Sixth Congressional District candidates Bill Driscoll and Derek Kilmer drew a packed house for an early morning debate at the Sunland Golf and Country Club on Friday, Aug. 24.
After listening to the two agree on a number of topics, including the economy (both say it’s the biggest issue in the election), abortion rights (both want abortions safe, legal and rare), inefficiency in military spending (both say there’s lots of it) and signing anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s no new taxes pledge (both said no), Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict got the ball rolling, asking each to name a topic on which they disagreed.
Driscoll and Kilmer found plenty of room for disagreement.
Regarding national energy policy, Driscoll, a Republican, called the current “increased access to natural gas is a huge boon. We should be expanding energy sources in this country.”
He added, “I’m a cynic about solar. My company tried it. Even with 70 percent subsidies it was barely economic.”
Kilmer, a Democrat, said he wants to see diversified energy sources, “Partly because it’s a national security issue.”
The two also disagreed on tax cuts, with Kilmer emphatically stating that the “Bush tax cuts” on the wealthy need to be ended. “We need to get rid of unproductive tax breaks, including tax cuts for the wealthiest,” he said. “Tax breaks for people making over a million dollars is a wrong plan.”
“I would extend the Bush tax cuts for middle class and small business,” Kilmer added.
Kilmer also said the most important means for reducing the deficit lies in “putting people back to work.”
Kilmer, vice president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County said, “That’s what I do for a living.”
Driscoll agreed, saying he believes creating jobs is a large part of the effort. Regarding tax cuts and new taxes, he said, “Everything is on the table.”
Driscoll said that despite the deficits the U.S. is running, cutting expenses will be difficult. “That’s because there are too many in politics as a career,” he said.
Electing to office those “who understand the severity of the deficit” is the most important issue in the current election, Driscoll said.
The two agreed Medicare and Medicaid require extensive reform, but differed in their opinion on vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan.
“We shouldn’t be cutting anything in Medicare,” Driscoll said, noting further cuts will make economic conditions for Olympic Medical Center, which receives a disproportionate amount of its funding from Medicare, even more difficult.
He added that “Ryan’s plan is a place to start a discussion to ensure the program is sustainable.”
Kilmer said, “It’s easy for those in Washington (D.C.) to talk. I don’t support vouchers, don’t support Ryan’s plan. That may cost seniors another $6,000 a year.”
The two also disagreed on the Wild Olympics legislation recently filed by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Kilmer said he's keeping an close eye on the bill.
"I do think the proposal in its current iteration is fundamentally different from the one that was initially rolled out. I think Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray have tried to address some of the concerns around private property and around impacts on our working forests."
"I think it’s moving in the right direction. That said, I also think there needs to be a conversation – you heard Congressman Dicks say this recently – around the recent harvest levels in our federal forest to make sure that we have adequate supply for our mills and that we continue to protect jobs in our natural resource-based economy. I hope as our congressman to be able to shape the proposal in that way."
Driscoll said he continues to oppose the bill. Driscoll, who comes from a timber family and has worked in forest products for more than 20 years, said, “The industry has been cut by 94 percent since 1998. This would bring it up to 95 percent.”
“I won’t support even a 1-percent loss.”
“Clallam County has 10-percent unemployment,” he said. “We don’t have an environmental crisis, we have a jobs crisis.”
Discussing the role of private enterprise in the U.S., Driscoll restated his objections to over-regulation.
The two have disparate backgrounds.
Driscoll, a former Marine, is running for the first time for public office. He’s been a businessman for 20 years, an experience he said has provided him with valuable experience. “We had to fight to survive, to keep jobs.”
Like Kilmer, Driscoll believes he can work across the aisle, earning a laugh from the audience by noting that his wife, Lisa, “is a lifelong Democrat.”
Kilmer grew up in Clallam County, where he says he learned his ethics and and learned important lessons about economic growth. He said times were tough in Port Angeles. “Too many in Congress don’t know how the middle class is struggling,” he said. That’s why “we need to get people back to work.”
“Most people don’t want more right or more left. They just don’t want backwards,” he said.
Kilmer currently serves as a Washington state senator, where he is vice chairman on the Ways & Means Committee, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, and a member of the Economic Development, Trade, and Management Committee and the Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee.