In Business Las Vegas - In Business Q and A
Congressman Jon Porter, a Republican, is being challenged by Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus for his 3rd Congressional District seat in one of the most compelling political races for businesspeople.
Porter, 53, who has been the district's representative since 2002 when it was formed also served in the Nevada Senate from 1994 to 2002 and was mayor of Boulder City from 1987 to 1991. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2000 against eventual winner Shelley Berkley.
Four other candidates for the congressional seat will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. They are: Independent American candidate Floyd Fitzgibbons, Green Party candidate Bob Giaquinta, Independent candidate Jeffrey C. Reeves and Libertarian Party candidate Joseph P. Silvestri.
Porter was interviewed by In Business Las Vegas at his campaign headquarters Oct. 13.
What strengths do you bring to the table as a congressman?
I think what's paramount, especially in these economically challenging times, is that we have someone with a business background. I grew up in a family of business. My mom and dad had a small business in Iowa. My dad was an electrical contractor, and we spent the better part of my life sitting around the dinner table talking about the challenges of being in business, from paying taxes to government regulation to accounts receivable, accounts payable, the economy and how it impacted my mom and dad. So I literally grew up in the family business. And I had my own business for 20 years. It was a small family business, and I had it at the same time that I served on the Boulder City Council and as mayor and in the state Senate. So, in all due respect to my opponent who is a professor at the university, I think my experience is critical now. I know what it's like to meet a payroll, I know what it's like to be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave. I also know what it's like to struggle with families trying to find health insurance for employees. In fairness, my opponent does not have this perspective. She doesn't understand what it's like to walk up to the door in the morning with the key to that business and not know what's going to happen the rest of the day. So I think my experience with local, state and now federal government, but equally important, 20 years of my own business and my family's business.
Who do you blame for the home-mortgage meltdown - the banks who made the subprime loans, the politicians who fostered the lending environment or the consumers who weren't qualified to take on the responsibility?
Well, I think there's a lot of blame to go around and let's start with Wall Street. I had legislation that passed in this relief package to hold (Wall Street firms) accountable. It creates oversight to look at what happened with Wall Street. I believe there was criminal activity to tell you the truth. I think some folks on Wall Street took advantage of people around the world. I think there's blame to go around Congress. I looked back at the history of this, and they started relaxing a lot of the post-Depression era protections for the American people. And I blame the administration. I think the administration dropped the ball. I'm appalled and I'm angry that this happened. But I also think some families made some poor choices as well. There are certain responsibilities when you sign on the dotted line to make sure you know what you're doing. So I'm angry, but I'm also very, very concerned about some of these families that are struggling.
Experts have criticized the lack of regulation in the banking industry. What should Congress do, if anything, to change that?
I think we need to modernize our lending institutions and their practice of lending funds. But I think that right now, we need to take a deep breath so we can provide some calm to the markets and to the world so people will invest again. But at the same time - and my legislation provides for that - we need to find out what went wrong, and we need to find out as soon as possible so we don't have the same mistakes repeated.
In the current economic environment, do you favor any new taxes?
Absolutely (this is) the wrong time to raise taxes. Right now these businesses are struggling. I drive up and down the streets of Vegas and I see businesses with "for sale" signs going up, and I see "for rent" or "going out of business." There's not a business street in Las Vegas where you don't see a sign that says "going out of business." So it's absolutely the wrong time. Businesses should be able to reinvest their money instead of giving to the government so they can create more jobs.
How about new taxes on those making $250,000 or more, as Sen. (Barack) Obama advocates?
That's an example of not understanding what it's like to be in business. I have so many friends who are in business who may show $250,000 in revenue, but they may be taking home $10,000 or $12,000 or $20,000. There's this misconception: If you haven't had your own business, a lot of people look at your revenues and say, "Well that's all profit." I could give you 10 businesses that have revenues over $250,000 that are not taking home more than $10,000 or $20,000. So it's absolutely wrong. The small and ma-and-pa businesses need the ability to create jobs. What's built America is the entrepreneurial spirit, and if we tax that mentality and we tax those revenues, they're going to be out of business.
