from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Conversation with Peter Goldmark WA-05 

Yesterday, Friday June 23, I participated in what was supposed to be a bloggers conference call with Peter Goldmark, the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District in Washington, who is my college classmate (Haverford ‘67). McCranium, a well-known Washington State blogger, was not able to join us, so for about an hour Peter and I had an extensive conversation on his campaign, on issues. This diary is to present that conversation in detail.

Because of the diary I posted yesterday, people probably want to know Peter’s position on the flag amendment. Until we spoke he had no even thought about it. Because we made arrangements for this call before I wrote that diary, I would have posted it even had he immediately announced that he supported the amendment. He plans to think about the issue and get back to me, and told me he respects the fact that my position is based on principle, even should he disagree with me.

Now to the conversation.

For those who don’t know Peter has a Ph. D in Molecular Biology from Cal Berkeley, did a post-bac in Neurobiology at Harvard, then returned to his family ranch where he has been ever since. He constructed a small but quality laboratory on his ranch and through his career has continued to do research and periodically to publish. He also has extensive public service, having served 8 years as an elected member of his local school board, 10 years on the Washington State Univ. Board, and as Director of Agriculture appointed by former Governor Mike Lowrey. He also served on a variety of state boards dealing with agriculture, environment and biodiversity. He will shortly have a fundraiser at which both Lowrey and Rep. Jay Inslee, a long time personal friend and someone Peter has long supported, will appear on his behalf.

FUNDRAISING - Peter has raised about 170,000 so far, and hopes to hit 200,000 by the end of the 6/30 reporting period. He has several “huge” fundraisers set for next month, and still is hopeful he can reach his original target of raising $1 million for the campaign.

POLLING - no data yet, because the campaign is still deciding when and where to poll.

Peter is determined to run as a local person running for a local district. he is looking to advance the interests of Eastern Washington, and is far less concerned with what party chiefs in Washington might think. He intends to make an issue of the absence of the incumbent (first termer Cathy McMorris) delivering any substantial help to the district. His campaign has of course already begun examination of her record, including especially her voting record and the contributions she has received from Pacs. She has some connections to some of the Republican scandals, but he does not know how large a role they will play in the campaign.

There were four key issues that Goldmark raised, and each was discussed especially in terms of how they affect the district and the state. These were energy, health, education an jobs.,

ENERGY - in a rural area such as the 5th CD the cost of fuels is key - to farmers to run their equipment, and simply in getting around. Peter is for a multi-pronged approach. He wants to seek greater efficiency, which can be addressed in part by raising CAFE standards. he wants to go forward on all alternative fuels, viewing achieving energy independence as a national security issue. He would explore fully ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar. he had just attended a filed day near Pullman Washington which was talking about the cutting edge of agriculturally derived energy sources. In biomass, for example,l just within Washington State, using blogs and discarded products could account for 1/2 of the electric demand even achieving only a 25% retrieval rate using current technology - here I note what one can imagine with improved technology.

The state os Washington is seeing the development of 5 ethanol or biodiesel, plants, four of which are being funded by the state, and one, using palm oil, not funded by the state. He is not as interested in that because it be on the coast and hence would not benefit his district. His approach is to seek to place plants where they could use locally grown biological fuels, locally processed, with minimal transportation - this cuts way back on the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

We discussed issues of efficiency. Remember that Peter is a scientist by training. He noted that the efficiency of corn-based ethanol is marginal, producing only about 30-40% more output of energy than the inputs required. He discussed the different kinds of biodiesel. he noted that palm oil has a cloud point of around 62 degrees, which creates problems for its use in colder areas, which is true during the winter for much of his district. Mustard oil has a much lower cloud point, and has the advantage of being locally grown and recycled. Using canola as an example, he said that a good winter canola crop could yield two tons per acre which would equal 300 gallons of biodiesel, and he set the ratio of energy input to output is logarithmic. He thinks ethanol will increase its output ratio as the technology improves, but while it is a necessary bridge technology it is probably not a long term solution.

We next turned to a discussion of health, which is a major issue in the district, where a lot of people are interested in some form of national coverage. Peter suspects we won’t get there for a while, and does not know if the path will be state by state, following examples such as Mass., or it will be gradual expansion of medicare and medicaid. He believes the government will have to get involved both as a provider and as a means of providing stability. He thinks medicare Part D has not been a very good solution, but it is what we have right now. The seniors in his district are NOT happy and would very much like to open up negotiation of drug prices. peter believes that should be one of the benefits of a government overseen or controlled plan, negotiating the lowest possible prices. he believes that if Democrats get control of Congress they should do an in-depth investigation of how the pharmaceutical companies are profiting from the current set up. He believes it would really open people’;s eyes and create the necessary political pressure to make a real difference.

