Jaime Herrera meets with backers

LACEY - Republican congressional candidate Jaime Herrera touted free-market solutions for the economy and health care Monday during a campaign fundraiser that drew an estimated 210 supporters.

Herrera, the top Republican to emerge from the Aug. 17 primary, is hoping to defeat Democrat Denny Heck in November and put the state’s 3rd Congressional District back in Republican hands for the first time since the mid-1990s, when anti-tax crusader Linda Smith won it.

In a 15-minute breakfast speech to supporters, Herrera said the public is rightfully angry at federal spending and fearful about the economy. She said the free market must be allowed to self-correct without new rules or requirements that add costs for businesses, and she criticized spending both by Democrats controlling Congress and their Republican predecessors.

On health care, Herrera said she favors market solutions such as letting small-business associations buy insurance across state lines and limits on medical malpractice claims, which some national Republicans backed but did not pass when they last controlled Congress.

Herrera’s one word of praise for President Barack Obama – which she asked reporters to write down – was that he made health care a priority. But she flatly rejected the overhaul that majority Democrats eventually passed into law and that is starting to take effect this month with new options for small businesses.

“Whatever we do, it is definitely time that we reboot the health care reform attempt,” Herrera said. “It’s time to completely start over.’’

Heck is running a hard campaign, and national groups allied with both parties are reserving radio and television time to bombard voters with independent ads. Heck, a former state lawmaker and entrepreneur who co-founded the TVW network and invested in high-tech start-ups, is portraying himself as the only candidate who has actually created jobs.

But Republican leaders such as Secretary of State Sam Reed say they think Herrera is the right candidate with the right message at the right time.

“This is our chance,” said Reed, who organized the fundraiser event to introduce Herrera to a Thurston County crowd that hasn’t seen much of her during the campaign. “This looks like a good year.”

The 7 a.m. fundraiser nearly filled the Worthington Center at Saint Martin’s University, and many people wrote checks or left with yard signs to boost Herrera.

Will Wolf, a retired state employee, clutched two yard signs and remarked, “We can’t continue to try and spend ourselves out of debt.’’

Meredith Watson, who works in retail in Olympia, wrote a check to the campaign after the free breakfast. Watson said Herrera “had a lot of good comments about the country being on the wrong track.”

Watson said she favors a more free-market approach to reviving the economy instead of the economic stimulus approach tried by Democrats, which she said had failed to work. She said she liked the comments about the public being afraid and angry.

Dan Eich, an insurance agent from Thurston County, said he came away impressed after first hearing Herrera at the July 1 candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The Olympian. So he took the rare step – for him – of attending a fundraiser.

“I thought she stood out as someone who is fairly moderate in her views and had the ability to look at different sides of the issue. The other candidate – Denny Heck – sounded pretty firm in his convictions,” Eich said. Eich described himself as an independent voter and took note of Heck’s support for the stimulus bill and the health care bill.

Heck has said he would have voted for both bills. But he would have sought a more “targeted” stimulus that aimed at creating jobs in areas of high joblessness such as the 3rd District, and he wanted more cost-controls in the health bill.

Heck also has urged passage of tax breaks for small businesses that hire, to spur innovation in the alternative-energy field and to extend Bush-era tax breaks on all but the top-two brackets of income earners, above $250,000 a year.

By contrast, Herrera favors extending all of the tax breaks – although she said she does not expect Democrats in Congress to act before the election.

A February report by the Congressional Budget Office described unemployment aid and a payroll tax for employers as the most effective stimulus steps and tax breaks for the highest earner brackets as the least effective. But Herrera said she thinks the Bush-era tax cuts, including those on capital gains that Heck also supports, helped spur job creation earlier in the decade.

The Republican candidate also said she is not embracing a completely laissez-faire approach to reviving the economy. She said she doesn’t oppose all targeted tax breaks, but says that alone cannot turn the economy around.

Herrera said she opposed the recent Wall Street reform bill, on grounds it will lead to hundreds of new rules for financial firms and other businesses.

Heck supported the Wall Street reforms on grounds that insufficiently regulated financial markets caused the financial tailspin.

On the climate-change issue, Heck has said there is no debate on human-caused global warming. He favors tax incentives for alternative energy, but his campaign says he has not taken a firm position on cap and trade legislation, which seeks to tax polluters that emit greenhouse gases.

Herrera opposes cap-and-trade, which also lets companies that meet pollution standards to sell or trade excess capacity under the pollution caps to businesses that don’t meet standards. She said cap-and-trade would add $1,700 in costs passed on to families.

Instead, Herrera said she wants to encourage businesses that create alternative-energy options. But she did not offer specific financial incentives.

Climate Solutions and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition recently did polling in Southwest Washington that found public support for conservation, despite the weak economy. Pollsters at Grove Insight said 73 percent of the 400 people queried said conservation was an important factor in deciding whether to support a candidate. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The poll also found that 68 percent favored “a clean energy plan that requires power companies to generate one-quarter of their electricity from clean, renewable sources such as wind, geothermal and solar by year 2025 – even if that increases energy costs for consumers.”

A net 26 percent said they opposed that. The poll found 73 percent supported a limit on carbon pollution and to require a 20 percent reduction by power companies of carbon pollution over the next decade.

Herrera had other events in Longview, and Heck was continuing his jobs tour around the district Monday. Heck scheduled a boat ride on the Columbia River with stops at businesses along the waterway.

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