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David Castillo: Self-made man with D.C. plan

Republican from humble origins has sights on Congress

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Republican David Castillo, a candidate for the open 3rd Congressional District seat, fields questions from lawyers, bankers, Realtors and other young professionals over lunch June 18 at Tommy O's Bistro in downtown Vancouver.
Republican David Castillo, a candidate for the open 3rd Congressional District seat, fields questions from lawyers, bankers, Realtors and other young professionals over lunch June 18 at Tommy O's Bistro in downtown Vancouver. The nonpartisan group, which calls itself the Vancouver Round Table, meets twice-monthly at the restaurant to discuss business and politics and interview potential members. Photo Gallery

Today, The Columbian begins a four-day series profiling the six candidates who are running for the open 3rd Congressional District seat. With Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird’s retirement from Congress, the seat representing Southwest Washington has grabbed national attention as one of a handful of toss-up congressional races in the nation.

Republicans see a chance to retake control of the U.S. House and their first opportunity in a dozen years to win the 3rd. Democrats hope to hold onto the seat by coalescing around a single leading candidate. Voters’ first chance to weigh in on this important race will come in the Aug. 17 top two primary. Ballots will be mailed late next week.

In conjunction with this series, The Columbian is publishing all the candidates’ responses to its questionnaire on major issues that will face the next Congress. Those responses are available at http://www.columbian.com/politics

o Today: David Castillo, Republican.

o Thursday: Denny Heck, Democrat.

o Friday: Jaime Herrera, Republican.

o Saturday: David W. Hedrick, Republican; Cheryl Crist, Democrat; Norma Jean Stephens, Independent.

David Castillo sips ice water and fields questions from a dozen young professionals gathered around a table at Tommy O’s Bistro in downtown Vancouver.

It’s mid-June, two months before the Aug. 17 primary. Castillo has recently opened a campaign office a few blocks away. He’s waging an uphill race against a better-known Republican opponent in the 3rd Congressional District race, state Rep. Jaime Herrera.

Today, The Columbian begins a four-day series profiling the six candidates who are running for the open 3rd Congressional District seat. With Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird's retirement from Congress, the seat representing Southwest Washington has grabbed national attention as one of a handful of toss-up congressional races in the nation.

Republicans see a chance to retake control of the U.S. House and their first opportunity in a dozen years to win the 3rd. Democrats hope to hold onto the seat by coalescing around a single leading candidate. Voters' first chance to weigh in on this important race will come in the Aug. 17 top two primary. Ballots will be mailed late next week.

In conjunction with this series, The Columbian is publishing all the candidates' responses to its questionnaire on major issues that will face the next Congress. Those responses are available at http://www.columbian.com/politics

o Today: David Castillo, Republican.

o Thursday: Denny Heck, Democrat.

o Friday: Jaime Herrera, Republican.

o Saturday: David W. Hedrick, Republican; Cheryl Crist, Democrat; Norma Jean Stephens, Independent.

Age: 42.

Residence: Olympia.

Occupation: Financial adviser.

Political background: Held subcabinet posts in President George W. Bush administration; chief of staff, Washington House Republican Caucus.

Campaign funds raised: $245,334.

Quote: “There is a role for government in helping people who can’t help themselves.”

Campaign website: www.castilloforcongress.com

Heck heads into primary with large cash advantage

The questioners probe his views on a range of issues: The federal tax code (he’d like to move away from the progressive income tax to a flat tax and ultimately to a national sales tax); his views on alternative energy (he’s a big advocate of clean nuclear power, and favors opening the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada for permanent storage of nuclear waste); and even the shooting of salmon-chomping sea lions at Bonneville Dam (“I love wildlife. I am hopeful there is a humane solution to the problem.”)

Castillo has been running for Congress longer than anyone else in the race. He formed an exploratory committee in April 2009 and announced his candidacy that June, back when everyone assumed U.S. Rep. Brian Baird would seek a seventh term and the chance that a Republican could retake the seat after a dozen years seemed like a long shot.

Castillo exemplifies the American success story. A mixed-race candidate of humble origins, he and his three siblings were raised in Centralia by a single mother; his African American father was not in the picture. The family received government help in the form of food stamps and Medicaid.

Castillo enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Centralia High. After his discharge, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.

His path took him to Washington, D.C., where he worked in various posts in the George W. Bush administration. As a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, he was responsible for a $25 million budget and a staff of 60, and for promoting the administration’s veterans’ agenda directly with members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and a new senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama.

After his first conversation with the ambitious young senator, Castillo recalls telling a friend, “I think that guy is going to be President of the United States someday.”

In 2006, he and his wife, Calli, an attorney in the Office of White House Counsel, left their D.C. jobs and moved back to Washington state to raise a family. Castillo took a job as chief of staff for the House Republican Caucus. He stayed two years, until he was summoned back to D.C. to help launch the Department of Homeland Security.

He worked in the Office of Operations Coordination, which was tasked with bringing 22 federal agencies under a single umbrella. It was a frustrating assignment, Castillo said, but it opened his eyes.

“It changed my feeling about national security. My time at DHS made securing the border a lot more about keeping out the bad guys and less about controlling illegal immigration.”

Two years were enough. The couple returned to Washington with their son, Caidan. Castillo went to work as a financial adviser for Edward Jones. His wife now works in the state attorney general’s office.

Worries for future

It was the shadow cast over his son’s future by the nation’s mounting debt, Castillo said, that propelled him into the race to unseat Baird. He mentions Caidan, now 4, in virtually every stump speech, and the boy is featured prominently on his campaign website.

He’s running, he said, out of concern for “the future of the country my son will inherit, and his reduced opportunity for success.”

After Castillo announced his candidacy in mid-2009, he quickly won key endorsements from Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, the state’s highest-ranking Republican, and House Republican leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, his former boss in Olympia.

At the time, he was considered the strongest candidate the GOP had fielded against Baird in years. And for several months, he had the field to himself.

He began needling Baird almost immediately.

In August, after Baird said he might not hold town hall meetings on health care reform in his district because of what he described as a “lynch mob” mentality over the issue, it was Castillo who issued a press release saying: “Leadership involves making tough decisions, and real leaders are never afraid to meet with those that disagree with them.”

In October, he accused Baird of hypocrisy for voting against the 2010 Defense Authorization Act because the bill had not been available for Congress to read for at least 72 hours. Castillo noted that Baird’s read-the-bill legislation had languished in Congress for years.

“He wanted attention for his legislation, and he used our troops to get it,” Castillo said. “He has been powerless to move this bill for more than five years and as a result, he now decides our brave soldiers must pay for his lack of leadership.”

Age: 42.

Residence: Olympia.

Occupation: Financial adviser.

Political background: Held subcabinet posts in President George W. Bush administration; chief of staff, Washington House Republican Caucus.

Campaign funds raised: $245,334.

Quote: "There is a role for government in helping people who can't help themselves."

Campaign website: www.castilloforcongress.com

Also in October, Castillo accused Baird of “grandstanding’ when the congressman published an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times advocating an overhaul of the federal tax code, the merger of all government health plans and a means test for Medicare recipients.

Meanwhile, Castillo was firing off press releases battering the Obama administration over the federal stimulus and health care reform and offering his own detailed positions on what should be done about the nation’s economic collapse.

On Dec. 9, Baird announced that he would not seek reelection.

Overnight, Castillo said, “the dynamic changed. All of a sudden, instead of a defined opponent, you have a hodgepodge. Some opportunists jumped in, people who saw a chance to get their voices heard.”

Castillo seldom mentions Herrera by name, but it’s clear he was annoyed when, after the 31-year-old state representative announced her candidacy for Congress, she immediately assumed the mantle of front-runner, at least in the eyes of the national media.

His momentum stalled as Herrera won endorsements from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and traveled to D.C. for a high-profile fundraiser.

“My reason for running had not changed,” Castillo said. “If another Republican had decided to run who I thought was as qualified as me, I would have gladly stepped aside.”

That didn’t happen, he said, so he continues fighting to get his name and his record out to voters, though he trailed both Herrera and Democrat Denny Heck in fund-raising in the most recent federal filings.

Castillo makes no secret of his belief that his qualifications on Capitol Hill trump those of Herrera, who spent two years working as a policy adviser to McMorris Rodgers before coming home to run for the Legislature in 2007.

“Ultimately, my job was to serve as liaison between the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees,” he said. “ I worked directly with members of Congress. My job was to promote the Bush administration’s positions on veterans’ affairs.”

“This is the most consequential election of my lifetime,” he said. “We need qualified candidates.”

Nuanced views

Castillo takes a hard right position on controlling immigration, capping the national debt, and letting the private sector tackle health care reform. He’s been endorsed by the Christian Right and former Texas Congressman Dick Armey. He’s a regular on conservative talk radio.

But ask him about his own life, growing up poor in Lewis County, and his political views are more nuanced.

“ I never experienced any racism growing up in Centralia,” he says. “ My views are more shaped by growing up in poverty. There is a role for government in helping people who can’t help themselves. That’s one of the reasons I believe in community health centers.”

“My mom is a remarkable woman,” he adds. “She was dealt a very bad hand. Through our faith and community and help from the government, we were able to find success. There are millions of kids growing up just like me. “

One reason he rails against what he fears will become the federal government’s “$100 trillion unfunded liability,” he says, is that it could cripple Social Security, Medicare and especially Medicaid, which he considers “critical for people with lower incomes.”

“If the fiscal house of cards falls down, they are going to have to cut Medicaid,” he says.

In his meeting with young professionals at Tommy O’s, Castillo touted his experience as an investment adviser.

“I’m managing millions of dollars on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s important to send people back to Congress who have private sector experience. I have a profit and loss total to meet every month.”

On the campaign trail, Castillo and Democratic front-runner Denny Heck have developed a bond based on mutual respect. In fact, Castillo uses Heck’s success in the private sector and long record of public service to argue for his own candidacy.

“With Denny,” he says, “the Republicans are going to have to have someone who can match his experience and background.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.

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