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July 21, 2004

The Bellevue Debate

The candidates for Jennifer Dunn’s seat in Congress were in a panel debate Wednesday held by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Some off-the-cuff observations...

Alex Alben, former head of public policy for RealNetworks, is the corporate Democrat. He’s for expanding the work-visa program for high-tech companies. He’s a hawk on protecting U.S. intellectual property abroad. He talks about ‘making investments’ (i.e., spending) on higher ed, so that there will be Americans to fill the tech economy's ‘great jobs.’ He thinks Internet sales should be taxed.

In this Eastside race, Heidi Behrens-Benedict is the Seattle-style Democrat--that is, the one who used the liberal terms ‘rush to the bottom’ and ‘social justice.’ When the group was asked whether the Bellevue Art Museum should get a federal subsidy, she was the only one who said ‘yes.’ When asked about Social Security, she said it wouldn’t be in a financial squeeze until 2045, implying there is no urgency about changes. She opposed private accounts.

Radio host Dave Ross was a good debater, but you would expect that. On Social Security, he took the same line as Alben: there is a real crisis and the solution is not private accounts. Like Alben, he did not choose among tax increases or benefit cuts, which are the only other options I know of. Ross was the only candidate to bring up the war in Iraq, and not favorably. In his closing remarks he said his task in Washington, D.C., would be to restore ‘America’s reputation in the world.’

On the Republican side, Sheriff Dave Reichert gave the vaguest answers. On his opening remarks, he said, ‘This isn’t about Dave Reichert for Congress. It’s about you and I.’ Not only is this bad grammar -- it should be ‘you and me,’ -- it is silly. He was asked about Internet spam and didn’t answer the question. He was for the Bush tax cuts, but did not denounce any spending. His most forceful comments were on Social Security. He was not for ‘taking money out of’ it, not for reducing benefits for the people now in it, not for increasing taxes at this time, and not for any increase in the retirement age. What he was for was unclear.

Bellevue Councilman Conrad Lee talked with more self-assurance than Reichert but no more specificity. He was for ‘energy independence.’ Mostly he stressed his success as an immigrant in America, and his ties to Bellevue.

Luke Esser, state legislator, sounded like a state legislator. The biggest message he had was that he was for widening Interstate 405. He reminded everyone that he was the only state legislator who lived in Bellevue, and that he had graduated from high school there.

Diane Tebelius, a federal attorney with a masters in tax law, gave the most detailed answers, though sometimes she sounded like a bureaucrat. On Social Security she proposed something like the base-closing commission that would produce a plan that could be accepted or rejected but not modified -- kind of a ‘fast track’ process. Like all the other Republicans, she would accept private accounts.

In her closing statement, she asked the audience to imagine each of the candidates in a Washington, D.C., office, approached by party leaders Nancy Pelosi or Tom DeLay. ‘Who among the candidates here will be able to say no?’ she said. It was a good question; as usual, there more talk about spending money on things than not spending it.

I thought the best-prepared candidates were Alben and Tebelius.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at July 21, 2004 04:16 PM



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