Editor’s note: Staff writer Brad Shannon talked with the six candidates for Washington’s new 10th Congressional District about their campaigns for the seat created by post-census redistricting. The race offers what is, for much of the district, the first wide-open congressional election in 20 years. The first of his interviews, with Republican Dick Muri, appeared Monday. Here is the second.
With titles like doctor and U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general already on his résumé, Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming wants to add another: congressman.
He lists five issues he wants to address if elected the first U.S. House member from Washington’s new 10th Congressional District, but he puts one first.
“It begins No. 1 with jobs – jobs for our youth, the younger generation, and jobs for the older generation,” Flemming said last week at his campaign headquarters, located in a Lakewood office complex. “For me, to address the debt of our nation, it begins with getting people back to work.”
The Republican is one of six people running in 10th District, which runs from Shelton to Thurston County and north to University Place and east to Puyallup.
Flemming’s emphasis on jobs does not set him apart in the race, and neither does his belief that the education system needs investment to retool it – to provide skills relevant to the work force. Democrat Denny Heck of Olympia, among others, takes that view.
But Flemming does have his own solution: some kind of tariff, tax or fee on imported goods that could be reinvested in universities and training schools to deliver graduates ready to work in the fields where the U.S. has jobs.
“Why not charge a small percentage – 0.2 percent or 0.5 percent – on goods that could have been produced in this country, and use it for training and education?” he asked.
Flemming touts his background as the broadest and best for the job. He is a physician by profession and has a background in education, having worked as president of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, as well as a trustee and board chairman for The Evergreen State College.
A former University Place City Council member, he says he also was co-founder and director of Pierce County’s community medical clinics, leaving that role more than a decade ago.
For a man who has held so many titles, Flemming can be surprisingly soft spoken. He is quick to smile, genial and expansive in response to questions.
He also is quite quick to distance himself from his two-year stint as a state House member, saying he didn’t know the difference between Republicans and Democrats when he first ran and that Democrats were more welcoming to him. He said he later learned more, became disillusioned by the budget-writing process, and went back to his conservative family’s Republican roots.
The candidate would not give names, but says he was approached last year by U.S. House leaders about running.
With the retirement of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks – a Bremerton Democrat who has helped pump money into the state’s military bases – Flemming said there is a huge void that can either be filled by another Northwest lawmaker earning seniority over time or with the instant credibility he believes he’ll have.
“When elected I will automatically be the most senior ranking military member with Congress. That will put me at the table with discussions about how we maintain the installations in our district and state,” Flemming said.
He said his chief GOP rival – fellow Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri – lacks strategic and tactical background.
“Dick’s experience has been as a navigator, on a C141 airlift,” Flemming said. “Dick has never been a commander. He’s been a deputy.”
Flemming grew up in a family of missionary doctors, first living in Steilacoom. He and his wife, Martha, have three adult children.
The candidate on other issues:
NATIONAL DEBT: “The first step is stop the hemorrhaging,” Flemming said, suggesting a “look at what we fund in entitlements and peeling that back.”
Asked about the Bush-era tax cuts, Flemming said: “I think it’s time for them to expire.” Asked if that meant all of them, he said: “No.”
But Flemming went on to say there is a discrepancy between wage earners and those taxed at lower rates for capital gains. “Those who are doing financially extremely well will need to do their share,’’ he said.
Improving the economy is a big part of his cure for budget deficits. Flemming said a national strategy is needed and that the lack of such plans locally caused him to push for a Pierce County economic recovery plan, which he said got underway seven months ago.
His goal: to foster creation of new small businesses and help existing ones; to slow rates of home foreclosures; to help people feel better about themselves. The first piece launched a few weeks ago to help small businesses, and the others will come later.
HEALTH CARE: Flemming said he is “committed to repealing” the national Democrats’ health-insurance reform bill, if the Supreme Court does not strike it down. He contended it is costing more than predicted.
Flemming offered no clear solution for replacing the Affordable Care Act. He said there are many other worthy models, among them are community clinics and membership clinics. A key he said is to find ways to get more doctors into residencies that prepare them for the additional patients that need care in the U.S.
He also said: “We need to come up with a way for our working poor to access a health care system that is affordable.”
One problem he wants to address is the cost of care. He said the U.S. has one of the two most expensive health systems in the world but health outcomes are not even in the top 30. He also wants to see the medical system paying doctors to take time with patients.
SOCIAL ISSUES: Flemming said same-sex marriage and abortion rights “are up to the people to decide.” But he opposes abortion on demand and asserted that his lack of experience in abortions ended his interviews as one of two finalists for surgeon general under President Bill Clinton in 1995.
“I am pro-life. But as a physician, I will qualify that. As a physician, you know there are exceptional cases,” he said. If to save a mother’s life, he had to sacrifice the fetus, he would do that. As for allowing abortion for victims of rape and incest, he said: “That’s a tougher one. I don’t believe in exceptions for that.”
Flemming said he would probably vote against same-sex marriage if the question goes as expected to the November ballot. He argued that gay couples already have “civil unions.”
CLIMATE CHANGE: Like Muri, Flemming sees no immediate need for U.S. action. He said the “jury is out” on whether human activity is making the Earth warmer, and he asserted that the U.S. has “been very responsible in terms of how we respond to that.”