Democratic congressional candidate Denny Heck used a Vancouver wind energy startup as a backdrop Tuesday to kick off a five-week "Let's Get to Work" jobs tour that will take him to cities and towns across the 3rd Congressional District between now and Election Day.
At rallies and in round-table discussions with local business owners, Heck hopes to hear ideas for improving the nation's job infrastructure, increasing work-force training, promoting green jobs and getting both credit and exports flowing again.
Heck, an advocate for development of green energy, spoke to a friendly crowd at Renewable Energy Composite Solutions, a spinoff of Christensen Shipyards that has manufactured five prototype vertical axis wind turbines for potential residential and commercial use.
"We're here to talk about jobs," Heck told the crowd. "When people ask me why I am running, I look them all in the eye and I say: "I believe the greatest challenge facing America is creating middle-class jobs. If there is no middle class, there is no America.'"
Heck said he wants to bring his own experience in job creation to bear on solving what he considers a crisis of high and protracted unemployment in Southwest Washington and across the nation.
"It's not about me, and frankly it's not about either political party," he said. "More people have been unemployed for more than six months than at any time since they began gathering data. If you take away the jobs, you also take away the self-respect."
Addressing the problem of structural unemployment "has risen to the level of a moral imperative," he said.
Heck got a rousing and partisan introduction from Ed Cote, a Democratic National Committeeman from Vancouver, who said he has known the 58-year-old former legislator since he was a student at Columbia River High School 40 years ago.
Democratic leaders deserve the credit for turning a virtually abandoned Columbia River waterfront into a thriving manufacturing zone, Cote said. "That's what Democrats do: they create jobs," he said. In Heck, an entrepreneur and investor who has helped launch three successful businesses, "we have a candidate who gets it," Cote said. He urged supporters to provide the "people power" to put Heck over the top in November.
"Don't rest on your laurels for the next seven weeks," he urged.
Chris Crowley, a Vancouver wind energy developer who has applied to build a wind project near Steens Mountain in Oregon's remote Harney County, said he went to Heck for advice before he jumped into the wind energy business, to help him navigate its complex financial and regulatory challenges. "I got great advice," he said.
In an interview after the rally, Heck said he favors extending the Bush administration tax cuts for middle-class Americans but not for those who earn more than $250,000.
He said the fiscally prudent thing to do would be to let all the Bush tax cuts expire for those high-earners.
Heck said he supports the Small Business Lending Fund Act, which would direct the U.S. Treasury to invest $30 billion in community banks to encourage them to extend credit to small firms; the expansion of a tax break for companies that invest in research and development; and more federal investment in road and bridge upgrades.
Responding to a candidate profile broadcast on MSNBC last week, Heck said he isn't trying to distance himself from Democratic leaders in Congress, as the profile concluded. In the interview, Heck criticized the Obama administration's stimulus bill, health care reform and Wall Street regulatory reform.
"I don't think everything they do is perfect," he said. "I don't think everything is black and white."
Although he has downplayed his political affiliation in his campaign, Heck said that's a nonissue.
"I'm a Democrat," he said. "I held office as a Democrat. I want people to focus on what I care most about, and that is jobs. One hundred percent of the people who vote for me will know my party."
In a follow-up session, Heck met with representatives of a half-dozen local businesses to hear what they need to start growing again. Several said their biggest problem is the tight credit market.
Isidoros Garafalakis, the founder of Omega Industries, which manufactures precast concrete railroad crossings and other products, said his bank summarily canceled his line of credit despite his company's excellent credit record. Bank officials told him it was nothing personal, he said; they told him their hand was forced by pressure from federal bank examiners.
"From my perspective, it makes no sense to cancel credit for companies that are doing well," Heck agreed.
Crowley, the wind developer, said what he needs most is "stability in the federal programs that drive renewable energy."
"The reason we can't get the (wind turbine) blade industry to invest in the U.S. is that we've had two years of boom and bust," Crowley said. Without renewal of a popular tax credit, he said, "the industry could come to a halt at the end of this year."