Do you favor any tax cuts? Why?
Yes, absolutely. I had legislation in this past session, actually, to prevent the Democratic Party from taking away the child tax deduction. (Democrats) actually reduced it from $1,000 per child to $500. That's a specific example. We need to make sure families reap the benefits as well. We have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, and what's happening from a global perspective is that these businesses are leaving the country because they can't afford to operate here. And there are folks who want to tax them, and they think that's what will keep the businesses alive. So I think there are a lot of areas that should be reduced.
What are the most pressing federal issues that affect Nevada businesses?
The economic situation is paramount because businesses now are having a hard time getting the normal loan they used to get. I can tell you of dozens of businesses that I've talked to that used to have credit at a particular bank or credit union or lending institution, and they would use that credit to help buy inventory and to pay payroll and flooring up for their retail products. They're not able to get the loans that they used to have available because the money has tightened up so much. So that's pressing.
But also parallel to that is the lack of an energy policy for our country and I'll tell you, prior to the last two weeks' crises, what has been brewing and has not been addressed is the lack of oil and the lack of energy. If you look up and down the Strip in the travel and tour industry and our resorts, people can't get the flights that they used to get. United (Airlines) has cut 150 of their cities. US Airways has cut back on its flights. So from a business perspective, the two most important things are that there needs to be capital available for businesses to borrow money to pay their employees and there needs to be energy and oil so we can fly our planes. We can certainly address both of those, especially oil. There's no excuse for us not exploring for energy here.
Rising health care costs eat a lot of business profits. Do you favor changing the American health care system so that businesses don't bear so much of the cost burden?
We have one of the best health care systems in the world, but it certainly has its problems. I think there should be additional incentives for business to be a partner in health insurance and preventative medicine and health care, and I think there is a place for their role. But I also would like to have the insurer have more say in the product. A way to do that is to provide for small businesses to band together to have associate health plans. I think businesses play a vital role, not only in health insurance but in preventative medicines. I toured the Vons stores here and they told me about some of their incentives for their employees for preventative, which reduces the costs, so think there certainly is a place for partnerships.
Immigration was a hot-button issue a year ago, but seems to have cooled. President Bush and most business leaders have argued for a system that would allow immigrants working in the United States a way to stay on the job. What's your position?
I don't think the issue has really cooled down. From the perspective of my constituents, the media (are) not talking about it much, but in the community it's still one of the top issues. I think we have to make sure the federal government does a better job. I visited the border, and we're using Vietnam-era technology at one of the sites I went to. We need to secure the borders, but I support a temporary guest workers' program. I think that we need to make sure that businesses are given the tools to make sure that they can tell who's legal and who isn't. Now if a business intentionally is abusing the federal laws and taking advantage of individuals, it should be held accountable as well and there should be fines. But I want to clarify that as long as we give them the tools they need, they shouldn't be in the law enforcement business. But right now, even the federal government doesn't know who's here.
Assess the presidency of George W. Bush.
I am furious over this current situation and, again, I think there is a lot of blame to go around. But I really think that a crisis of this magnitude, there weren't enough checks and balances in place. So I'm extremely frustrated. But as I said, from Wall Street to Main Street, there are challenges and there is a lot of blame to go around. But I'd like to speak directly to that issue. It was not handled properly. We should have known about it long ago. There's 2 (million) or 3 million loans out there that are bad. Somewhere, there should have been a check and balance.
What have been the pros or cons to Nevada of having Sen. Harry Reid as majority leader?
That's a good question and let me explain a perspective. Let's say it's not Harry Reid for a second. A lot of times when you're the top elected official, whether it be majority leader or speaker, sometimes it can be challenging to be able to do some of the things you did when you were a regular member. Because as a leader, you have 50 to 100 and in some cases, 435 people that you're working with. So with that comes some challenges. That's not because you're name is Harry Reid. That comes with leadership. But also a leader can have an advantage because Sen. Reid sits at the table. He played a major role in this relief package, so I think there are pros and cons. As a matter of fact, I had a fundraiser for Sen. Reid in my home when I was the mayor of Boulder City.
