Denny Heck and Dick Muri, rival candidates for Congress in Washington’s new 10th district, painted dramatically different visions for the country in their first televised debate Thursday evening in Olympia.
Heck, an Olympia Democrat and political insider-turned-entrepreneur, laid out his opposition to the U.S. House Republicans’ budget, tax and health-reform agendas. Muri, an Air Force veteran and Pierce County councilman from Steilacoom, argued for less federal spending, capping tax rates where they are and starting over on health reform.
Their sharpest differences might have come on taxes and budget deficits.
Muri has signed a pledge not to raise income tax rates and said the Bush-era rates have been in effect for 11 years and should become permanent. He contended that businesses are “sitting on their heels not investing” or hiring because of uncertainty over taxes.
“We need more certainty,” he said.
In a reference to the pledge, Heck said he won’t “outsource my conscience” as a congressman in that way. He called for a mixture of budget cuts, investments in clean energy that help “grow” the economy, closure of tax loopholes and an end to Bush-era tax breaks for households earning more than $250,000 a year.
Heck said people doing well in this economy, such as himself, can pay a little more, and he called the mounting federal debt a threat to the economy and security.
About 140 people turned up for the event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Thurston County and The Olympian and held at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia. League president Allyson Brooks moderated, and newspaper publisher George LeMasurier introduced the candidates.
The debate was cordial from start to finish, and it showcased the candidates’ differences on a range of issues including abortion rights, coal exports, legalizing marijuana, allowing same-sex marriage, immigration reform and campaign financing.
Abortion: Heck said he trusts women to consult with their doctors and their faiths to make a decision on abortion, but Muri said the only real choice for a pregnant woman is whether to keep the baby or give it up for adoption.
Medical marijuana: Heck said he would vote in Congress to legalize medical marijuana, which is allowed under a voter-approved citizen initiative that is in conflict with federal law. He did not address full legalization.
Muri said he will vote for Initiative 502, to allow the sale and taxation of marijuana. He said the federal government should “butt out” and let states experiment; if the law doesn’t work, he said, the Legislature can bring back prohibition.
Coal: Neither candidate committed to a firm position, saying only that they want to see coal exports studied carefully.
Campaign finance: Muri said he favors transparency but opposes most limits on giving. He said freedom of speech underpins basic liberty, and he expressed support for protecting corporate speech, too.
Campaign finance: Heck said corporations are not “persons” and that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen United, money can be given to SuperPACs that is never disclosed.
Heck said that if elected, he’ll look forward to voting for the DISCLOSE Act to address that.
Heck is considered a favorite in a Democratic-leaning district that ranges from Shelton to Olympia and north to Puyallup and University Place, and he has used his huge financial edge to line up more than $675,000 worth of television ads that have begun airing on Seattle-area stations. His ad message: he’s against the Republican-controlled U.S. House and wants to end the budget stalemate.
Muri, whose low-budget effort will buy him one mailer at best, has campaigned hard on his credentials as a 22-year Air Force officer who understands the needs of veterans living around Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the district’s midsection. Muri also points to his recent public service and work to pass unanimous Pierce County budgets, and he noted that the county’s bond ratings have improved.