Walt on the Issues

Bipartisanship

There’s a lot of talk in Washington about “bipartisanship.” But talk is cheap. This country is in trouble and one of the reasons why is all the people who are blustering about bipartisanship at the same time they’re attacking the very people they call friends.

More than bipartisanship, what we need in Washington is simple decency. We need legislators of both parties who want to work with each other to solve problems, and not care who gets the credit.

I grew up in a small town, and the values I learned in that farm community served me well. I grew up to be a businessman who had to bring different sides together to find solutions to tough issues. I’m a Democrat who worked in a Republican White House and worked to solve practical business problems in a thoroughly Republican state. I was the CEO of a thriving forest products company which created jobs, while spending my free time working hard to protect Idaho’s backcountry.

I got things done because being sincere and straightforward is the key to being effective. When I’m in Washington, I’ll bring people together to sit down and work toward reasonable solutions. We’ll get there by listening and collaborating, not by yelling, disparaging or attacking. We’ll get there by being honest, decent and straightforward, and by sharing a common commitment to the betterment of our country.

Conservation

I love Idaho, and its beauty has always kept me here. I’ve hiked its mountains and fished its streams my whole life. I’ve slept under its stars and gotten sunburned on its rivers. I’m like anyone else who lives here. I want to protect our public land for recreation. I want good habitat for wildlife. And I want clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.

But I also spent almost 30 years working in the forest products industry. I learned over the years that protecting our land, good habitat and clean water are NOT incompatible with a strong economy. Over the years we’ve had too many people on both sides of the issue who demand an all-or-nothing approach. I spent decades in the middle, watching people argue over details rather than look for solutions over common ground.

Folks in Washington could learn from the way Idahoans figured it out. What’s working is a common-sense approach to conservation, one where we maintain water quality, good habitat for game, places to snowmobile and trails to ride while respecting and encouraging the part of our economy that depends on our natural resources for good jobs.

People who think that way include hundreds of thousands of Idahoans – hunters, fishermen, people who love the outdoors. Like former Governor Cecil Andrus, those people are proud to call themselves conservationists. I am, too.

Craig-Wyden

I get out to Idaho’s small towns as often as I can. Folks in Washington may take a taxi to the nearest think-tank when they need advice. I prefer seeking it from the smart, decent people who eat lunch at places like the Ponderosa diner in Orofino. One of the best parts about my career with a forest products company was working with folks in small mill towns where my company did business.

But those places and people are struggling more than most in these tough economic times. That’s why communities and counties dependent on federal lands deserve to have the federal government pay its fair share to support local schools and civic services, and pay it in a predictable and certain way.

I am in favor of passing permanent extensions of the Craig-Wyden and Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes plans for counties where the federal government owns much of the land. But not without a serious overhaul to make these plans multi-year commitments that local government can county on for schools and roads.

Money from the plan was designed to replace the revenue lost when the timber industry began pulling back and pulling out of so many Idaho towns. That’s why we need more than just money for the city and county governments – we need new industry. Bio-fuels could be made from the wood fiber that would come from a more intelligent approach to managing federal timberlands and protecting those areas from fire.

Deficit

The “borrow and spend” mentality of our political leaders over the last fifteen years has heaped debt onto our kids and grandkids, lowered our standard of living and weakened our national economy in the global marketplace. It’s also destroyed our strength as a nation, increased our gas prices and made us susceptible to a job-destroying recession. That’s simple economics.

You and I have to balance our checkbooks every month, and as a CEO I ran a company that always found a way to make money and build business. We should demand the same from Congress. As a Congressman I will demand that the federal government balance its budget, and I will refuse to vote for any new government spending program unless we first agree on how to pay for it.

Earmarks

Handouts. Special interests. Back-room deals.

That’s not how we do things here in Idaho. But that’s how the “earmark” system works in Washington, D.C. Earmarks are a way for special interests to undermine the fiscal integrity of the budget process. They lead to poor government and wasteful spending. That’s why as Idaho’s next Congressman I will fight hard and vote for a rule that prohibits earmarks for Congress.

Idaho needs a representative in Washington who won’t say one thing and do another. We need someone who will fight for Idaho’s fair share of federal tax dollars without looking to give handouts, without catering to special interests and without making back-room deals.

Economy

I weathered three different recessions as the leader of one of Idaho’s largest building materials companies. Each time I worked with every person in the company to put together a mutually agreed plan. We called it “Project Bottom Line.” When times were tough, we tightened expenses, improved efficiency and found new ways to solve old problems. It meant we didn’t borrow money or go into debt. We hunkered down and got stronger by focusing on the things that mattered most. Then, when times were good, we were able to grow and expand at a rapid pace.

