DeFazio touts experience, says opponent not ready for D.C.

Facing what is widely regarded as the stiffest election challenge since he was voted into Congress in 1986, Democrat Peter DeFazio says that Republican Art Robinson, his most serious opponent for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District seat, is long on generalities and short on specifics in dealing with the nation’s problems.

In what has become a testy exchange between the two, who have faced off twice in person, DeFazio complained, during a visit earlier this month with The New Era’s editorial staff, that Robinson “is not talking meaningfully about the issues in our debates. Most of the time he’s not answering questions.”

He ridiculed Robinson’s “grand, sweeping statements” that reducing taxes and regulation by what Robinson calls “Big Government” will lead to economic prosperity and lead to a balanced budget.

Robinson has appeared publicly in Sweet Home twice thus far in the campaign and has faced off with DeFazio in forums in Eugene and Corvallis. (For coverage of two of those events, visit and type “Art Robinson” in the search field.)

“I haven’t seen my opponent show an understanding of the issues,” DeFazio said, adding that he doesn’t believe Robinson can deliver on those promises, which DeFazio described as “bombast, someone who says big things” in the real world of Washington, D.C.

“Guess what, it’s never going to happen,” he said. “The country is never going to be run by people who come from isolated, rural districts like mine. You have to take hard positions, be pragmatic and work on it. That’s what I do.”

DeFazio said he plans to focus on several issues if he is re-elected to a 12th term.

One of those is management of federal timberlands. He said he is working with researchers and forestry experts from Oregon State University on a plan that would manage the forests for “sustainability.”

“My plan is to manage the forest differently,” he said. “Get a higher volume of timber out but manage the forest. This isn’t commercial production. We don’t choose between sustainability and production.”

He said his plan would include no straight age class limits or diameter limits.

“If I have a plan that could double the harvest and create sustainability on federal lands for 20 years, I think that’s pretty good.”

He said another goal is to get the timber support payments re-established.

“Particularly with the O&C, we have a unique contract with the federal government that they need to honor,” he said, noting that under the current agreement next year will be the last for timber support payments.

“I hope to revise it so we can get more timber off federal lands in a sustainable way that will provide more revenue, more jobs to the counties. I want to continue to support funds to the counties, given the fact that the federal government owns way more than 50 percent of the forest land.”

He said that another problem is “failed trade policy” that allows Canadian lumber, supported by government subsidies, to be sold far more cheaply than U.S. timber.

DeFazio said Steve Swanson, owner of a mill in Glendale that recently closed, told him that if it hadn’t been for the Canadian imports “he probably could have limped along. They’re paying one-fifth (at Canadian mills) for what he has to pay per stumpage.”

The congressman’s antipathy toward free-trade agreements such as NAFTA extends beyond the timber industry. He said he has opposed NAFTA and other free-trade agreements because he predicted that they would cost jobs in Oregon.

“Clinton passed NAFTA and everybody drank the Kool-aid but I was right. They open the U.S. up to imports from overseas and they don’t deal effectively with barriers against our goods going over there,” he said, adding that “slave labor” and less stringent environmental policies produce an uneven playing field for U.S. businesses.

DeFazio said he has also introduced legislation that would reward companies for using American workers and American goods in their manufacturing.

“We need a new trade policy that keeps jobs at home,” he said. “I say they come up to our standards and trade fairly or we rebuild our industry here.”

He said one of the major challenges lawmakers like himself face is that most of Washington D.C. has no understanding of rural America and issues such as forestry, the impact of the Clean Water Act, fisheries €“ and gravel.

DeFazio said he had a “huge and lengthy fight” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the collection of gravel from bars during the low-water season on the Chetco River.

“To me that’s one of the most benign ways of getting gravel,” he said. “They weren’t digging in a sensitive area. They weren’t digging a giant pit.

“Contentious issues take a long time,” he said, adding that he finally got officials to allow gravel collection during the late summer.

“The large contingent of people in Washington D.C. doesn’t understand forestry, fisheries” and other rural issues, he said.

“They need to understand that a lot of people in rural America feel under attack. I’m having to spend a lot of time educating people about issues that are important to us.”

He said other priorities include getting a budget passed and reducing the deficit.

“The government needs a budget for next year,” he said. He advocates freezing federal salaries, which would reduce the budget by 2 percent, and renew the Bush tax cuts for people whose income is under $250,000.

He favors restoring the Clinton-era tax rates for those whose income exceeds $250,000, a move that would bring in $800 billion over the next 10 years.

“You’re going to have to create revenues,” he said, noting that cutting major government services such as the Coast Guard, border patrol, and substantial Pentagon cuts, among others, would not serve to balance the budget.

“We’re going to have to deal with both sides of the ledger,” he said.

DeFazio, a long-time advocate of balancing the budget, who has a National Debt Clock tallying the current numbers on his Web site, said “we need to get the deficit under control. We can’t keep piling it on our kids and grandkids.”

Another priority is DeFazio’s five-year transportation authorization bill, which is a better way to create jobs than President Obama’s stimulus efforts, which were too short-lived to do much and which he opposed, getting “called out” by the president for doing so, he said.

“There are over 150,000 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges on our roads today that need to be replaced,” he said. “That’s a lot of American steel. My bill requires that the materials used be domestic.”

He said 40 percent of the nation’s interstate highways need to be replaced and he wants to put a $50 billion down payment into the highway trust fund, “which begins major long-term projects that will employ a hell of a lot more people.”

DeFazio said such projects also create jobs in manufacturing because the projects financed by the stimulus funds did not result in orders for equipment.

“Who’s going to order equipment for a three-month job?” he asked.

He noted that he has brought $450 million worth of federal funds to Oregon, which include bridge repairs along I-5 in Linn County, in the last five years, ranking him fifth among House members.

“I have brought substantial improvements in public transportation that I’m willing to defend, to stand up for,” he said. “Any new member of Congress who says he doesn’t support improvements in public transportation, that infrastructure investment by the federal government is a bad thing €“ socialism €“ that’s nuts, just nuts. If we need to build a new bridge over the Willamette, do we pass the hat?”