Fifth District candidates Q and A
McMorris Rodgers, Cowan battle for congressional seat
The race for the congressional 5th District House of Representatives seat was whittled down from a field of four in the Aug. 7 primary to two: Republican incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Rich Cowan.
McMorris Rodgers is seeking her fifth consecutive term as representative. She is currently the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and the highest-ranking House Republican woman. She is also a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
McMorris Rodgers previously served in the Washington State House of Representatives from 1994-2005, elected House Republican Leader in 2002, and worked in the family-owned orchard for 13 years. She has an Executive MBA from the University of Washington and a bachelor of arts from Pensacola Christian College.
Cowan was CEO and president of Spokane-based North by Northwest Productions for the past 22 years, helping to build a film industry in the region. He also worked as the community affairs director at KHQ-TV as well as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Cowan’s community service includes serving on the Community Colleges of Spokane Vocational Advisory Council, the Leadership Spokane Business Trustee Leadership Award, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho board of directors and various media projects for local non-profits. He has a bachelor of arts in broadcast communications, cum laude and a masters of science in human nutrition from Washington State University.
Both you and your opponent say our region needs more jobs, but your political ideologies differ.
1. What is the government’s role in job creation? Give two specific actions you plan to take if elected to help local businesses prosper and grow.
McMorris Rodgers: The government can play a useful role in the economy in some specific areas like transportation and education, but for the most part, the best thing the government can do is get out of the way and let the free market operate. The main reason our economy has been so sluggish in recent years is because of the administration’s big government policies. I want to reverse those policies and unleash the power of free enterprise. Two specific actions we can take to create jobs is repealing the job-killing health care law of 2010 and stopping the record tax increase which is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, which has created tremendous uncertainty among our job creators. I have voted for legislation to stop the tax hikes and repeal ObamaCare.
Cowan: As a local businessman and CEO of North by Northwest for over 20 years, I understand how jobs are created and destroyed. I have lived the struggle of working with customers, government and suppliers to create a successful business.
In short, government doesn’t create jobs. People do.
Government needs to support an environment that allows small business to grow. First, we need a tax policy that works. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. We need to cut corporate taxes in half for those companies that keep jobs in the United States. We need greater access to capital for businesses to grow.
Second, we need to close all tax loopholes, especially those that favor some businesses over others.
Finally, we need an infrastructure bill and bank that will put people back to work and create the infrastructure we need to allow our entrepreneurs to build the businesses of the future.
The cost of college continues to increase as more states reduce what they spend on higher education, transferring much of the expense of obtaining a college degree to students and their families. In many cases it’s limited the option of pursuing a college degree to those families who have better means with which to pay for it, or created a situation where students from low- through middle-income families graduate with a staggering debt load.
1. What three steps do you think the federal government can take to help keep the cost of a college education affordable, especially to low- through middle-income families?
McMorris Rodgers: As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I understand the importance of higher education for opportunity and success. That’s why I’ve been proud to vote for legislation to make sure that student loans are available to those who need them. We need to continue to invest in higher education to make sure that opportunity and success are open to every American.
Cowan: I think education is the foundation of society. As a business owner, I know that long-term investments pay off, even if you have to make concessions in the short term. Education is a long-term investment and we need to keep college an option for our students. The first step would be to increase funding for Pell grants. Next, I am in favor of the Income Based Repayment Act (IBR). This allows students to make monthly payments toward their debt, based upon their current income and what they can afford. Finally, I am in support of HR 529, a bipartisan bill now in the works that would allow low and middle-income families to receive tax breaks through improved 529 plans. This would help students pay for their computers and could add an employer-matching component up to $800 a year.
Energy is always a big issue among the electorate, especially when it comes to developing new resources to meet the needs of a growing society while also protecting the environment to maintain a good quality of life.
1. Do you support increased exploration and development of domestic oil and natural gas resources on lands under federal ownership/control as the main route to solving our energy needs and why or why not?
McMorris Rodgers: Yes, we need a true “all of the above” energy strategy, which means removing government roadblocks to energy production on federal lands. The House has passed several bills to increase domestic energy production, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, reduce energy prices and bolster our national security. Unfortunately, most of them haven’t even received a vote in the Senate. That’s one of the main reasons gas prices have doubled under this Administration. I will continue to advocate for bipartisan legislation to put our people and our energy resources back to work.
