Union leaders join Heck on campaign bus tour

Democrat Denny Heck hopped on board a bus tour with machinists and painters union leaders Tuesday, repeating his 3rd Congressional District campaign theme that jobs creation must become the No. 1 priority of Congress.

“This is ground zero – ground zero on whether we are going to go forward or go backward” economically, Heck told national representatives of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, as well as the International Association of Machinists, during a lunch stopover at the Fish Tale pub in Olympia.

The union leaders – including Ray Sesma, a painters union vice president – were on a nationwide tour that began earlier in the day in Seattle with events for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert. It rolled on to Vancouver, where as many as 150 union activists were scheduled to go door to door campaigning for Heck in the evening.

Heck was the top vote-getter in Washington’s Aug. 17 primary runoff to pick two finalists for the Nov. 2 ballot. The entrepreneur and former state lawmaker finds himself in a tough, high-profile race against Republican Jaime Herrera, the primary runner-up in the race for retiring U.S. Rep. Brian Baird’s seat.

Baird, a Vancouver Democrat, held the job for six terms, but the three Republicans in the race captured more than half of the primary vote in a swing district that President Barack Obama carried in 2008 after President Bush had success there, too.

Herrera, a state House member from Camas and former aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is a rising GOP star. The 31-year-old’s profile edged up even more last week when the National Republican Congressional Committee named her a “Young Gun” on its list of up-and-comers ready for battle.

The NRCC’s designation was expected to open doors to more donations and independent spending on Herrera’s behalf by right-of-center groups. Already the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity hit Heck after the primary with a $180,000 television ad campaign aimed at linking him to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “agenda.”

Heck said he welcomed labor’s effort. He did not say what he promised to labor, which has embraced him now that rival Democrat Craig Pridemore is no longer in the race. But Heck said in an interview that his voting record as a state lawmaker in the 1970s and 1980s reflected the district’s labor support and was far better than Herrera’s. He said he deserves labor’s backing.

Heck had not seen details of Obama’s latest economic-stimulus proposal but said he supports the concept of more public investment in infrastructure. Republicans have criticized Obama’s six-year proposal that puts at least $50 billion in federal aid the first year for highways and rail improvements and gives tax breaks for business-equipment investments.

“As you know, I’ve said from Day One, we have an embarrassing infrastructure gap and … it is critically important in order to lay a foundation for job growth,” Heck said. “I haven’t seen the details of (Obama’s) proposal. … But on principle, I would tell you that reinvesting in our infrastructure is critically important for job growth, and we have exhibit A in the 3rd District in the form of the Columbia River crossing (project).”

Heck said he also wants to see passage of a small-business lending bill.

The Machinists and the international painters union are on a bus tour that spans “18 days, 50 events and roughly 5,000 miles,” focusing on investments in infrastructure, said IUPAT’s director of government affairs, Chris Sloan.

“We like his strong stance on infrastructure and creating jobs,” Sloan said of Heck. “We think Denny will have the ability to work with Congress to pass infrastructure bills that put people in Olympia and the rest of the country back to work.”

Ray Sesma, general vice president for IUPAT, also talked with Heck at the lunch – a few hours after the union announced it had endorsed Republican U.S. Dave Reichert of Auburn. Sesma said Reichert supported the prevailing-wage law on federal construction contracts and has protected the minimum wage.

“It’s not about R’s or D’s. It’s about J-O-B – jobs,” Sesma said. As for Heck, he said: “We feel confident we can discuss issues with him … (H)e’d have an open-door policy. Another thing we think is positive is he has a strong management background.”

Herrera has touted tax cuts to stimulate the economy while blasting majority Democrats for putting the country further in debt in their effort to lift the economy out of the free-fall of 2008-09.

Her campaign spokesman, Casey Bowman, questioned Obama’s newest stimulus proposal in an e-mail: “What was the first $787 billion stimulus for – wasn’t it largely for shovel-ready transportation projects? We haven’t even spent all that money yet, and now the President wants to spend more?”

Bowman added that “Some of the tax incentives have merit, but Jaime is extremely wary of piling even more money onto the deficit. That’s not the way to bring back jobs long-term. Jaime believes the government has a role in maintaining infrastructure, but not by spending more money we don’t have.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee criticized the Obama plan as a continuation of the “utter failure” Democrats had with their 2009 stimulus.

Heck has argued otherwise, saying the first stimulus was not focused enough on projects that put people to work in places such as the 3rd district that have high jobless rates. But he has credited it with saving perhaps 2 million jobs.

Heck told the lunch group that the 3rd district’s jobless rates are above 10 percent in all but Thurston County and that Clark County’s rate of 13.3 percent would – if that county were a state – qualify it as the second-highest in the country.

In a sign of how important Democrats are viewing the 3rd district race, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is headed to Portland today and Thursday to check into Heck’s campaign and Oregon’s hot 5th Congressional District race, which pits first-term Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader against Republican Scott Bruun.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog