'Doc' Hastings swings through Tonasket

Richard N. "Doc" Hastings
Richard N. “Doc” Hastings

TONASKET – Richard N. “Doc” Hastings is about as sure a bet as there can be to win re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives out of Washington’s 4th Congressional District.

He’s been the representative out of the 4th District since 1995, but hasn’t spoken for Okanogan County since 2003, when the county was shifted to the 5th District. After the 2010 census, Washington was awarded a 10th Congressional District, forcing the rest of the state’s districts to be adjusted. Okanogan County shifted back to the 4th District, where Hastings is running for his 10th term since ousting Jay Inslee from the seat in 1995. Hastings is a prohibitive favorite to win re-election after claiming 59.3 percent of the vote in the four-candidate primary on Aug. 7.

He will face off against Democrat Mary Baechler, who received 26.5 percent of the primary vote, in the November general election

Hastings (R-Pasco) visited Tonasket on Friday, Aug. 17, as part of his election campaign to re-introduce himself to once-and-again constituents of the area. That included a stop at Shannon’s for an early morning coffee and interview, where he discussed his views on energy, immigration, veterans’ care and other issues.

Hastings, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, had a busy week. His bill H.R. 6247, “Saving Our Dams and Hydropower Development of Jobs Act of 2012,” was part of field hearing held by the committee in Pasco on Wednesday.

The bill was introduced partly in response to pressure from some environmental groups to remove dams from Pacific Northwest rivers, including those that are fully operational.

“It was a hearing simply to really start the discussion,” Hastings said. “We’re going to have to have more energy. Why we don’t look at the benefits of hydropower nationally to me doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The hydropower is self-evident that it fuels our economy. The dams, especially in Central Washington, especially Grand Coulee Dam, is what irrigates the Columbia Basin Project. Any dam has a pool of water behind it where irrigation water comes out, so that really is a big driver of our economy.”

Most significantly, Hastings felt, no one in attendance said that hydro wasn’t a renewable power source.

“Every one of the panelists were there, from all sides,” he said, “and none of them said that hydro wasn’t renewable. So we’re making progress.”

Hastings said his biggest issue is the disposition of federally owned lands, which comprise a large portion of the entire district, as well as a big chunk of Okanogan County.

“As chairman of the house natural resources committee, I firmly believe that all … federal lands, unless otherwise designated by the Congress, should be open for multiple use,” Hastings said. “That includes commercial activity, recreational activity and so on. But what we have seen the last generation or so is a gradual regulatory squeeze on that multiple-use notion. What I’ve tried to do… is bring this issue more to the forefront, and with various pieces of legislation we’ve passed out of committee and out of the House, we’ve made very plain that if there is a special designation it is confined to that specific area.”

Another issue near and dear to the county – especially in Tonasket, with its new VA clinic at North Valley Hospital and the nearly-completed Armed Forces Legacy Project – is the care of veterans.

“(Veterans’ health care) is an ongoing issue all the time,” Hastings said. “The principle is sound to me. The reason we have the freedoms that we have is because of the efforts these American citizens have put in, the military forces that thus become veterans. We should never lose sight of that fact.

“President Lincoln was really the first one during the Civil War. He said that the widows, orphans of our fallen soldiers needed to be taken care of. I think that principle is sound to this day.

“I continue to be a huge advocate for community-based facilities for veterans, especially when you live here, you’re not close to places, and if you have to drive, especially in the winter, to Wenatchee or Spokane, it’s tough. I firmly believe in that.”

Hastings also said he is hoping Congress can come up with practical immigration reform, particularly a workable guest worker program with predictable and consistent rules and regulations.

“What we really need… in labor-intensive agriculture, we need a workable guest worker program where it’s predictable for the guest worker what the rules and regs are,” Hastings said. “And on the other side, the employers (need to) have the certainty of having a labor force. I’d categorize that as a workable guest worker program.

“What is on the books right now is not workable. It’s tough because it’s always part of a larger conversation about immigration reform. I’m a firm believer in securing our borders. That has to be a component of it, and that goes without saying. But we need a workable guest worker program so that there is certainty for the employer – the grower – and the laborer.”

With the possibility of the use of drones for border surveillance in the near future, there have been concerns that drones have been used by other government agencies, such as the EPA, to monitor activities on private ranches in the Midwest.

“We’ve heard those things and nothing has been pointed out yet,” Hastings said. “But we do have a very sound issue of privacy and private property rights, and that needs to be respected.

“Technology is going to bring challenges (because it moves faster than the legislative process). That’s the nature of it.”

Okanogan County has been represented by Cathy McMorris Rodgers as part of the 5th District since 2005.

The reconfigured 4th District also includes Douglas, Grant, Benton, Yakima, Adams, Franklin and the western portion of Walla Walla counties.

“It’s really nice to represent this area again,” Hastings said. “I enjoyed it before; it’s just the nature of how things work.”

More information on Hastings, other candidates and their stances can be found online. The guide has not yet been updated for the general election, and when the updated guide is released it will also be available in print.