Cowan: Energy independence is a matter of national security. In the long term, we need to make investments in green energy products like hydro, wind, and solar so that in the future we can address concerns about climate change that affects our district’s largest industry, agriculture. In the short term, everything should be on the table in order to keep us energy independent. I am open to all issues like the Keystone pipeline, natural gas innovation, and offshore drilling as long as we work towards a long term answer that addresses our local industry, supports our energy needs, and preserves our God-given infrastructure.
2. The federal government owns vast amounts of land, primarily across the West. Would you favor selling some of this land as a way to pay off the federal debt, and if so, which lands should be considered?
Cowan: I don’t like debt. I did not leave my company, North by Northwest Productions, as CEO to run for Congress until it was debt-free. Now, it is time for me to take those skills to Congress. We do not need to compromise our God-given infrastructure by selling off land.
We need to look at where the debt came from: two unfunded wars, tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and a Republican Congressional Budget that will add $3 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.
It is time for our nation to come together, stop the partisan bickering, roll up our shirt sleeves and go through our budget line-by-line and start cutting the programs that don’t work. With shared sacrifice from all and true bipartisan discussions that bring people together, we can tackle the debt issue that is swallowing our nation and get everyone back to work.
McMorris Rodgers: Yes, the federal government owns too much land, and the land it does own is too often mismanaged. We see that in many parts of Eastern Washington, where in some counties the government owns 70-85 percent of the land, often hurting the economy in the surrounding area. It’s time to put our people back to work, which means putting our land back to work. I’ve been proud to support legislation to sell federal land we don’t need, prevent the purchase of more land we don’t need, and improve the management of what we keep. I’ve been proud to work with local leaders like the Northwest Washington Forestry Coalition to identify and implement forest management solutions.
Fairchild Air Force Base is obviously a large factor in the greater Spokane region’s economy, but could have cuts looming from Congress’ military sequestration. Cuts are likely to affect several parts of the military and different elements of base operations.
1. Can you give us three specific operations or programs at Fairchild you would protect, should they become endangered?
Cowan: The 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the 141st Air Refueling Wing (Air National Guard) operating the KC-135s, which employ thousands in refueling, airlift, maintenance and operations support should be protected since they are vital to our national interest. I would fight for the Survival School. The Spokane area offers multiple types of terrains with seasonal weather extremes to properly train attendees in a challenging, secure, yet efficient locale. Finally, the 509th Weapons Squadron, a unit of the USAF Weapons School, needs protecting since it trains KC-135 pilots. It is the equivalent of another graduate school added to our local educational scene. As a pilot, I know the importance of quality, ongoing instruction and the impact of experienced teachers who live in our community. Locally, protecting the 36th Rescue Flight operation that serves military and civilians would also be a priority.
McMorris Rodgers: I am strongly opposed to the defense cuts in “sequestration” because it would have a “devastating” impact on our military, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That’s why I’ve voted to stop these defense cuts from taking place and replace them with strategic, commonsense spending reforms. While it’s unclear what impact “sequestration” will have on Fairchild, there is a strong possibility it could delay the KC-46A tanker program. That is why we need leadership in Congress to stop “sequestration.” I will continue to be a strong advocate for Fairchild, unlike my opponent who says members of Congress shouldn’t advocate for military bases in their district.
Another round of Base Realignment and Closure is projected for 2014, and could likely factor in encroachment. The Spokane Tribe Economic Project has regularly been stated as an encroachment concern, given its proximity to the base and a 13-floor hotel proposed on the property.
2. What are your views on the project, and how will you ensure that Fairchild isn’t negatively impacted in an upcoming round of BRAC?
Cowan: Fairchild was created when members of the Chamber of Commerce came together to buy land for the base. You can’t work in local business without understanding the special relationship Fairchild has to this area.
As a pilot, I know that Fairchild is strategically important to our national defense. Its access to Alaska’s Great Circle route is unparalleled and I believe that Fairchild will be around for generations.
The question is can we bring together local business, tribes and non-profits to work together to create a brighter future at Fairchild. The answer is yes – we can create a win-win situation for everyone by sitting down and tackling the issues before us. The success of Fairchild and the success of the Spokane Tribe are not mutually exclusive. We can have both if we can all get along and work together.
McMorris Rodgers: One of the things that make Fairchild so successful is the support it gets from our community. We see that, for instance, in how the community has pulled together to bring the new KC-46A tankers to Fairchild, and I’ve been proud to be a leader in those efforts. When it comes to the proposed hotel, the next step is for the surrounding communities and local governments to uniformly implement the joint land use study (JLUS). A uniform implementation of the JLUS will not only protect Fairchild and allow for continued economic growth in the area, it will send a clear message to the Air Force that our entire community supports the vital mission executed at Fairchild.
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