Veteran’s health care is a real issue in the district. The VA is attempting to shut its hospital in Walla-Walla, when the next nearest facility is more than 130 miles away. The facility has been allowed to decay, and parts have already been shut. The veterans are feeling left without any recourse. I got Peter’s next words exactly, because I thought they so addressed the issue:
This country has to take care of those people who have sacrificed their life and their health for their country. We made a commitment to them. We need to followup in spades on our commitment to those people.”

EDUCATION is the basis of success today and tomorrow. We have to provide for a better education both K-12 and through our public universities. Given his roles on the local school board and at Washington State he has seen this issue up close. He knows that there are issue of motivation of students that need to be addressed. He is totally opposed to unfunded mandates. At my suggestion he is going to explore the impact of the federal government failing to achieve the promised 40% funding of special ed upon the the school districts he would serve. He also raised the issue of cutbacks in the impact funds the federal government provides in lieu of taxes. A number of school jurisdictions have huge amounts of federal land within their boundaries, and the reduction of such funds has had a severe impact upon their ability to maintain their educational performance.

He noted that the 4-year universities, especially the land grant institution such as Washington State, have suffered in multiple ways. The increase in interest paid on student loans makes it harder for students to achieve their educational goals and the cutbacks of the funding under the Morrill Land Grant Act has led to reductions in programs and research. As a scientist and a systematic farmer Peter personally knows how important this is because research is fundamental to future success economically and otherwise. he views this as a real issue of maintaining competitiveness internationally.

JOBS - Goldmark hopes work on energy will help create jobs in the rural areas. He just visited one town and said it was like being in the last picture show. There was one cafe open and everything else was boarded up. He is not content to see rural communities dry up. He believes local processing of energy crops will create jobs. he also believes there is potential in medical and related work and user the River Point Campus health and medical center in Spokane as an example. He thinks some jobs can be created with an increase in high speed internet, and cited one rural site that has a center for dental records that serves a wider area. It won’t be a panacea but increasing high speed internet access especially helps access to educational materials for rural schools while providing some spinoff for private industry.

THE IRAQ WAR - is on everyone’s mind. We need to hold Iraqi government responsible, hold their feet to their fire. He’s not a believer in a date certain for withdrawal of US troops, but believes that pressure has to be put on the government and on Iraqi security forces to step up, and if necessary, to start some level of withdrawal in the near future to put pressure on them. He does not think we should have a long-term presence in iraq, and is concerned that the administration has gone ahead building multiple what appear to be permanent basis with no debate in the Congress about it.

Peter said that the political part of campaign will get underway in July. Both candidates have been staying in camp, raising money, doing some research. He has been building his staff, visiting the district, raising some money, and getting organized. He feels comfortable about the campaign.

I have known Peter for over 40 years. Like most of our class, he was far brighter than the average person, something he has demonstrated during his career since leaving Haverford. He already has a remarkable command of issues, and if it is anything scientific can talk with a specificity that would blow most Members of the House away. I know little about his opponent, but I very much doubt she would want to have a serious debate televised across the district, because Peter can be quite formidable.

Spokane is the major population center, and the location of his campaign office. Other places of significance are Walla-Walla and Pullman, the latter the location of Washington State, one of several significant institutions of higher learning (along with Gonzaga and Eastern Washington) in the district. From a previous discussion with his campaign manager, Jeremiah Levine, I know the campaign intends to make serious effort to get students to register to vote in this district rather than in their homes.

Absent polling data it can be hard to read a race. The Democrat last time had plenty of money but got little traction in the race. Bush’s approval rating in the state has been as low as net negative 33% and as high as only net negative 7%. However the district has more in common in many ways with neighboring Idaho than it does with the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area which provides so much of the margin for statewide Democratic candidates, and idaho is one of the few states in which Bush has been able to maintain an unbroken positive net approval. Thus it is somewhat risky to apply statewide approval - or lack thereof- as a means of interpreting the possibilities of this race.

From all evidence Peter Goldmark is doing everything right. He has strong ties with the state Democratic party, an ability to raise sufficient money (in a district without high costs for television), he has strong roots in the community, some prior name recognition, has done his homework on the issues, and - perhaps of interest here - has done serious outreach to the local blogging community in state, which as a result is quite supportive. He is being endorsed by the local DFA people. He got in the race so late that his name does not appear on most of the lists we now see where candidates are competing for blessings and money from other organizations, whether it is the pacs of Mark Warner, Russ Feingold, or anything else.

The campaign website has improved greatly in the past few weeks, but still needs a lot of work, including more detailed information on issues. I expect to see that resolved in the next month.

And I expect that this will be a race which while not currently on the radar may well rise to the point where people outside the district will pay attention. It is one that can be doable, Can be. Those are the operable words. We will have to watch. But if you are close enough to lend a hand, it is a place where your efforts might well make a difference.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
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