Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Q&A: Richard Wright

If I had a remote on real time, I would have started Richard Wright’s speech where he ended it: “...Restore integrity and honesty to the House of Representatives, establish a fair and honest drug plan, end the Iraq war so those soldiers can come home and be rejoined with their families.

“If there ever was a time we needed a change in this district, it is right now. We need to approach this campaign as if it were the final victory needed to secure a Democratic Congress.”

Amen! Removing DeLay lapdog Doc Hastings ought to be first priority for anybody interested in an ethical Congress. That is what Richard Wright is trying to do in the 4th Congressional District -- Central Washington from Wenatchee down through Ellensburg and Yakima and into the Tri-Cities.

I tried to find some questions that were not too easy. Richard was very generous in his answers.

NPI: We on the West Side have a view of Eastern Washington as a few frustrated liberals surrounded by blank-eyed dittoheads. What do you need to do to wake people up?

Wright: I feel that the majority of voters are extremely busy. Economic pressures require them to work longer than they would like. This limits their ability to understand the complex issues facing this nation. This is exacerbated by our media which seems to me nothing more than political propaganda in many cases. Voters are starting to realize that many of the problems they are facing are result of very poor decisions by their elected officials. High gas prices are a huge issue for the families, farmers, and ranchers in Eastern Washington. People are tiring of the Iraq war. My conversations with voters give me hope that they are now really ready for a change.

NPI: How is the Medicare Drug Bill fiasco playing? I heard you connecting it directly to Hastings.

Wright: This bill is a license to steal from our seniors. This bill has been a disaster. It will take some time to educate the seniors on how Hastings was responsible for passage of this confusing bill. Hastings was responsible for timing the vote that passed narrowly. After the allotted 15 minutes, the bill had failed. Hastings kept the vote open for 3 hours allowing the President time to twist the arms of legislators and pressure them to change their votes. One senior told me “you can conceal anything if you make it confusing enough.” This program is so complicated it is easy to conceal fraud and it is difficult to determine if the seniors are getting the promised benefit. My mother actually pays $500 more under the program than before signing up. According to the bill, she was supposed to get an $800 benefit. This bill is a license to steal from our seniors.

Extending the date to sign up is not the solution. The solution is a complete overhaul of the program. I rallied with supporters in Pasco and Yakima on May 15, calling for Hastings to step down as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee. We held these events on the deadline for signing up for the program because of Hastings’ manipulation to get the bill passed. We do not feel its right for a Congressman who cannot follow the rules of the House to be the Ethics Committee Chairman.

NPI: We at NPI have advocated closing the holes in the federal budget by rescinding the tax breaks for the rich and adopting family friendly taxation such as PPI’s plan. [We posted on this in November.] You’ve made the budget debacle one of your campaign themes. How do you see it?

Wright: The budget deficits are threatening the economic viability of this nation. The fiscal irresponsibility of our elected officials is also weakening our currency. I have taken several trips to Europe and I’ve seen the value of the dollar decrease against the Euro over the past few years. If we truly view this as a global economy, we should view our currency on global terms. That means it should concern us when our currency loses value. I’m sure those who benefit from tax breaks also lose when our currency devalues. My approach to the budget deficit would be to do everything we can do to control spending and if that is insufficient to balance the budget, our first step should be rescinding the tax breaks for high income earners.

NPI: There is a large, established Hispanic population in Central and Southeast Washington. What is your take on the immigration debate?

Wright: Immigration is a huge issue in our district. It is an issue that divides people. Even in the labor arena, there are differences of opinions. The problems we’re having with immigration showcase the problems we’re having with our borders. It seems that if we were truly concerned with national security, the first thing we would have done is secure or borders. This lax border security has made it easy for immigrants to cross into this country. I also read that the United States has dumped farm commodities in Mexico which has put one million corn farmers out of work. This has increased the number of immigrants looking to this country for gainful employment. The jobs are here and Americans are hiring.

It creates a situation where people will do what it takes to get here. Our farmers and ranchers are dependent on a dependable labor supply. I believe all people need to be treated with dignity. These are hard working people and we can’t deny that. I feel compromise is in order to approach and solve this problem.

NPI: You built a successful health care business, but I’m not sure exactly how it works. Can you describe it? In what form do you see affordable health care finally arriving?

Wright: I started a physical therapy private practice in 1982. This company has now grown to 11 clinics in three states with 60 employees. The main reason for our success is our concern for providing the best quality of medical care for our patients. Additionally, we have developed a business plan which we call “The Columbia Way of Doing Business”. It rewards employees who work hard and help the company succeed. It also rewards physical therapists who help us expand our company. We have been successful at growing the company at 15% per year. We will be opening three more clinics this year. We now have 22 physical therapists working for the company.

Over the past 20 years only three therapists have terminated their employment before retirement. Even though we’re a small company, we have tried hard to become a great company. We are very innovative with rewarding our employees. We have profit sharing for all full-time employees. We also have health-care benefits, stock options, fitness bonuses, marketing bonuses and an excellent retirement program. We have been nominated for the Mid-Columbia Small Business of the Year Award. This will be given out on May 18th. I am presently President of this company but it now only is taking about 5 hours per week of my time.

