Clint Didier made a 180-degree turn from his call for cuts in Hanford funding at a Wednesday candidate forum in Kennewick.
Didier, who is running to replace Rep. Doc Hastings, admitted he was "regressing" from a statement he made at a July forum, where he questioned why more than $2 billion in federal funding was needed annually for Hanford cleanup.
"All we've done is touched the low-hanging fruit," he told the audience of more than 300 at the Three Rivers Convention Center. "We have to have accountability out there. We need cleanup to happen, this is our backyard. We, the people of the Columbia Basin, need to be demanding that our funds are being used."
Didier and his opponent, Dan Newhouse, appeared in their first forum together since the August primary. The event, intended to focus on economic issues, was sponsored by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Newhouse reiterated his support for continued Hanford funding. The budget is big, but the site has big problems, he said.
He promised to make the case to officials in Washington, D.C., of the need for funding, if elected.
"The federal government made the mess, I believe the federal government needs to clean it up," Newhouse said. "I will not be advocating cuts to the cleanup at Hanford, but that doesn't mean we can't do things as efficiently as possible."
Moderator Christine Brown, KNDU general manager, asked the candidates which committees they would like to serve on if elected. Newhouse said he favors the agriculture or armed services committees. Didier would like natural resources or a committee that deals with Hanford, but said he would not get a good assignment if Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner isn't ousted.
Didier saved some of his harshest criticism for Boehner, who has served as speaker since 2011.
"He has the tools in his war chest to rein this government under control and he will not do it," Didier said.
"He's already stated that if we're not on his side, I'll probably get my office in the outhouse," he added.
Asked about climate change, Newhouse said farmers are the original conservationists.
He struggled with the state Department of Ecology and the federal Environmental Protection Agency while leading the state Department of Agriculture under Gov. Chris Gregoire, he said.
He helped bring "common sense" to their rule-making, but doesn't want the United States to ignore air quality standards, he said, using China's pervasive air pollution as an example.
"I don't think having a good environment and a robust economy are mutually exclusive," Newhouse said.
Didier called legislation seeking to improve environmental standards a threat to the economy and questioned whether global warming even exists.
He remembers a day when it reached 121 degrees in the Columbia Basin when he was a child, but there was only one day over 100 degrees last year, and no such days the year before that, he said.
"The science is not there," Didier said. "I believe this is a hoax to gain more control of the American people -- to gain more control for more taxation. That's why it's a viable threat to our economy."
Didier also opposes shipping coal to China and would prefer that it be used domestically. He wants to work on releasing federal lands in the West back to the states so that the free market system can determine what to do with them.
"We need energy here, we need to be energy independent so that we're not relying on that oil from the Middle East," he said.
In his opening statement, Newhouse brought up his endorsement Tuesday from the National Rifle Association, which both candidates had been seeking. It was the only time the gun issue came up during the hour-long forum.
NRA Chairman Chris Cox cited Newhouse's "A" rating as a state legislator between 2003-09 in making the endorsement. The rating is reserved for "solidly pro-gun" legislators who support the NRA's position on key votes.
Didier drew national attention earlier this year for holding giveaways for two pistols and a military-style rifle. Didier told the Herald in June that he met with NRA officials on a trip to Washington, D.C.
Didier would work to secure the border using the military, instead of stationing American troops on foreign soil, he said.
"In 2005, we had the military on the border, and nothing crossed the border, no drugs, no people, nothing," he said. "It was only until the Federales decided to get the nerve up to charge one of our positions that they discovered our military personnel weren't even armed and they had to retreat. We need a military presence on the border."
He also blamed a flu pandemic in the Midwest on immigrants from South America.
Newhouse will work on securing the borders, while also improving the country's guest worker program, he said.
"It's not rocket science, other countries in the world have figured this out," he said. "We can too."
Didier also blasted same-sex marriage, saying he supports the "sanctity of marriage."
"I do not believe that any minority group should have the presumption to change 4,500 years of social and moral code," he said.
Didier emphasized that the United States is a republic protected by the Constitution, not a democracy, saying that in a democracy "20 elected officials can sit in a room and take everything you own."
He also said the United States should get out of the United Nations.
"They are influencing us very heavily at this point in time, as you saw yesterday -- Barack Obama's appearance before the UN," he said.
Working with others
Newhouse used his closing statement to talk about how he was able to work across the aisle when he was in the legislature from 2003-09. He said part of the job is working with people he disagrees with or doesn't care for.
"I'm not going to go in front of radio talk show hosts, pound on the table and spout the things that I believe in," he said. "I'm going to work with people to find solutions to so many critical issues we face as a nation."
Didier accused unnamed West Side politicians of working to keep him from getting elected, because they don't want change.
"A vote for me is a vote for change," he said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom