Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Year In: Is Congressman Heck Giving 'Em Heck?

Above: U.S. Representative Denny Heck (D-WA10) listens to remarks at a swearing-in ceremony for Thurston County officials on December 28, 2013.
By Janine Unsoeld

United States Representative Denny Heck (D-WA10) went back to the other Washington earlier this week, but during his two week Christmas break, he was home in Olympia.

Congressman Heck visited Quixote Village, Thurston County’s new permanent community for the homeless, made several speaking engagements, toured local businesses and non-profits, and relaxed with someone he calls his best friend, his wife, Paula.
The timing seemed to be right to check in with Heck after the completion of his first session of the 113th Congress as a freshman from the newly created 10th district. Little Hollywood requested an interview and appreciated Congressman Heck making time for this opportunity. 
The 10th district, created after the 2010 census, encompasses parts or all of Thurston, Pierce and Mason Counties, with Joint Base Lewis-McChord thrown into the middle.

According to the website OpenCongress, Heck voted with fellow Democrats  93.1 percent of the time.

Accommodating a range of political and philosophical viewpoints, Heck ranked among the highest 15 percent among all representatives in joining bipartisan bills, and of the 115 bills that Heck cosponsored, 39 percent were introduced by someone other than a Democrat, according to the website

As Heck stated at a recent swearing-in ceremony of local officials in Thurston County, “Never stop looking for common ground and always be civil – you have so little control over all the rest.”
This interview was conducted on January 4 at Batdorf and Bronson coffee shop on Capitol Way in downtown Olympia, the day after Boeing machinists approved a ten year contract.
Since the interview, some of the issues we discussed have already transpired, such as the Senate’s confirmation on Monday of Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve, and yesterday’s movement by the Senate to extend federal unemployment compensation benefits.

Jumping right in, we stuck to my organized list of about 20 topics: questions about Boeing, the government shutdown, the federal minimum wage indexing bill, Syria, China’s ban on geoducks and the privatization of our shorelines for a growing shellfish industry, coal export terminals, Puget Sound cleanup efforts, his role on the House Finance Committee, and more.
I also prepared for our interview by looking over Heck’s re-election financial reports submitted so far, and, as a result, asked him about his thoughts about the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to keep big money out of politics.

Is Heck really giving ‘em heck, as his campaign slogan promised?

Northwest Issues and 2014 Priorities
Not surprisingly, Heck was positive on the approval of the Boeing machinist’s new ten year contract.

“In the 10th district in Fredrickson, Boeing builds composite wings, and will be one of the competitors as the 777X project develops….We now have an opportunity to create up to 4000 well-paying jobs in Fredrickson…the kind of jobs you can buy a home and take a vacation and send your kids to college, so we now have an opportunity for significant middle class jobs wage jobs to be expanded, and that’s a good thing….”  (The Boeing PAC has already given Heck $10,000 in 2013).

Asked what his priorities will be going into the 2014 Session, Heck said, without hesitation, first, to extend the unemployment compensation benefits to 1.3 million families, which were discontinued December 28, 2013, and affects 3,472 job seekers in the South Sound.  
“Letting that go was not the best thing to do economically or morally – we could be doing better by them…No single dollar that the government spends is circulated more times than unemployment benefits….”

To check in with constituents, Heck said he has held about six to eight town hall meetings and several telephone town hall meetings so far, the latter of which he prefers because thousands of people are able to call in and be part of the conversation, rather than 50 – 100 who can attend meetings in person. Heck says he’s able to answer questions over the telephone just as ably as in person. Still, he appreciates and welcomes all forums.
“(Regarding extending the unemployment benefits) I do hear several people say it’s the right thing to do, and I agree. Despite some of the flaws, the House passage of the Murray-Ryan deal mitigated sequestration….The austerity approach won’t work…”

“I’m also focused on the farm bill – that’s a great battle with serious consequences. We seem to have relative agreement on reforming the farm subsidy program – we’re essentially going to provide fewer subsidies to large corporations that are otherwise pretty profitable…but the problem is that the House Republican majority wants to devastate the program….It’s now in conference committee to work out the differences. I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to work it out…. If we don’t fix the farm bill, come March, April, May, anybody who is the parent of a child 12 years or younger is going to feel it big time because milk prices are going to double….”
He said he also heard from his constituents regarding to topic of Syria, because he specifically solicited their opinion when it was looking like diplomatic solutions may not work:

“….I cannot imagine any more sobering responsibility by a member of Congress than to decide whether or not to engage in an act of war which will take lives, and my family has been personally affected in this way….”

Heck, who said he lost his brother to cancer as a result of exposure to Agent Orange while serving as a Marine in Vietnam, said he reached out to constituents about Syria, and was enriched by those conversations.
In the end, he said he felt that the President has not made the case for a military intervention in Syria.

Economic and Financial Issues
Last January, Heck gave up the chance to be appointed to other committees such as the Budget and Judiciary Committees. Instead Heck jumped at a last minute opening on the House Finance Committee and feels it’s his niche.

Most notably, Heck saw his bill, HR 2167, the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013, pass in June - no small feat for a freshman congressman.
Regarding the Federal Reserve, Heck said he thinks the Federal Reserve is a functional institution. "I’m an unabashed fan of Chair Bernanke and I think I will be of Janet Yellin as well. Both are smart, balanced people…tasked with keeping inflation and unemployment down, and this year Chair Bernanke was clearly concerned about employment levels….”

In early December, Heck signed onto the federal minimum wage indexing bill H.R. 1010 to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
“It won’t kick start the middle class by itself…but 1 percent of our nation’s population has 20 percent of its income and the top 1 percent has 40 percent of its net worth…and two-thirds of our economy is built on consumption…. that’s a recipe for economic disaster….”

This comment provided a perfect segue to ask his opinion about the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution. Heck said he could support it depending on what it said, adding that Citizen’s United was just “plain wrong and is bad for the country” but seemed to feel the movement was an uphill battle.
“Let’s change it as we can.”
Minty Fresh, Green Businesses

Asked what local businesses provide him with a sense of where we should be heading with a clean, green local economy, Heck said he appreciated businesses like I.P. Callison & Sons in Lacey, which provides mint related products throughout the world, Ice Chips Candy in Yelm, which was spotlighted on the television show “Shark Tank,” and Allafia, also headquartered in Lacey, whose fair trade health and beauty product production is the second largest employer in the African country of Togo.

“Allafia told me the other day that they gave 6,000 bikes to high school girls to commute to and from the village and raised high school graduation rates from nine percent to 95 percent - now that’s changing the world!”
Speaking of green businesses, I asked about the state legalization of pot. Heck says he is devoting his energy toward removing the federal barriers for marijuana related businesses so they can access the use of depository institutions.

“That’s where I’ve concentrated my efforts…I will also say that we seem to be decades beyond the point that marijuana should be a Class 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. I don’t think that’s supported by the science.”

Local Environmental Issues
Heck was asked a variety of environmental questions that he seemed to answer in terms of being an opportunity to discuss the issues.

Asked about China’s recent ban on geoducks, Heck responded, “I spoke with Ambassador (Gary) Locke a couple times…and our repeated tests were showing something different…Given the data I’ve been presented with, I’d be comfortable consuming that product….”
About the increased privatization of South Sound shores to the shellfish aquaculture industry, Heck said he prefers to think of it in terms of what the industry is doing to help global warming and ocean acidification.

“I tend to have a different view of shellfish farming - there is no stronger proponent of doing something about global warming than shellfish farmers and the reason for that is ocean acidification and what it does to the shellfish. In fact, I think shellfish is the water quality 'canary in the mineshaft.'  But if you believe, as I do, that global warming is one of the greatest threats to civilization, then that helps us spread the word….”
When pressed that what activists are talking about is the intensity and method that the shellfish aquaculture industry uses to scour the shoreline of native species, Heck said he knows people have strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

Asked for his opinion on the coal export terminals being proposed in Washington State, Heck said, “We are proceeding exactly as we should be, with the state Department of Ecology and the Corps of Engineering determining the outcome. I always use the question about coal as an opportunity to talk about global warming. Whether or not hauling that much coal traffic through our communities is environmentally damaging will hopefully be indicated by the results to these efforts that are currently underway."
Little Hollywood: “It doesn’t sound like you’re coming out against them…”

Heck: “What should be inarguable to everybody is that global warming is real and coal is a significant contributor and if we do not recognize that, we will pay a price beyond our imagination….”
LH: “But we’re aiding and abetting China to continue what they’re doing and it’s going to come back to us in the form of ocean acidification.” 

Heck did not respond.

Bringing more global issues local, I asked Heck how we can move to a healthier economy if our own Port of Olympia stays complicit in the degradation of our environment by accepting contracts to move raw logs to China and accept ceramic proppants from China, destined to be used in fracking. Heck was unfamiliar with this issue and/or the port’s role, so I provided him with several past issues of the South Sound Green Pages.
A little frustrated, perhaps, Heck added, “I don’t want to substitute my judgment all the time, ahead of time, for people whose job it is to evaluate this stuff – I mean, before their work product comes out, the state Department of Ecology and the Corps – yea or nay….”

Lastly, Heck was questioned about the slow cleanup efforts of Puget Sound, the Puget Sound Partnership, and his role with Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA06) as co-founders in June 2013 of the Congressional Puget Sound Recovery Caucus.
Heck said, “Not too much is happening yet, and that’s fair…In part, we see ourselves as defenders and advocates of appropriations designed to help with habitat restoration and the like, but we can also play a soft power role of being the ones who can prod improved coordination between these agencies….”
Heck described a Tacoma town hall meeting devoted to the topic of Puget Sound clean-up efforts, and a Washington D.C. based meeting between the state Partnership and the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 10, at which many of the parties had not met before.

“In terms of how I spend my time, it was a whole lot more than approving a press release – we are actually poking and prodding, trying to figure out how it is we can make a difference.”
Looking Toward Re-Election

Heck is running for re-election, and no Republican has stepped forth to challenge him. The primary is August 5. His last election against Republican Richard Muri cost a little over $2 million.
Freedom Foundation executive director Tom McCabe said last week in a meeting of Republicans at Panorama that they do not yet have anyone to run against Heck, but hoped someone would step forward. He acknowledged that the 10th district would be difficult for Republicans to win.
Toward his re-election campaign, Heck has already raised $603,335, according to a federal financial report filed October 14, 2013. Over half, $332,110, is from political action committees (PACs), and $271,225 is from individuals. Heck has $494,429.16 in cash on hand. His next financial report is due January 31.

I pointed out that in this last report alone, he has received thousands of dollars from the PACs of the very banks and financial institutions, such as Bank of America, Capital One, Citigroup, American Express, Ernst and Young, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs, that he is empowered to oversee and investigate as a member of the House Finance Committee.
Other corporations reporting contributions this quarter include Verizon, Walmart, General Electric, and $10,000 each from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 
I asked him if there is anyone he would not accept campaign monies from.

“I don’t know, really…I’d probably have a hard time if cigarette companies come knocking, and I’ve never gotten any money from Big Oil, but my record ringing the bell on global warming is well established, and my advocacy for closing some of the tax preferences Big Oil has is pretty well known, so maybe they’ll never come, I don’t know….”
Asked about his opinion on public financing, Heck said he’s conceptually supportive but if one’s position is that this is a good thing because it will impact policy in a good way, then all one has to do is look at Arizona. “They had a form of that for a while…and Maine…I’m not entirely convinced….”

When asked if accepting money from the aforementioned financial institutions doesn’t suggest a conflict of interest or leave him open to corruption, Heck said, “I am more than content to leave this up to the voters…I give thanks for being a member of Congress. I am not somebody who is going to retire post Congressional term to be a lobbyist…this is my home….I sleep pretty well at night.”
The House 113th Congress, Second Session is in session for only 11 days in January, and 112 days total this year, for which Heck is paid $174,000.

On Wednesday, January 15, the Finance Committee will hold a hearing to examine the impact and potential unintended consequences of the recently finalized Volcker Rule.
On Tuesday, January 28, the committee will hold a hearing to receive the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau semi-annual report.

While many of the issues we discussed are far away from the minds of many South Sounders, Heck will be there, and giving ‘em heck, or at least, some pokin' and proddin'.
For more information about U.S. Congressman Denny Heck, go to his website at

His congressional Thurston and Mason County office is located at Lacey City Hall, 420 College Street SE, Suite 3000, Lacey, Washington 98503, (360) 459-8514; Pierce County office is located at Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main Street SW, Suite 3B, Lakewood, WA 98499, (253) 208-6172; Washington D.C. office, 425 Cannon House Office Building, Washington D.C. 20215, (202) 225-9740.
Full disclosure: Janine Unsoeld is a board member of the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH) that publishes the South Sound Green Pages, a quarterly environmental magazine. For more information, go to: