Two Republicans have jumped into an uphill race for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District against six-term Democratic Rep. Brian Baird in 2010.
Jon Russell, a Washougal city councilman who previously lobbied at the state Capitol against gay rights, and David Castillo, a former federal employee and state House Republican Caucus staff director, say they disagree with Baird on a range of issues including the federal economic stimulus and a cap-and-trade bill that is aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions linked to global warming.
Both say they are getting in early – far earlier than other recent Baird challengers – in a bid to win name familiarity and raise the money they will need to overcome Baird’s considerable financial edge. Baird had almost $579,000 in cash on hand as of March 31, and he says he’ll raise more if he needs it.
Both challengers and the National Republican Congressional Committee question Baird’s decision in 2008 to lead a House committee’s fact-finding trip at taxpayer expense to the Galapagos Islands, off Ecuador.
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The trip cost $22,000 for Baird, four other lawmakers and their family members, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story that said congressional junkets were almost 10 times more expensive since 1995 and 50 percent higher since Democrats took control of Congress two years ago.
“There are a lot of us that worry about our jobs. We worry about paying for our mortgages, and here we see our political leaders out living the good life on our dime,” Russell said in an interview last week, equating the trips overseas with a “culture of debt” he thinks is entrenched in Washington, D.C.
“If I’m elected, I’m only going to serve three terms and then I am out. I believe in term limits, and I will self-impose term limits on myself,” Russell said. He drew a contrast between that pledge and Baird’s June 2008 trip, which Baird said was relevant to his committee work on ocean acidification and global warming.
Castillo, who works as a financial adviser and is from East Olympia, also questioned Baird’s trip but was surprised to see the story about it revived a year after it first drew criticism.
“We’re in tough economic times. Just the visuals of that look bad. Especially as a West Coast member of Congress, the taxpayers spend a lot of money flying him back and forth to Washington, D.C. I don’t know if it makes sense to fly him to the Galapagos … I don’t know if it had to do with global warming or not,’’ Castillo said, adding that “Whether it’s fair to hammer Brian for this, that can be debated.”
Baird declined to comment to the Journal for its article, but a year ago, Baird told The Olympian the trip was purposeful. He said he served as the chairman of a subcommittee that deals with energy and environmental issues, including ocean-acidification problems that have links to climate change.
Baird said those issues also are of concern to oyster growers in the 3rd District, and that he also has traveled to an atmospheric and ocean lab in Florida, to the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Studies at Eilat, Israel, and to the Great Barrier Reef. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about issues in our country and world that are not getting enough attention. Ocean health is one of them,” he said at the time.
Last week, Baird added that the trip was organized by the chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, who could not go and turned to Baird to lead the trip as chairman of the subcommittee on energy and the environment. He said the $22,000 covered the five committee members’ costs and that his wife’s expenses were paid by his family, except for travel on a military plane that was on a “space-available” basis.
Castillo is winning backing of big names such as state Attorney General Rob McKenna. He also is endorsed by South Sound Republicans such as Sen. Dan Swecker and Reps. Gary Alexander and Richard DeBolt.
Russell, 33, is just getting his campaign under way. He is the former executive director of the evangelical Faith & Freedom Network, and he served as a key lobbyist against adding legal rights for same-sex couples earlier this decade. He quit that job a couple of years ago to run a health-care clinic.
Although he stands by his social-issues stances, Russell said they are not a big part of this campaign, which he thinks is more about changing the culture of the Congress and controlling spending. Russell said he wants to see a balanced-budget amendment to limit congressional outlays.
Russell also questions the effectiveness of the federal economic-stimulus package, and he wants health-care reform that encourages experimentation by local nonprofit and charity groups. Russell opposes the cap-and-trade bill, calling it a tax increase, and he said he doesn’t think humans are causing global warming.
Castillo, 41, is running based on the economy and what he considers an “assault on the American taxpayer that is occurring right now” under President Barack Obama. He called the $787 billion economic stimulus a “monstrosity that hasn’t stimulated anything except government,” and he ripped ongoing efforts to expand national health-care coverage with a public-sector option as a form of “socialized medicine.’’
Castillo said the cap-and-trade legislation, which would cap carbon-fuel emissions and establish a permit system for polluters, actually is a tax that hits small business and will limit manufacturing growth in the 3rd district. He said the U.S. should not restrict carbon dioxide emissions, adding that India and China won’t restrict their emissions, and he questions whether the planet is warming or cooling.
Castillo, a Lewis County native, tells on his Web site how he was raised by a single mother and encouraged to get an education. He has a background in the federal government, having served as a deputy assistant secretary of the Veterans Administration and with Homeland Security, as well as the chief of staff for the state House Republican Caucus.
Baird, 53, said he is not yet worried by the challenge but takes every election and challenger seriously. He said his focus is to work for the district and noted successes such as winning a sales-tax deduction for Washington residents on their federal tax returns.
He defended his vote for a cap-and-trade bill that would cap carbon-fuel emissions, likely raising costs for those fuels. Baird said he “led the effort” in Congress to take out language from the cap-and-trade bill that would have prohibited the counting of byproducts from pulp and paper or from wood from diseased forest from being counted as alternative, biomass fuels.
The congressman said his opponents’ skepticism about global warming puts them “at odds with the vast majority of scientific opinion in the world, and (they) are either not informed or not concerned by the ocean acidification.”
Baird had misgivings about the cap-and-trade bill and said he thinks a straight tax on the carbon content in fuels is a better way to deal with global warming and reduce foreign-oil dependence. He said he would use funds raised from a carbon tax to reduce federal deficits; he also would cap federal spending without a budget amendment.
Baird supported the stimulus package and asked how his opponents could question money put into increased unemployment benefits, health-care help to those who lost jobs, foreclosure help, aid to help employ displaced workers and money for food banks. He said debt is real, but most of it was added in the eight years of the Bush administration.
About health care, Baird said he supports efforts to expand coverage for all Americans but that he wants to be sure any public or nonprofit insurance option is not unfairly subsidized.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688
On the web
Jon Russell: www.jonrussell.us
David Castillo: www.castilloforcongress.com
Brian Baird: www.brianbaird.com