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KPLU's Election 2010: 2nd Congressional District Race
Ten years ago, Democrat Rick Larsen and Republican John Koster battled for an open seat in Washington's Second Congressional District. Larsen won that election and since then he's represented the district that runs from about the King- Snohomish County line to the Canadian border. This year, Koster - a Snohomish County Councilmemeber - is back for another shot at the seat.
In a lot of ways, this race - like many across the country -- is about competing versions of reality, especially around the economy. For Rick Larsen, the recent economic nosedive is the result of policies that gained momentum during the Bush Administration.
"We had an era of deregulation, without consideration for how the free market can actually work."
Larsen says the meltdown in the sub-prime lending market -- caused by the collapse of exotic financial instruments on Wall Street -- is a glaring example.
"People on Wall Street, they were trading things that didn't have any value, and it all caught up with them" he says. "The reason it did that is because the markets were not transparent."
In Rick Larsen's universe, an under-regulated financial industry went overboard, took irresponsible risks, and lawmakers had no choice but to pony up immense amounts of money to stabilize an economy that was in free-fall. Now, the economy is slowly recovering, and Larsen sees government's task as building the physical and financial infrastructure that businesses will need to expand and create badly-needed jobs.
Republican challenger John Koster sees recent history very differently. In Koster's world, our economic woes can be traced to 2006. That's when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Koster says the national debt rose alarmingly.
"It was $8.6 trillion when the Democrats took over," he says. "It's gone up five trillion dollars since."
Koster says that growing public indebtedness - fueled by deficit spending - is at the root of the economic crisis because it undermines confidence in the future.
"I think there's a lot of doubt in people's minds, uncertainty," he says. "And frankly, its not just business, it's the consumer, as well that's sitting on the sidelines right now saying,'I just want to wait and see what's going to happen here.'"
The way Larsen sees it, the steps the Obama Administration has taken to respond to the Great Recession have by and large been the right ones. He voted for the economic stimulus package, extending unemployment benefits, and the bill to create new rules for Wall Street.
"The new rules will say, You'll be free to drive yourself off a cliff in the future if you want, hedge fund manager. But no longer will the American people e trapped in the passenger seat with you.'"
Larsen also supports allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for individuals making more than $200,000 a year.
For Koster, the stimulus was an $800 billion failure, extending unemployment pushed us further into debt, the new Wall Street regulations will stifle financial innovation. And letting the tax cuts for the top bracket expire?
"I just think it's the wrong time to be raising taxes on those folks when they need the capital to grow businesses."
Rick Larsen is supported by unions, environmental groups, right-to-choose organizations, and government workers groups - including teachers and law enforcement.
John Koster is backed by business and industry groups, right-to-life organizations, gun rights groups, AND Sarah Palin.
In the end, it seems the candidates agree on only two things - one: that this year, it's all about the economy. And two: that voters in the Second District have a clear choice about which philosophy of governing they want to see in Congress in the coming session.
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