By Kathie Durbin
Democrat Denny Heck came out swinging at Rep. Jaime Herrera, his Republican opponent in the 3rd Congressional District contest, during a face-to-face debate here Wednesday evening that drew an enthusiastic audience of 500 to Lower Columbia College.
The audience leaned decidedly in Heck's favor, cheering his digs at Herrera and calling out "answer the question" when she appeared less than responsive to questions posed by a three-member panel .
The 75-minute debate at the college's Wollenberg Auditorium, sponsored by the Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce, was the second of two joint events the candidates attended Wednesday. The two earlier took part in a forum in Lacey sponsored by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.
No face-to-face debate between the candidates will occur in Clark County, the 3rd District's most populous county, although KGW will host both on its "Straight Talk" program, which will be broadcast Saturday.
At the Longview event, Heck wasted no time attacking Herrera. Answering a question about how as a member of Congress he would create jobs in Cowlitz County, he said he would work to get credit flowing to small businesses, strengthen tourism at Mount St. Helens, boost development of the Port of Kalama, and "make sure Wall Street can never again game the system and bring this economy to its knees."
Heck said he did not understand how Herrera could have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, sponsored by the organization Americans for Tax Reform, because it includes a provision that he said would continue tax breaks for multinational companies that "tear down their plants, put them on ships and send jobs overseas."
The pledge commits signers to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and businesses" as well as "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by futher reducing tax rates."
Herrera has repeatedly denied that she favors outsourcing jobs. But she didn't take the bait, instead sticking to her message that "overspending" by Congress is responsible for the nation's economic woes.
"It is time we rein in the federal government's addiction to spending," she said, drawing applause from supporters.
"Today, people are hurting and the American dream is at risk," Herrera said. "Unemployment isn't just a talking point. It's a friend, a relative.
What this Congress is doing is driving us to the brink. It's time to move in a new direction."
Herrera said she is the only candidate who opposes cap-and-trade legislation, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. She also opposes taking away people's right to choose their health care provider, and is prepared to vote against tax increases in Congress.
Asked what "imaginative solutions" each candidate has for ending the recession, Heck , who has launched several successful businesses, said, "We need to send people to Congress who have actually started businesses." He said he favors tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed workers, investment tax credits for companies that buy industrial machinery, and investments in green energy.
"We need desperately to move in the direction of a clean energy economy because there are jobs there," he said.
Herrera said she favors a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and extension of the Bush-era tax cuts to people in all income brackets, not government "bailouts" to businesses.
"It is time to break the federal government's stranglehold on the free enterprise system," she said.
In his rebuttal, Heck, a former state legislator, said, "If you listen closely, her answer to every problem facing the country is cut, cut, cut," he said. ""No' is not a way to create jobs."
Herrera, who has said she favors repealing the health reform law passed by Congress last year, was asked to give her own solution to the problem of millions of Americans without health insurance.
She said she does support access to quality health care, but warned that the plan passed by Congress will drive up health insurance premiums and leave some seniors without the comprehensive plans they have now.
Heck called the health reform plan "a work in progress." He said he likes the tax breaks it provides for small businesses that provide health coverage to their workers, the health care "exchanges" that will be established for people who lack employer-provided coverage, and the fact that insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
But he added, "Congress left a lot of heavy lifting on the shelf, and the heaviest lifting was cost-containment."
Sparks flew when, in response to a question about how to remove "roadblocks to job growth" in Cowlitz County, Herrera said "the very cap-and-trade policy (Heck) would support would cost us our local jobs."
"I have never said I would support cap-and-trade legislation," Heck declared. "You keep saying it. Please stop."
Herrera said later she would stop bringing up the subject when Heck promises not to support such legislation.
Heck also drew loud applause when he called on Herrera to say what exactly she would cut from federal programs to slow government spending, whether Pell grants for college students, rail improvements or a new sediment retention structure on the Toutle River.
"You haven't advocated for any specific budget cuts yet," he said.
Herrera said only that she favors "a balanced, prioritized government" that eliminates "overspending."