Democrats may be a political minority in the Tri-Cities, but the 70 or so who gathered Thursday in Pasco for a whistle-stop with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., showed vocal enthusiasm for their slate of candidates in this year's election.
"I think we're getting pumped," Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, and one of the Tri-Cities' only elected Democrats these days, told the cheering audience at the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 598 union hall.
"We're not just here for Maria today -- we're going to elect Democrats all the way from Barack Obama to the county level," Miller said.
Cantwell's Pasco visit was part of a 26-stop "Jobs for Washington Tour" that started Wednesday night in Yakima.
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The two-term senator is seeking re-election Nov. 6, and is opposed by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican about halfway through his first term in the state Legislature.
In front of the audience Thursday, Cantwell emphasized her track record in Congress of supporting programs for workers and small businesses, including a program that compensates ill Hanford workers who became sick because of their jobs, and legislation to boost lending to small businesses in an effort to get the economy moving again after the lengthy recession that started in late 2008.
Cantwell said the conversation in this year's election should be focused on "jobs, jobs, jobs."
"For me, it's pretty basic," she said.
She said her priorities in Congress will be to continue work to make money available for small businesses that want to hire, to support education and training programs for workers including paid apprenticeships, and to promote growth of the aviation and energy industries in Washington.
In particular, Cantwell said she supports the creation of an energy park at Hanford and a Center for Excellence for aviation biofuels at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
"There is a bright future in the Tri-Cities," she said. "I've fought for important issues in the Tri-Cities and will fight for the Tri-Cities' future."
But the election also is about pressing national issues, such as balancing the budget, protecting senior citizens, and getting people back to work, she said.
"People have gotten off-track," Cantwell said. "They think if we balance the budget on the backs of seniors we'll be OK. ... I'm not going to let them do that by privatizing Social Security and having vouchers for Medicare."
While the federal government's financial situation needs to be addressed, the nation also needs to look toward and plan for its future, she said.
She told the Herald in an interview after her speech that part of doing that is to send people to Washington, D.C., who will work across the aisle instead of sticking to party lines.
She said she hopes the members of the next Congress will work together to prioritize legislation that helps the economy and boosts job creation.
"We don't need any more people who will stand there and shut things down," she said.
While Cantwell talked bipartisanship, Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democrats, lambasted Republicans for policies he said will destroy the middle class -- particularly the budget written by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Pelz said that budget, which was passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives but not the Democrat-controlled Senate, amounts to an attack on the middle class because of the way it handles programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
And that's bad for Central Washington, he said.
"They say the rich aren't rich enough and the middle class are too wealthy," Pelz told the audience. "I think you know the rich people don't necessarily live in Central Washington."
He encouraged people in the audience not only to vote, but also to get their friends to vote -- preferably for Cantwell, Obama and other Democrats running for office.
"Thanks for being here today, and thanks for being Democrats," Pelz said.
-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org