Congressional candidates debate trade and economy

By Elizabeth Ballinger

Washington congressional candidates explained their stands on trade, economic and foreign policy to students and community members during the BCC-hosted Oct. 16 town hall discussion “Can We Fix U.S Trade Policy?”

Darcy Burner (D), of the 8th district, Larry Ishmael (R), of the 1st district, and James Postma (R) of the 9th district, along with Kathleen Ridihalgh of the Sierra Club, David Henry of the Washington Machinist Union, and Gaylan Prescott of the United Steel Workers(USW), sat before the audience and presented their positions in five-minute sessions. The discussion then opened to the audience, whose time-capped questions were answered by the panel.

Darcy Burner was the first to speak following introductions from the sponsoring Washington Fair Trade Coalition’s moderator, Stephanie Celt. Burner, who is running for her second time against incumbent Dave Reichert, said she supported creating a “level playing field” for American businesses and workers in the global economy. Supporting “bootstrap” policies to aid new technologies, such as investing in sustainable energy, Burner said tax credits for companies using new and ecologically sound technology in place of tax breaks for large businesses will create new job opportunities and open new markets.

To fix the economy, she said, pay-as-you-go practices like those of the Clinton administration would create an economic surplus.

Larry Ishmael, a former businessman and president of the Issaquah School Board, focused on his experience with foreign economies, and said he supported a more efficient partnership with Latin America and Canada in Trade. Ishmael proposed Independence from foreign oil, a topic addressed by all three candidates with similar consensus, as most viable through use of atomic power.

Advocating a return to the “days of controlled spending,” Ishmael said fiscal responsibility could best be achieved by reducing deficit spending.

James Postma advocated large tax cuts similar to the Reagan years to raise the value of the U.S dollar. The treasury should take control of the financial system from the Federal Reserve System, Postma said, to create a stable currency.

Community leader David Henry discussed the need for trade without exploiting the ecology of other countries. “Outsourcing goes off shore, then they come and take our businesses,” Henry said. “It’s a race to the bottom.”

Kathleen Ridihlagh showed the audience a graph of growing mahogany forest exports of illegal wood. “Environmental protection, worker protection, these are not luxuries,” said Ridihalgh. She said free trade is currently not conducive to inquiring into the source of consumer purchases.

Gaylan Prescott said that despite the increased expense of keeping jobs and manufacturing local, these allow product safety to be ensured to prevent such things as fillers from getting into milk, lead from getting into toys, and anti-freeze from getting into cough syrup.

Manufacturing and product standard regulation was the topic of the next question. Burner showed the audience a Fisher Price catalog, and explained that after participation in product safety testing, she learned there were toxic levels of lead in her son’s toys. The percentage of actual testing being done, she found, was low. “This is unacceptable,” she said.

“If you buy airplanes from Boeing,” said Ishmael in his response, “it’s mandated that it contains a certain amount of content from other countries.” Regulations of equal trade policies, Ishmael said, create more problems than economic benefits.

In response to a question about energy efficiency, Postma said that during a trip to Alaska, he discovered that drilling oil, which is time-consuming and messy, would be better done by the United States than be exported to overseas locations, which would create more pollution.

When the discussion turned to audience suggestions for economic and trade improvement, Celt commented, “I’m taking off my moderator hat and putting on the WFTA one.” Suggesting that letters of ideas, views, and concerns be sent to congressmen, Celt asked that the audience rally behind the WFTA supported 2008 TRADE Act to review existing trade agreements and renegotiate them.

On the issue of international trade contacts, all three candidates agreed that renegotiating NAFTA to root out written-in limitations would be necessary to allow many of their proposed policies to be implemented within legal bounds.