We are in another recession, and it will take leadership from Idaho’s next congressman to make sure Idaho families get through it with their mortgages secure and with good-paying jobs for the future. Unfortunately, over the last few years we’ve seen a whole lot more gridlock than progress. And we’ve seen bailouts for banks and other special interests, but not enough programs to create new permanent jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy.

Congress must move quickly. I’ll work to help federal agencies partner with local businesses to help them create more jobs, particularly those focused on reducing our dependence on foreign oil and making the U.S. energy independent. We’ll finance it by eliminating tax breaks given to big oil companies and forcing millionaires who flee the county to pay taxes at the same rate as any other American. That’s a real solution – focus on the bottom line, be smart about spending your money on things that build a strong future and create new good-paying jobs in Idaho.

Education

Back in 2003 a group of 75 CEOs got together to talk about our kids’ futures. Idaho’s education system wasn’t as good as it could have been, and our kids weren’t getting an education good enough to compete effectively for the high-tech jobs of the future. So we came together to support local schools and help make them as good as they could be.

We decided to make community colleges a priority. Idaho’s most populous region didn’t have one, which made it difficult for many students to transition out of high school and into higher education, and for many workers to get the training they needed to improve their skills and progress to better jobs. So we worked together with a wide assortment of groups, and in 2007 we helped pass a measure that gave Southwest Idaho its first-ever community college.

As a co-founder and board member of Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, I an passionate about taking that success and building upon it to expand access to higher education. That’s why, as a Congressman, I will fight to expand the Pell Grant program to help Idaho students make college more affordable.

Washington needs more of the collaboration we’ve shown here in Idaho. Our group of business leaders have worked directly with local schools and school districts to help address their needs. That’s a local solution. That works. What doesn’t work is another dictate from Washington, D.C.

We need less interference from Federal government in our local schools. As the father of two children in public school, I know that No Child Left Behind is nothing more than a one-size-fits-all unfunded mandate from Washington that measures too few things and makes failures out of too many teachers and students. It must be reformed to give back more local control to states and school districts. I think it’s fine for the federal government to want to help local school districts establish standards and to finance incentives, but decisions must remain local.

Energy

For years we’ve had to listen to politicians in Washington complain about our federal energy policy. And gas prices have steadily gone up. Now prices are near $4 a gallon and we still don’t have any real solution.

I’m a businessman. I’ve spent my career running companies that gave back to their communities, that took good care of their workers and that made money for their shareholders.

Profits aren’t bad. But record profits that come from huge subsidies and high prices on a basic necessity are flat-out wrong. The special tax breaks and incentives given to “big oil” are an egregious example of how Washington insiders have got their priorities backwards. Taxpayers shouldn’t bear the brunt of breaks for special interests lining their pockets with our dollars. We shouldn’t be giving preferred tax treatment to the biggest oil companies in the world, who are reaping record profits while driving the average Idahoan into the poorhouse.

Our national energy policy is backwards and fixing it is one of my top priorities. We know we can convert forest and agricultural waste into biofuels to help us wean our country away from foreign oil. The government should provide tax incentives to producers and consumers to help “jump start” these technologies, which can create many new, good-paying jobs in rural Idaho.

But it’s not enough. The only way we’re going to meet our energy needs, realistically address global warming and strengthen our national security is to look at every available source of renewable energy, including financial incentives to make the production of alternative energy more cost-effective.

Gas prices

Idaho’s families are taking a $4-per-gallon beating at the pump from “Big Oil” and a federal government that isn’t doing anything about the real concerns of the middle class. It’s making the basics – getting to work, paying for groceries – difficult for everyone. There’s been so much talk and so little action that people are angry.

I’m angry, too. One of a congressman’s biggest responsibilities is to make sure things are fair. We send folks to Washington with the hope that they won’t forget the people who sent them there, and the hope that some good will come back to us from the government we pay for.


Unfortunately, too many people get back there and forget the folks back home. Take gas prices as one outrageous example. Oil companies are raking in record profits, OPEC and countries in the Middle East are getting rich off the protection offered by our soldiers, and Idahoans are back home unable to afford the outrageous prices.

What we need is a little fairness. We must end special tax subsidies for oil companies. Period. We must also take a tougher stance with OPEC, and hold them to the standards set by U.S. anti-trust laws. We must also pass aggressive and strict measures to reduce price gouging at the pump.

Growth

Over three decades I’ve watched Idaho become a very popular place. Growth has been an effective fuel for our economy, has provided much-needed jobs in many areas and gave us a whole lot of new residents. However, growth has dirtied our air, threatened our water, strained our already-outdated transportation infrastructure and restricted access to public lands.