What's your stance on Internet gambling, particularly for poker play? Would you support legislation that enables online poker?
The most important thing is that we need to dispel the rumors, and we need to find out exactly what's happening. We know there's $12 (billion) to $15 billion a year being spent on the Internet worldwide - gaming on the Internet. I introduced legislation last session and (Rep.) Shelley Berkley introduced it this session, so we're working on it together to get the facts. We've called for a true study by the federal government to find out exactly what the impacts are because there are people who have fear about the security and the privacy. There are those who are concerned about children and I agree with all those. The most important thing to do right now is pass that legislation so we'll have the facts.
Tourism is the No. 1 industry in many states, including Nevada, yet it has not been a part of the presidential debate or most political discussions. What would you do to give tourism a higher profile?
You're absolutely right, from an economic standpoint, travel and tourism is No. 1, 2 and 3 in every state in the country and even the states don't realize how big it is. That's not just tourism, it's business travel as well. So I've worked closely with Congressman Sam Farr, a Democrat from California, from Monterey, and we have reinvigorated what's called the Travel and Tour Caucus, trying to elevate the prominence and importance of travel and tour. We've passed legislation to help promote businesses around the world so there's a consistent message. We're working on trying to ease the visa problem we're having. That doesn't mean we've become slack in our security, it just means we need to make sure that there's a professional and secure way for the legitimate traveler to come in and out of the United States. So these are the sort of things we're working on. It's critical to our economy and to the country. And by the way, it's one of the largest employers in the country. It's in the top 100. If you include travel and tour, it's one of the top businesses in the world.
What specific plan do you have to make Nevada a major energy resource to the nation with its solar, wind and geothermal resources?
When I was the mayor of Boulder City, we really started and have since created the third-largest solar facility in the world. I worked with the city of Henderson, Clark County and the federal government to secure the land where we now have the Solar One facility. So as a leader in alternative energy and - actually, when it wasn't necessarily politically popular - I pushed, and I'm very proud to see that we've built a solar facility. Current legislation - I have proposed a fast track for alternative energies to secure and either lease or purchase public lands. You know, in Nevada we have about 89 or 88 percent federal land. The problem is that the bureaucracy of Washington gets in the way. Close to 200 permits have been sitting on desks and, by the way, Sen. Reid helped move those forward. I think we need a process in place so that it can be fast-tracked. Currently an (environmental impact statement) is required on all sites. I think if we could possibly use an environmental assessment, that would save about five years. It needs to be a priority for the Department of Interior. So my legislation does all this. It'll help move it forward and it creates jobs. Why not have Nevada be on the cutting edge of the world? I believe that we are, but we can even go further.
There are a number of proposals being floated about climate change. Although it's unclear how some of them would affect businesspeople, one thing is clear - they're going to produce higher costs to them. How would you protect business from the costs of dealing with global warming?
Well, the first step is how do we protect our environment from global warming? And what can we do to work with businesses in balance with that? And I think that's where you begin, with how do you protect the environment. We see it right here with NV Energy, the new Nevada Power. (Company officials are) taking every step possible with their proposed coal plant in Northern Nevada to make sure it's cutting edge and state of the art. So what we need to do is work with business and make sure we can give them as many incentives as possible to encourage that, from the delivery of energy to businesses, to schools and public facilities when they're built. It all goes hand in hand. But you don't do it through taxation. You do it through incentives, not taxation.
What is the No. 1 thing your opponent has said in a public setting or in advertising that it not true? This is your chance to set the record straight.
She's said a lot of things that aren't true. But I think what's best is to talk about what is true. There's no one who has worked as hard as I have for Nevada, from travel and tour and being on the Convention Authority board, creating special events with Las Vegas Events, having my own business and taking that experience from small business to state and local government. I'm very proud of my accomplishments. But I think the public will decide what's true and what isn't true. It's also troubling to me that I have an opponent who believes that taking a contribution is "pay for play." She said that in Review-Journal articles. But this campaign's really about what we can do for the future, and I believe that with challenges like this - with my experience - I'm the right person for the job.