Heck, McDonald find ways to politely disagree on most major issues

On a night when the Seattle Seahawks were defeating the Washington Redskins football team on the East Coast, 10th Congressional District candidates Denny Heck and Joyce McDonald staked out opposing views on an array of issues during a forum in Olympia. Their differences included whether the Redskins should face congressional censure if team owners do not change the name.

“No,” said McDonald, the Republican challenger from Puyallup, adding that she believes “public pressure should do the job” in persuading the ownership. She said the public should inform the team and let the market work out the solution.

Heck, the first-term Democratic incumbent in the 10th, said Congress should act. “No one has a right to engage in a racial slur ...” Heck explained. “It’s deeply deeply offensive to the first people of our nation.”

About 115 people attended the forum at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Thurston County and Nisqually Indian Tribe in a first-time collaboration, and it was moderated by Nisqually tribal chairwoman Cynthia Iyall . Thurston Community Television taped the nearly 75-minute event for airing later.

As they have all along in their campaigns, the rival candidates continued to disagree politely on many major issues – from economic policy to immigration reform. But they both agreed on the need to make the medical care of military veterans a priority.

Heck said in response to a question about the disparity between rich and poor that this issue also should be a priority for policy makers. He said he’s a co-sponsor of a U.S. House measure to boost the national minimum wage above its current level of $7.25, which he called a “poverty” wage, but he didn’t mention what he thinks is a fair wage floor.

McDonald said the best help for those at the economic bottom is a job, but she did not mention her past support of a higher national minimum wage tied to inflation, which Washington state’s wage has been tied to since the late 1990s. The challenger said that as a former restaurant operator she and her family created 16 jobs and that as a member of Congress she would do all she could “to make sure the regulatory burden is not too onerous” for small business operators that can similarly add jobs.

On immigration, Heck said he favored a path to citizenship that could include paying fines for those immigrants in the U.S. illegally, while McDonald opposed such a pathway and urged action to speed immigration processing for legal immigrants.

Heck also called for infrastructure investments that could speed the pace of economic growth while McDonald – on a specific question about funding for national parks – said she could not make that a priority because she wants to see Congress put the country on a 10-year plan to reduce national debt.

The candidates agreed on the need to find new funds for the federal highway trust fund that could help complete State Route 167, which needs a major final phase of construction to finish the leg between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma. Heck said SR 167’s missing spur – when completed – could add 79,000 permanent jobs in Washington.

McDonald also expressed support for the cross-base highway, a long-stalled project that could provide a shortcut between Interstate 5 and communities east of Joint Base Lewis McChord. Heck said that project isn’t a priority for him compared to completing SR 167 and relieving I-5 congestion at JBLM.

The two candidates also agreed there is too much money in politics – with Heck attacking the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen United case that opened the door to new floods of independent expenditures by hard-to-track interests. He said he supports a constitutional amendment overturning Citizen United, a bill requiring better donor disclosures, and also finding a way for some public financing of elections.

McDonald touched gently on the financial disparity in the 10th district race – where Heck has raised $1.38 million, half of it from political committees, compared to $36,225 she has raised. “I don’t think the American people should ever feel someone is buying an election. The reality is special interests play too big a part in elections,” McDonald said, noting the power of incumbency that lets members return to office election after election even well into their 80s.

McDonald added that political campaigns should not be publicly financed with tax dollars but said, “I do think there should be more limits placed on who can contribute and what (amounts).’’

Both candidates have a history of public service. Heck, a politician-turned-entrepreneur, is a former state House majority leader who served a decade in that chamber before becoming chief of staff to a governor. McDonald, a second-term member of the Pierce County Council, is a naturalized citizen from Scotland who also served five terms in the Washington state Legislature and served as a foster parent.

The 10th District includes Olympia and most of Thurston County, and it extends northwest to Shelton in Mason County and northeast to Puyallup and University Place in Pierce County. The voters lean Democratic, and Heck won the four-way primary by a comfortable margin, getting nearly 51.6 percent of the vote or 10 percent more than McDonald.

In recent weeks, Heck has started using his huge financial edge to run television ads – the first one talked about his commitment to South Sound. The second is about his work to help military veterans, who are a visible presence in the district. The latter ad launched last week and included veterans such as former Olympia mayor Mark Foutch talking about his efforts.

Among his actions, Heck joined other lawmakers in Congress voting in favor of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 that was aimed at reducing backlogs at Veterans Administration hospitals including locally. Both candidates have deplored the long waits for care that veterans have faced across the country.