U.S. Rep. Norm Dickss shadow loomed over a debate Friday between the two men trying to succeed him.
Many of the questions asked of Bill Driscoll and Derek Kilmer at Peninsula High School centered around defense, military bases and securing federal spending for Washington projects, areas Dicks has focused on in his 36 years in Congress.
Dicks has endorsed fellow Democrat Kilmer, a state senator from Gig Harbor, and features prominently in his advertising. Driscoll, a Tacoma Republican who works at a real estate investment firm after a career in the timber industry, complained Dicks is trying to anoint his successor in the 6th District. Kilmer said Dicks isnt to blame for dysfunction in Congress caused by feuding partisans.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Bremerton and Bangor naval facilities are local economic engines, but while Kilmer emphasized those benefits, Driscoll said military spending decisions must be based on national security and the needs of the troops, not on jobs.
I get concerned when the focus on defense spending is jobs, said Driscoll, who renewed his military service in his 40s to serve combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It cant be jobs. It has to be, are we spending these dollars most effectively to keep our young men and young women safe.
Both candidates, though, agreed that local bases fit with U.S. security interests that are shifting toward Asia and the Pacific Ocean so protecting the bases isnt pork, they said.
The presence both of JBLM and the naval presence in Kitsap County is valuable both from a jobs standpoint and from a national security interest, said Kilmer, who works for Pierce Countys nonprofit economic-development agency.
Both candidates said a military exit from Afghanistan is appropriate, with Driscoll questioning the ability to train Afghan military and police in light of recent insider attacks on Western troops.
Neither had a specific prescription for how to improve federal help for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, but both said the military has been working on it. Kilmer said hes glad the Pentagon has re-evaluated its approach to PTSD diagnoses in response to worries that budget constraints were playing an inappropriate role.
Driscoll said the biggest threat to national security is the federal deficit. Kilmer, too, called for getting debt under control, noting he helped lead bipartisan negotiations in the Legislature that produced a proposal for the ballot this year to slow the growth of state debt.
Both called for a balance between taxes and spending cuts as a solution to the deficit. Kilmer said the Bush tax cuts should expire for the highest earners, while Driscoll said he would extend the tax cuts to avoid derailing the economic recovery.
But while Kilmer has attacked the wealthy Driscoll in the past over tax cuts for the rich, Driscoll didnt exactly sound like a typical Republican when he called for coupling cuts with new tax revenue. Driscoll said, I will absolutely raise taxes on millionaires and I will absolutely raise taxes on everybody, as long as its tied to specific spending cuts.
Kilmer said he would oppose extending tax cuts to millionaires. For others, he said, I dont think middle-class families and small businesses can afford to see their taxes go up.
The two have areas of agreement, including support for abortion rights.
But they differed on President Barack Obamas health care overhaul. Kilmer mostly praised it for forcing insurers to cover preventive care and people with pre-existing medical conditions. Driscoll mostly criticized it, saying its cuts to Medicare reimbursements would hurt rural medical providers and its penalties for larger businesses that dont provide insurance would be an incentive not to hire more workers.
Driscoll has lived in Asia and said when it comes to infrastructure, he would focus on spending that helps international trade and the economy, shifting dollars away from people-moving and what I would argue are more social-spending projects, he said.
Kilmer, a lead writer of the Legislatures capital-construction budgets, said he would try to serve on a committee with responsibility for transportation and infrastructure, where he would pursue federal help for Interstate 5 congestion near Lewis-McChord.
Asked if he would seek federal money for the Tacoma Narrows bridge to provide toll relief, Kilmer said yes. The state senator highlighted his work this year to pass a law deferring sales tax payments on the bridge, which reduced the toll-rate increase needed.
Driscoll was skeptical, saying that any money Dicks couldnt grab for the bridge, with his expertise at securing federal funding, probably was out of reach for a reason.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826