Republican Dino Rossi said Thursday he would oppose congressional budget earmarks if he wins election to the U.S. Senate.
But in an interview with The Columbian, the former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate would not say how he would promote economic development in Southwest Washington. Clark County has suffered double-digit unemployment since early 2009.
Rossi declined to say whether he’d work to funnel economic development dollars to the region, as Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has done during her years as chair of the powerful transportation appropriations committee.
He was more interested in discussing how the Democrats’ health reform bill would hurt the private sector.
“I won’t do what Patty Murray did in voting for the health care bill,” he said. “It will cost Boeing $150 million in just the first year.” He predicted that the bill would cost jobs in Southwest Washington, as well.
“This campaign is really about the function of government and allowing the private sector to do what they do best,” Rossi said.
Asked whether he would fight for federal funding for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River — the most important federal issue facing Clark County — Rossi noted that he supported a new bridge as part of a state transportation plan he unveiled during his 2008 run for governor.
But he couldn’t recall whether his 2008 plan called for including light rail as part of the bridge project. (His plan said light rail was acceptable, but tolling should be used only as a last resort). And he seemed unaware of regional disputes over the scale and design of the bridge.
Murray has said that regional consensus over the Columbia River Crossing is critical if the project is to be included in the next six-year federal transportation budget.
Opposed to earmarks
After months of speculation, Rossi entered the crowded U.S. Senate race Wednesday. He will face Murray, a three-term Democratic U.S. senator, and at least a half-dozen Republicans in Washington’s August 17 top two primary.
He spoke to The Columbian near the end of a day of nonstop media interviews in which he stressed his opposition to earmarks, the system by which members of Congress attach funding for their favorite projects to appropriations bills without subjecting them to the budget review process.
“We have Republicans and Democrats doing it,” he said. “If it’s done through the full budgeting process, that’s one thing.”
In fiscal 2009, Murray was ranked 8th in the Senate in total earmarks, sponsoring or cosponsoring more than $380 million worth.
In recent years, she has delivered millions of dollars in earmarks to Southwest Washington for projects including Columbia River channel deepening, Vancouver waterfront redevelopment, infrastructure improvements at the Port of Vancouver and reconstruction of the jetties at the mouth of the Columbia, as well as for Columbia River Crossing engineering and design studies.
“Patty Murray sees her job as to get up every day and fight for the people of Washington state,” said Jeff Bjornstad, chief of staff to Murray’s campaign. “That means the people of Southwest Washington, and that means investing in waterfront development, dredging the Columbia River, working to save the local VA campus, and insuring the federal government does its part to replace the Columbia River Crossing.”
“She is not going to leave those decisions to a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who is 2,500 miles away and thinks Vancouver is in Canada,” Bjornstad said.
Rossi, who carried Clark County in both the 2004 and 2008 elections, said he’s not opposed to large capital projects “as long as we pay for it. That doesn’t mean just borrowing money or printing money. … You do borrow for long-term capital assets.”
‘I’m … an individual’
Asked to place himself on the Republican political spectrum, Rossi declined.
“I’m pretty much an individual,” he said. “People know me. I don’t usually work with labels. The bottom line is, I’m the guy that wrote one of the most conservative budgets in the state.”
Asked to name one issue on which he believed he could find common ground with the Democratic majority, he mentioned his work across party lines to balance the state budget in 2003.
“I would like to be involved in budgeting,” he said, adding that working on a bipartisan basis in the legislative process “is not something that is foreign to me.”
Rossi offered only general comments on pressing national issues.
On the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, “I’m not convinced that giving the people who want our destruction a timetable, a date certain, is so wise. They might just go on vacation.” He said any administration should make sure it has an exit strategy before it puts U.S. military forces in harms’ way.
Rossi addressed other national issues with Joel Connelly, political columnist for the Seattle P-I. Among them:
o The Supreme Court. Rossi said he would have voted against confirming Justice Sonya Sotomayor, and believed that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is entitled to a “fair hearing.” He said he would not use a nominee’s position on abortion as a litmus test.
o Oil drilling. Rossi said he would support a moratorium on drilling off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
o On immigration, he told the Associated Press that he wants to build a “high wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border.
At least five active Republican candidates for the Senate seat, including state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, said Thursday they will stay in the race through the August primary despite Rossi’s entry.
Asked how he feels about running against Benton, Rossi said, “We came in (to the Legislature) as freshmen together. We shared an office. We know each other well. Don has a certain appeal. I consider him a friend.”
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.