Eighth congressional district hopefuls Dino Rossi (R) and Dr. Kim Schrier (D) faced off onstage for the only time this election season Wednesday night in Ellensburg.
The candidates debated for an hour in McConnell Hall on the Central Washington University campus before a live audience. The debate was hosted by the Washington State Debate Coalition and was moderated by Natalie Brand of KING 5 in Seattle and Ross Reynolds from KUOW.
Schrier and Rossi debated many hot-button issues such as healthcare, trade, taxes, immigration, the environment, gun legislation, and even the recent rumored killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Each candidate received 90 seconds for their opening statement. A coin was flipped, and Dr. Kim Schrier began the debate by describing her experiences as a doctor before attacking Rossi on healthcare. Rossi was then given his 90 seconds, which he spent alternating between his family’s history in the district and his life and successes growing up.
Then it was on to the moderator’s questions.
Moderator Ross Reynolds began by asking the candidates, “What would you do to reduce costs and improve healthcare for all Americans?”
Rossi was chosen to respond first.
“What we need to do is make sure we bring competition into the system. You can do it in various ways: being able to buy across state lines, and freeing up the mandates that we currently have. The system will work if we have competition in the system and right now we just don’t have that.”
He went on to attack Schrier’s stance on expanding the Affordable Care Act, “A government takeover of healthcare will destroy Medicare as we know it.”
Schrier responded to the question by conveying her experience as a doctor as well as a patient with a pre-existing condition.
“I’m a pediatrician and I’m also a person that’s been living with Type 1 diabetes since the age of 16.” Schrier said, “I got into this race because I want to make sure that every family in this district and this country can afford the care they need. That means shoring up the Affordable Care Act, not sabotaging it like our president and certainly not repealing it without a better replacement like my opponent would do.”
Both candidates were then asked where they stood on the issue of abortion. Schrier said she supported a woman’s right to choose, while Rossi stated he supported abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother.
Rossi and Schrier both agreed that the recent trade tariffs were not the right way to go about settling the trade war with China. The similarities between the two candidates on the the subject of trade seemed to end there, however.
“The state of Washington is the most trade dependent state in the nation.” said Schrier, “I believe in fair trade agreements, agreements where we protect workers, we protect jobs, and we protect the economy here in the eighth district. I spoke out long ago against these tariffs that are hurting our cherry farmers, our apple farmers and hay farmers.”
Schrier also spoke with a frankness on the issue, “Look, if China decides that it is just too difficult and too expensive to do business with the state of Washington, it will take its business elsewhere and our cherry farmers and apple farmers may never bounce back.”
Republican candidate Rossi was much more inclined to tout the benefits of recent changes to the United States’ trade agreements.
“Here’s what’s going on. We now have an agreement with Canada and Mexico. 28 percent of our farm exports go to Canada and Mexico and that’s good. We also have a framework for the European Union and Japan as well.”
Rossi spent most of his time on trade speaking out against intellectual property theft by China.
“I was on a trade mission [in China]. The leaders of the region were reassuring us that ‘We [are] cracking down on intellectual property theft.’ I walked out of the meeting, went around the corner and I was offered all of Microsoft’s products for $11 U.S.”
The Sammamish native’s story did not end there.
“We went back to the Beijing hotel and Jim Knapp, who’s from Wenatchee, who was a port commissioner on the trade mission, was madder than a hornet. In the gift shop he pulled out this apple, and he said it was a counterfeit apple. They actually just put a sticker that said ‘Washington’ on it.”
“What you need for businesses to grow and for people to have jobs is you need modest taxation and fair and predictable regulation.” said Rossi before quickly going on the attack.
“My opponent wants to raise people’s taxes by $2,821 of every family in the eighth congressional district.” Rossi stated, “My opponent wants to double income taxes by actually having a government takeover of healthcare. My opponent supports a 57 cent a gallon gas tax that wont go to roads or congestion relief. My opponent also supports a state income tax.”
Democratic hopeful Schrier was clear on where she stood with the most recent tax plan, “[The tax plan passed last year] is not a tax plan I would have supported. It exploded our debt, and now all of a sudden fiscal responsibility has returned to congress and they want to pay for it by cutting our Social Security and Medicare and SNAP and other public benefits.”
“Look, if everybody pays their fair share then we don’t have to talk about making draconian cuts to services that help the vast majority of people in this country,” Schrier continued, “and frankly, Medicare and Social Security are earned benefits that we paid for and need to be there for us when we retire.”
“We have to make sure we have a functioning border. Without a functioning border you really don’t have a country.” explained Rossi, who then moved on to addressing guest worker programs, a subject touched on by both candidates.
“We need to have a guest worker program that works; and guest worker program is separate from immigration, it’s different. People are going to come from another country, do the work, and then go back to where they came from.”
Schrier was also quick to attack the current guest worker programs, specifically the H2A visa program.
“The H2A visa program does not work well for either the farmers or the workers.” the Issaquah resident said, “Our economy here in the eighth district depends on agriculture and we need to make sure that the workers, the highly skilled orchard workers, are here and trained and available during the seasons that we need them.”
Audience members in McConnell Hall and beyond were asked near the beginning of the debate to go online and vote for what would be the last issue debated that night. Three topics were given; Social Security and Medicare, gun policy, or veterans and the military.
The audience chose gun policy.
Moderator Natalie Brand asked Shrier, “Where do you think there is room for compromise between Republicans and Democrats on gun safety measures?”
“I’ve been traveling this district a lot and talking to a lot of people, gun owners and non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats.” said Schrier, “What I have found is that the vast majority of people who own guns also want guns owned safely and not in the hands of children. I don’t believe these issues are controversial. I believe this is just part of safe gun ownership and that the only reason we have not been able to come to the middle and pass some really good common sense legislation is because the gun lobby is buying our politicians.”
Shrier continued to hammer on the NRA’s involvement in Washington D.C., “We need common sense solutions and we will not be able to get there unless we get gun money out of politics.”
Brand then asked Rossi, “Do you agree, Mr. Rossi? Is the gun lobby too powerful?”
“Well I haven’t taken any money from the NRA.” responded Rossi, “Automatic weapons are actually illegal in this country, and there are sometimes devices like the bump-stock that will turn these semi-automatic weapons into full automatic weapons. I don’t support that and I think that we need bi-partisan support to eliminate those sorts of things. We once again, we would probably be able to come together again on some of those types of issues.”
The debate concluded with a roaring applause from the crowd. Both candidates stepped upstage to shake the hands of their moderators, yet passed each other twice without shaking each other’s hand.
Although Dino Rossi and Dr. Kim Schrier are now done debating for the year, another important next debate is soon approaching.
Democratic senator Maria Cantwell and Republican challenger Susan Hutchison will debate this Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm at Spokane Community College. The debate will be live streamed on kpq.com. Simply follow the link on our homepage.