Our first step in decreasing health-care costs should be prevention. Our company has developed an injury-prevention program for a local potato processing plant. Their injury rate has decreased by 70% and they have saved millions in L & I premiums. We need to stress proper diet and exercise. Our company pays employees for exercise and weight-loss.

I believe the best approach to delivering health-care services would be to fine-tune the Medicare Program. Our company has treated over 10,000 Medicare recipients over the past 20 years. Medicare is a great insurance program with a very low administrative cost. The Medicare Reform Act of 2003 has damaged the program. The biggest problem was the Medicare Drug portion of the bill. That portion of the bill needs to be completely revised.

We need to get the private insurance companies out of this program. We should allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices and also administer the program, in the same manner that the Medicare Part B is run. This drug program is so complex that is easy to conceal fraud and difficult to determine if our seniors are getting the promised benefit. After fine-tuning Medicare we need to experiment with bringing other populations into the program. Perhaps Medicare could be the payer for large corporations. We could also begin to allow other age groups to be covered under the program. I would start off with those aged 60 to 65. This group would still be responsible for paying their premiums so it would not adversely affect the budget. Because Medicare is so much more efficient that traditional insurance, there should be a huge cost savings. Over a 10-year period we could gradually bring everyone into the Medicare Program. This ten-year period would also allow insurance companies time to adjust to these changes.

NPI: What is the biggest obstacle between you and the House seat?

Wright: The support I’ve felt in the district has been overwhelming. People are ready for a change and the enthusiasm is contagious. It’s a great feeling. The fact remains that my biggest obstacle is getting the necessary resources needed to get my message out. I feel I have great ideas and there are certainly plenty of issues to discuss, but it will take money to communicate my message. This is also a heavily Republican district, requiring me to reach people with messages that resonate with all voters in the District who are fed up with the status quo, regardless of their party affiliation. Our approach to the budget deficit should help with this.

NPI: I was concerned you weren’t getting off the ground soon enough, then I visited Hastings’ campaign web site. It hasn’t been updated in eighteen months. I was concerned you didn’t have the charisma to win. Then I remembered Doc. You have no problem. How do you compare yourself to the current officeholder? How do you expect him to run?

Wright: I feel good about the organization and timing of the campaign. We’ve been at it since the first of the year. Our campaign office is in place, we had a fantastic kick-off tour and I am now touring the district speaking to groups of seniors about Medicare. I am putting everything in to this and I believe with hard work I’ll win.

As far as comparisons with Hastings, I think the only thing we have in common is that we both graduated from Pasco High School. Hastings did not finish college. I attended BYU for 4 years studying business and science before transferring to the University of Washington Physical Therapy School. I graduated in 1979. I started my business from scratch. Hastings was handed his father’s janitorial supply company.

My main hobby has been international travel. I was in London when President Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol. I was in Germany when he began talking about Iraq. I was in the Virgin Islands when the war started. In 2005, I visited London 5 days after the bombings. I was in Australia when the Bali bombings occurred. I have traveled to China in 1983, 1991, 1998 and 2004. I visited the Guangzhow trade fair twice and have seen the dramatic changes in that country.

I feel I have a much more accurate and informed view of our country and how our policies affect the world. I speak the Cantonese dialect of Chinese. I believe that Mr. Hastings will keep a low profile during this campaign and will not respond to my statements. He will probably try to delay a debate as long as possible.

NPI: How is the Iraq war playing in your district?

Wright: The Iraq war is one of the primary reasons I’m running for Congress. This prolonged conflict is losing support all over the country. I wrote Mr. Hastings before the war, encouraging him to follow the recommendations of the United Nations. Of course, he went along with the administration and voted for the resolution of force. He has voted the GOP party line 97% of the time. I have always felt this war was ill-conceived and that we never had nor do we now have a reasonable exit strategy. I do support our troops and appreciate their sacrifices. We now need a new course for our troops’ sake and for the sake of the Iraqi people.

NPI: What are the major issues you see?

Wright: I see the major issues to be high gas prices, insecure borders, ballooning budget deficits, a confusing Medicare drug plan and a Congress rife with corruption. Gas prices, in particular are on Americans’ minds and affecting their way of life. Our media reminds us of the high corporate profits of oil companies at the same time we pay painfully high prices for gas. I will always put American citizens and hard-working families before big corporate interests. We also need to address the urgent issue of American dependence on foreign oil. This is an area where we need to apply good old American ingenuity and come up with innovative solutions. This is about the environment, national security, and economic stability all in one. It’s very important to me.

NPI: What question would you like to answer that I haven’t asked?

Wright: You have asked some very good questions. Many Americans are concerned about the direction of our country – 70% feel we’re on the wrong track. I feel this upcoming election is extremely important to the future of our nation, and I think people understand the gravity of their decisions at the polls this November. I feel this is the year to win. Thank you very much for the interview.

You can contact the Wright campaign at their website to contribute or volunteer. McCranium is following the Wright campaign.

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