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August 4, 2010 at 3:46 PM

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Didier and Akers get their shot at Rossi

Posted by Jim Brunner

Note: Post updated at 7:10 p.m. with additional excepts from the ed board interview

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Paul Akers and Clint Didier finally got a debate of sorts with GOP front-runner Dino Rossi.

The three sat side-by-side Wednesday morning for an interview with the Seattle Times editorial board. It was their first and perhaps only side-by-side appearance before the Aug. 17 primary.

(The ed board runs the opinion pages of the Times and is separate from the news department. However, news reporters are frequently allowed to sit in on candidate interviews.)

Akers is a Bellingham businessman and inventor who touts his "problem solver" credentials. Didier is a former NFL tight end and Pasco farmer running as a conservative tea party favorite.

Both men are considered underdogs to Rossi, the former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate who was recruited by national GOP leaders who believe he has the best chance at unseating incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

In recent days, Didier and Akers have joined together in calling for Rossi to debate them, and for the Washington D.C. establishment to "back off" and allow local voters to decide the outcome of the Aug. 17 primary.

In the Wednesday appearance, the trio agreed on many broad issues, frequently nodding at each others' statements. (Murray was in Washington D.C. and did not participate in the event.)

They were united in bashing federal stimulus funds and corporate bailouts and in calling for tax cuts. Their views of global warming ranged from skeptical to dismissive.

But the candidates parted ways on other topics, such as whether to amend the Constitution to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrant and on whether to quickly pull out of Afghanistan.

Throughout, Rossi stayed focused on a presumed November match-up with Murray, repeatedly referring to her, not the other Republicans, as "my opponent."

Some highlights: (post updated with additional quotes now.)

On Afghanistan:

Didier said the U.S. should leave, questioning the reason for fighting "in an area that's been in conflict since before American was ever in existence."

"I think we get out," Didier said. "There is no clear cut plan for victory , so our troops are being put in harm's way for what? A police force?"

"Bring our troops home and put them on the border where they can be more useful," he said.

Akers and Rossi were more cautious, saying there was justification for the U.S. being in Afghanistan. Both praised President Obama's choice of General David Petraeus to lead the fight there.

"The sacrifice we have made is noble and worthy of our support," Akers said.

Rossi said he wants troops to come home "as soon as possible" but said the terrorist camps in the country "needed to be dealt with." He said he'd rely on the military "folks in the field" to determine when to pull out.

On immigration:

Didier supported recent talk by Republican leaders about revisiting the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants citizenship to children born in the country even if their parents are here illegally.

Didier called it a "family" issue. "By allowing illegal people to come into America and have a child, and that child becomes a citizen, we have just broken up that family," he said.

Didier said he understands why immigrants are attracted to America's freedoms. "I don't blame them one bit. But we've got to take into account that people are coming here illegally and purposely having children to help aid their families to become citizens. And this has got to stop."

Rossi and Akers disagreed, both casting it as a side issue to the larger problem of securing the borders.

"I've heard people talking about that the last couple of days and that's not what I'm advocating for," Rossi said.

On the larger issue of immigration, Akers said the U.S. should make its legal immigration process less cumbersome by setting up new Ellis Island-type facilities in places like El Paso and San Diego.

Akers said people should be allowed to come into the U.S. to work temporarily, but have 25 percent of their pay confiscated, to be returned when they go back to their home countries.

As for tracking immigrants, Akers suggested turning over the job to FedEx and UPS. "They track 25 million packages a day," Akers said. "They'll do an infinitely better job of solving the problem."

Rossi said the U.S. needs "a physical barrier" at the border. "When we deport people they walk back across," he said, and some commit violent crimes.

"We have to be able to check the backgrounds of people who are coming. It wouldn't be hard for Al-Qaeda to drop someone in northern Mexico and have them walk across the border."

Rossi took no position on what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants here now, saying that can be assessed only after the border is secure.

On climate change:

All three Republicans were cool to the notion that humans cause global warming or that the government should take steps to address it through emissions caps.

Didier said: "I don't believe in this global warming. No. Man-made global warming is so minute you wouldn't even recognize it."

He said "we've got to have faith in the environment" to take care of itself and added "maybe we need to have faith in God and that he created the perfect system."

Akers said the last Ice Age ended 13,000 years ago. "So I always want to ask people what caused the melting of the ice 13,000 years ago? Was there an industrial revolution that occurred back then?"

Rossi didn't explicitly deny global warming, but framed it as an open question and focused on his opposition to cap-and-trade legislation proposed in Congress.

"Well as scientists and pseudo-scientists argue this out, let me tell you what I won't do," Rossi said. "I'm not going to do what Patty Murray is doing and arguing for an energy tax," (the Republican term for legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions with a cap-and-trade system.)

Rossi said the "energy tax" would mean $1,800 in higher energy costs for every family. He argued the plan would kill U.S. jobs because competitors like China and India won't be signing on to such policies.

On unemployment benefits:

Didier and Akers both said they oppose extension of unemployment benefits like the one passed by the Senate last month.

"The idea is not to create more benefits for people. The idea is to get people back to work," Akers said, favoring tax cuts to stimulate business.

Didier said he opposed additional unemployment benefits that only "encourage complacency."

Rossi said he supported such unemployment extensions as long as they were "paid for" with cuts to other areas of the federal budget -- echoing the line of Senate Republican leaders.

On where they disagree with the Republican Party:

Asked whether they disagreed with the Republican Party on any major stand, Rossi started talking about Murray being ranked the "most liberal" Senator by a nonpartisan journal.

"You've got to take a couple hard turn left to get to the left of socialist Bernie Sanders in Vermont." he said.

Pressed for a specific disagreement with GOP leaders, Rossi said he didn't agree with President Bush's initial stimulus package and corporate bailouts. "That's something I wouldn't have supported."

Akers was far more critical.

"I believe our party has been rightfully branded as the party of no. We lack innovation. We lack fresh ideas. We lack bold ideas that captivate the imagination of people," he said.

Akers cited his own background as a business innovator and said he'd push government to adopt a "lean" model and drive creativity by forcing serious budget cuts.

He agree with Rossi that the bailouts were a bad call and that businesses should have been allowed to collapse.

"They were a disaster and a catastrophe. I believe in failure. I believe failure is a powerful teacher," Akers said.

Didier said the GOP had veered far off its traditional platform and called for sticking to the Constitution. For example, he said the GOP should embrace placing the military on both borders due to illegal immigration.

"It's an invasion. We've got an invasion of illegal people coming across there and invading Arizona and invading Califfornia. Eighty-five hospitals are bankrupt down there in California due to the fact that we've got all those illegals," Didier said.

On federal money for Washington

While all the candidates attacked federal spending, Didier went the farthest, suggesting that Patty Murray's efforts to bring federal money to Washington State amounted to "buying votes."

He cited Wednesday's announcement of $26 billion in Medicaid funding for states, as well as Murray's recent announcement of $44 million to help fix Howard Hanson Dam.

"Here she is bringing the pork back again. Spending our childrens and our grandchildren's money. She's already spent ours." he said.

"For crying out loud. How much is enough, Patty? You gotta go out there and buy your votes? Why is it coming in now?"

On whether the election is fair:

Akers and Didier repeated their recent claims that powerful interests have conspired to deny them a fair chance in the primary. (They've recently teamed up on a radio ad, despite the fact that they're competing for the same votes.)

"We do represent the outside citizen leader as opposed to someone who is part of the mainstream establishment," Akers said. He called the system "rigged" against outsiders by Washington D.C. interests who have backed Rossi.

Didier agreed. "We don't want D.C. picking our candidates," he said. "We need to keep the big money out of here."

Rossi smiled gently and responded that he has earned plenty of grassroots support over the years.

"I like these two gentlemen. I'm not running against them. I've never said anything cross to them or about them and I don't plan on doing that," Rossi said.

Instead, he said he'd keep contrasting his positions with Murray.

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