We need leadership in Washington, D.C. that will fight to find ways to provide jobs, fix our roads, clean up our air, protect our water and keep our public lands accessible. Unfortunately, Bill Sali has done almost nothing to help Idaho either manage or deal with the consequences of rapid growth.

As a congressman, I will reach out to and work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure Idaho gets its fair share of federal funds for clean-air initiatives, highways, airports, schools and universities to help local citizens and communities get the resources they need to deal with growth. And I will fight to make sure it is local citizens and local government who get to decide how these funds are spent.

Health Care

At age nine months, my son Dixon was diagnosed with a life-threatening congenital heart defect. He received excellent care locally followed by 13 hours of surgery in Chicago. After six months, he was discharged – and we had a $600,000 medical bill. Thankfully, my company’s health insurance covered almost all the bills. But what if we had been among the many Idahoans who can’t afford health insurance?

Every American should know that their illnesses or injuries will be treated without debt or bankruptcy. That’s one reason my company maintained drastically reduced deductible and reasonable co-payment costs for all of our employees. We wanted to make sure everyone – even cashiers and janitors –had reasonable and affordable health care.

It’s an approach we need in Idaho and in the nation. Insurance and care must be more affordable for everyone, not just people who make a lot. We must lower costs for everyone and we must offer affordable insurance to every American, and make it easy for them to sign up, find a doctor and get the care they need. I also believe it’s critical that if we’re going to be fiscally responsible we must involve the existing groups of private industry providers and payers, and increase competition to lower cost and help pay for the program.

Iraq

As a U.S. Army veteran, I know that leaving our troops bogged down in the middle of a civil war isn’t solving anything, and it’s keeping us from taking the fight to terrorists elsewhere in the world.

We must force the Iraqis to take charge their own political future and of their country’s security. This also will take engaging the international community and aggressively pursuing new diplomatic solutions while gradually but clearly executing a plan to bring our troops home.

This war has created an entire generation that will spend decades dealing with the aftereffects of almost 30,000 dead and wounded American soldiers.

It’s also costing us $200 million per day – all while we’re shortchanging our country’s veterans’ program. Our nation’s returning heroes and their families must see us fulfill every medical and educational promise our country made to them.

This is one of Washington’s worst failures. It’s time for responsible withdrawal from Iraq.

Middle class taxes

Idaho needs a Congressman who treats people with decency and respect. We need someone in Washington who will take action, not talk and talk and talk while quietly voting for giveaways to oil companies and military contractors. We need someone in Washington who understands that the best way we can jump-start the economy is by modifying the tax breaks given to the wealthiest Americans to help ease the tax burden on middle-class, working Americans. We have to balance the budget, but not on the backs of hard working families who are worried about their retirement and struggling to pay their bills.


Veterans

I am proud of my service to my country. My time in the Army was among the most important and formative of my life. It was a chance to develop leadership skills and meet decent, effective people who have remained lifelong friends. But most of all, it was a chance to serve.

Veterans all share a profound love for our country and a personal commitment to service. Veterans don’t expect any special recognition for that service, but they are good people who sacrificed for this country. They were promised something for their service, and as a congressman I will fight to make sure those promises are fulfilled.

Yes, we must provide to veterans every benefit they were guaranteed when they enlisted. Whether it’s health care, mental health services or educational opportunities, no veteran should ever feel as though this country isn’t living up to its promises.

And yes, we need a new approach to the G.I. Bill. We must expand college and technical training opportunities for veterans to help them trade up on their experience and maturity to find high-paying jobs in the new economy.

But we must do more. It’s not just about honoring promises. It’s about helping families who are struggling to cope with the loss of a husband, wife, son or daughter who was killed in action. It’s about helping parents who are wondering how to care with a son disabled in Iraq. It’s about coming together as a community to help a young mother take care of the family farm while her husband is serving his country.

This is not just about what we have promised our veterans, but what we can do for our veterans. Our debt to them goes beyond a contract or a set of enlistment papers. Our debt to them cannot be measured, but we can repay it by never forgetting and by always being there when it counts.


Voting

I’m a voter. It’s a habit, a privilege, a right not to be ignored. I take it seriously and make a point of being informed when I go into the voting both.

In short, I’m a lot like you. But like you I worry about making sure my vote counts. When you go into the booth and press a computer screen, you want to make sure that computer tallied your vote properly. That’s why I support measures to make sure there is a verifiable paper trail in every local precinct in Idaho. Our right to vote is only a right if we are sure our votes count.

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