The candidates vying to replace Rep. Doc Hastings in Congress took the stage in a double header of forums Thursday in the Tri-Cities.
Ten of the candidates gathered at the Herald offices before heading over to Pasco, where all were in attendance for a League of Women Voters of Benton and Franklin Counties event attended by 300 people at Columbia Basin College.
Hanford cleanup was a major topic at the Herald forum.
The federal government left behind a legacy at Hanford that needs to be cleaned up, said Republican Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, a former state agriculture director and legislator. He plans to work with the delegation of other Northwest legislators and continue the work of the Congressional Nuclear Cleanup Caucus, which Hastings founded.
"There's strength in numbers to be able to convince others in Congress to continue the commitment at the Hanford reservation," Newhouse said. "We also need transparency and efficiency to make sure we have a plan that gets the job done as quickly as possible."
Democrat Estakio Beltran of Yakima touted his experience as a former aide for Sen. Maria Cantwell as a tool he can use in convincing other members of Congress of the importance of funding Hanford cleanup. He wants to make sure the agreed milestones in the 1989 Tri-Party Agreement are met.
"I will remind Congress of what's at stake," Beltran said. "Because contamination of our water supply and our earth would really be detrimental to the economic property of Washington state. Nobody is going to want to purchase glow-in-the-dark apples. ... That means that the entire economic activity of Washington State could be in peril."
Independent Josh Ramirez of Pasco, a project control specialist with Washington River Protection Solutions, promoted his experience at Hanford as an attribute that would help him if elected to replace Hastings, who is retiring after 20 years in Congress. Ramirez wants to lock Hanford funding in to either five- or 10-year periods, instead of the current system, where Congress can pull funding, which pushes back milestones.
"So that we can have time to become efficient, so that we can get the wheel rolling, instead of constantly in a ramp-down, ramp-up process, which also affects the economy," Ramirez said. "Our employees out there get laid off, they get rehired. They have to re-go through training every time, and it's two-three month periods."
Gavin Seim, an Ephrata portraitist, agreed with the need to clean up Hanford. But he opposed the idea of including the historic B Reactor in the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, saying such programs should be run by the state, if at all.
"We don't need Congress creating more laws and spending more money," said Seim, a Republican.
Republican Kevin Midbust of Richland, a supervisor at Rite Aid, brought nearly every answer back to the need to eliminate the Federal Reserve. He even said it would fix any problems with Hanford cleanup.
"Getting rid of the Federal Reserve will return that value back (to money), and we'll have more money to spend on Hanford," he said. "We can complete it in maybe a year."
Yakima businessman Tony Sandoval said that, along with helping bring funding for Hanford, he would focus on agriculture immigration reform and creating jobs.
"It may sound weird for a Democrat, but there's too much regulation," Sandoval said. "It seems like I'm doing more paperwork than attending to my business."
Republican Gordon Allen Pross, who farms outside Ellensburg, said the national debt is actually $218 trillion. The eight-time candidate wants to go to Washington, D.C., to take on tyranny.
"I need to get that ball rolling up there because we haven't had any leadership up there for 100 years," Pross said.
At the League of Women Voters forum, State Sen. Janea Holmquist compared federal transportation funding to the situation she has dealt with in the legislature. She has opposed a gas tax increase, instead favoring finding ways to make the state Department of Transportation more efficient.
"Before I would ask for another dime from my bosses, the taxpayers, we've got to believe that your money is being spent as efficiently as possible," she said. "You're getting the most bang for your buck."
The audience laughed when Eltopia farmer and former pro football tight end Clint Didier, who recently made headlines by having a drawing for three guns, randomly drew a question about gun background checks. He said anyone but convicted felons should be allowed to buy guns, and later took on Common Core standards in education.
"Common Core is a direct result of our involvement with the United Nations," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, I want the United States out of the UN and the UN out of the United States ... You look at our founding fathers they were much more educated than we are today. We are losing ground because government is involved."
Like Didier, Kennewick physical therapist and business owner Richard Wright declined the invitation to the Herald forum. He told the Pasco audience that he opposes the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, saying people shouldn't be subsidizing companies like Moda Health, which spent millions to buy naming rights for the Portland Trailblazers arena.
"I do not feel people should be forced to buy insurance from companies whose CEOs make $14 million like the CEO of United Healthcare," said Wright, an independent.
Kennewick attorney George Cicotte discussed his plan to save Social Security. The Republican said he would favor no change in the retirement age for people now 47 and older, but he wants a sliding scale that would require people born today to work until they are 75 to collect Social Security.
"It's logical," Cicotte said. "We're all living longer."
When asked whether the United States needs to focus more on alternative energy sources, Republican Glen R. Stockwell, a Ritzville businessman, said the country should look beyond wind and solar to hydrogen and salt water energy. He said people in other parts of the world have worked to keep such energy sources down.
"When Al Gore was over in Europe at the last meeting, he was told, 'If you open your mouth we'll put you in jail,' " Stockwell said. "He kept his mouth shut."
The 12 candidates at the League of Women Voters event didn't appear on stage together. Instead they took questions submitted by the group's members, as well as CBC students and staff, in groups of four candidates at a time.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom