With titles like doctor and brigadier general already on his resume, Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming wants to add another: congressman. He lists five issues he wants to address if he is elected as the first U.S. House member from Washington’s new 10th district, but he puts one first.
“It begins No. 1 with jobs – jobs for our youth, the younger generation, and jobs for the older generation,’’ Flemming said earlier this week at his campaign headquarters, located in a Lakewood office complex. “For me to address the debt of our nation it begins with getting people back to work.”
Six people filed last week to run in the newly created 10th Congressional District, which runs from Shelton to Thurston County and north to University Place and Puyallup. Also running are Republican Dick Muri of Steilacoom; Democrats Denny Heck of Olympia and Jennifer Ferguson of Lakewood; Sue Gunn of Olympia, who filed as a “Prog Independent”; and Steve Hannon of Yelm, who is running with no party affiliation.
Flemming’s emphasis on jobs does not set him apart in the race, and neither does his belief that the education system needs investment to retool it – to provide skills relevant to the workforce. Heck, among others, takes that view.
But Flemming said too many jobs are lost overseas due to an uneven playing field. In response, he favors some kind of tariff, tax or fee on imported goods that could be reinvested in universities and training schools, which he thinks need to be “retooled” to deliver graduates ready to work in the fields where the U.S. has jobs. As examples he said Boeing and Microsoft have jobs, but can’t always find qualified employees locally.
So, he asked, “why not charge a small percentage – 0.2 percent or 0.5 percent – on goods that could have been produced in this country, and use it for training and education?’’
Flemming gave few other specifics. Asked if he were talking about a tax or tariff, he laughed. “It’s a proposal, I call it now.” Asked what it might raise, he said: “You’d be at least in the billions of dollars nationally a year and you’d divvy it up among the institutions in the country that are willing to do that retooling.’’
Flemming also touts his background as the broadest and best for the job. He is a physician by profession and also has a background in education, having served as president of Pacific Northwest University of Health Science, as well as a trustee and board chairman for The Evergreen State College.
His list of titles only begins with doctor, chair and president: He’s a former state representative, serving a term in the early 1990s as a Democrat; he also is a retired brigadier general, a physician, a former mayor and current Pierce County Council member. He says he also has served as co-founder and director of Pierce County’s community medical clinics, leaving that role more than a decade ago.
Flemming said he had no criticism for U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, the Tacoma Democrat who has been serving areas around the military installations for more than a decade in the 9th district, which was moved north by redistricting.
But like Dick Muri, a retired Air Force officer who thinks that military experience makes him the best fit for the job, Flemming says military experience is important though not a requirement to serve in the 10th. The district includes Joint Base Lewis McChord and its large workforce and retired military personnel.
“I think Adam has done a great job. I wouldn’t take away what Adam has accomplished,’’ he said, quickly adding that Smith could have done more and had more credibility with military people sooner if he had shared their background. He said retiring U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, also has done a lot for the military but needed 30 years to build seniority and clout on the budget.
With Dicks leaving, Flemming said there is a huge void that can either be filled by another Northwest lawmaker earning seniority over time or with instant the credibility he believes he’ll have.
“When elected … I will automatically be the most senior ranking military member with Congress. That will put me at the table with discussions about how we maintain the installations in our district and state,” Flemming said.
The candidate did not give names, but says he went to Washington, D.C., last year and was approached by U.S. House leaders last year about running. He said his chief GOP rival – Muri – has worthy military service but lacks strategic and tactical understanding and background.
“Dick’s experience has been as a navigator – on a C141 airlift,’’ Flemming said. “Dick has never been a commander. He’s been a deputy.’’
The biggest military issue for the 10th is retaining the jobs, according to Flemming, who estimates there are more than 100,000 civilian and active duty jobs at the joint base. In addition there are contractors and businesses that cater to the installation.
“It is without a doubt an economic power for our state … We can’t let anyone take that away from us,’’ he said.
Although the base might appear secure after large reinvestments by the Department of Defense in recent years, Flemming said another round of cuts from the Base Realignment and Closure commission is coming up in 2015 and poses a threat.
For a man who can go by titles of general, doctor, councilman, chairman or president, Flemming can be a surprisingly soft spoken man. He is quick to smile, genial, and expansive in response to questions.
He also is quite quick to distance himself from his two-year stint as a state House member, saying he didn’t know the difference between Republicans and Democrats when he first ran and that Democrats were more welcoming to him. He later learned more, became disillusioned by the budget-writing process, and went back to his conservative family’s Republican roots.
Flemming grew up in a family of missionary doctors, first living in Steilacoom. He and his wife, Martha, have three adult children.
I spoke to Flemming about other issues:
NATIONAL DEBT: “The first step is stop the hemorrhaging,” Flemming said, suggesting a “look at what we fund in entitlements and peeling that back.’’ But as with other answers, he gave few specifics.
Asked about the Bush-era tax cuts, Flemming said: “I think it’s time for them to expire.’’ Asked if that meant all of them, he said: “No.’’
But Flemming went on to say there is a discrepancy between wage earners and those taxed at lower rates for capital gains. “Those who are doing financially extremely well will need to do their share,’’ he said.
Improving the economy is a big part of his cure for budget deficits. Flemming said a national strategy is needed and that the lack of such plans locally caused him to push for a Pierce County economic recovery plan, which he said got under way seven months ago.
His goal: to foster creation of new small businesses and help existing ones; to slow rates of home foreclosures; to help people feel better about themselves. The first piece launched a few weeks ago to help small businesses, and the others will come later.
HEALTHCARE: Flemming said he is “committed to repealing” the national Democrats’ health-insurance reform bill, if the Supreme Court does not strike it down. He contended it is costing more than predicted.
Flemming offered no clear solution for replacing the Affordable Care Act. He said there are many models to look at. Among them are community clinics and also membership clinics. A key he said is to bring doctors and providers to the table and to find ways to get more doctors into residencies that prepare them for the additional patients that need care in the U.S.
He also said: “We need to come up with a way for our working poor to access a healthcare system that is affordable.’’
One problem he wants to address is the cost of care. He said the U.S. has one of the two most expensive health systems in the world but health outcomes are not even in the top 30. He also wants to see the medical system paying doctors to take time with patients.
SOCIAL ISSUES: FLemming said gay marriage and abortion rights “are up to the people to decide.’’ But he opposes abortion on demand and asserted that his lack of experience in abortions ended his interviews as one of two finalists for surgeon general under President Clinton in 1995.
“I am pro life. But as a physician, I will qualify that. As a physician you know there are exceptional cases,” he said. If to save a mother’s life he had to sacrifice the fetus he would do that. As for allowing abortion for victims of rape and incest, he said: “That’s a tougher one. I don’t believe in exceptions for that.”
Flemming added that in such cases of sexual assault, the matter is “between the patient and the physician and … their faith. I don’t believe that is a reason for abortion.’’
Flemming said he “would probably vote against same-sex marriage if the question goes as expected to the November ballot. He argued that gays already have “civil unions.”
CLIMATE CHANGE: Like Muri and in direct conflict with candidates Heck and Gunn, Flemming sees no immediate need for U.S. action. He said the “jury is out” on whether human activity is making the earth warmer and he asserted that the U.S. has “been very responsible in terms of how we respond to that.’’
He said a carbon tax or so-called cap and trade system for carbon-pollution credits did not go in the right direction. “Do we need to come up with something? I’d say we need to look at it.’’
WHAT HE HEARS: “People are saying we are tired of the political paralysis and we want people who can work across the aisle and get the job done.’’