growth.
The Democratic candidates supported the federal stimulus package and health care reform bill. The Republicans opposed them, as did the independent, Stevens.
As for the U.S.-involved wars overseas, Crist supports the planned withdrawal from Iraq but took issue with the country’s strategy in Afghanistan.
Heck questioned what the nation has to show for in engaging in the longest war in its history in Afghanistan.
“We don’t have a clue on how to deal with the corrupt Karzai government,” he said of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s government.
Castillo agreed, saying Karzai is a “disaster” and that the U.S. can’t trust Afghanistan tribal leaders to bring stability to the country. He said Obama’s stated deadline of July 2011 to withdraw forces from Afghanistan is a mistake “because the bad guys know when we’re leaving” but said Gen. David Petraeus is the best choice to lead the military effort there.
Hedrick criticized President Barack Obama’s military leadership, saying a private first class getting out of boot camp has more experience. Obama did not serve in the military.
Herrera said the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has shown some progress, and Congress needs to give the military the resources to finish the job there.
Stevens said Congress needs to deeply scrutinize the wars in both countries.
Christian Hill: 360-754-5427 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/outsideoly