Congressional candidate visits Pullman for Q & A

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Congressional candidate visits Pullman for Q & A

Congressional candidate Ben Stuckart talks to a reporter at a town hall meeting on Sunday at the Holiday Inn Express.

Congressional candidate Ben Stuckart talks to a reporter at a town hall meeting on Sunday at the Holiday Inn Express.

Congressional candidate Ben Stuckart talks to a reporter at a town hall meeting on Sunday at the Holiday Inn Express.

Congressional candidate Ben Stuckart talks to a reporter at a town hall meeting on Sunday at the Holiday Inn Express.

JESSICA ZHOU, Evergreen reporter

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The Spokane City Council president said he beat established politicians for his current position, and intends to do it again as he runs for U.S. Congress.

A town hall question and answer event, hosted by the Whitman County Democrats in Pullman yesterday, was part of Ben Stuckart’s campaign to represent the 5th Congressional District as a Democrat. Stuckart will be competing against incumbent Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) and WSU student Matthew Sutherland.

Stuckart, along with his parents, is a Gonzaga University graduate. He said one of his foundational stories dates back to when he was 19 years old and home from college. His father, who he had rarely ever seen cry or drink, was in the kitchen holding a bottle of Jameson and weeping because then-President George H. W. Bush proposed cutting LIHEAP in the most recent federal budget.

LIHEAP, which stands for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is a federal program that helps low-income households pay for heating and cooling in their homes. Trump’s budget, Stuckart said, eliminates this program altogether.

“As people who benefit from [capitalism], we have a moral responsibility to take care of those at the bottom,” Stuckart said.

He started Communities in Schools of Spokane County, a nonprofit organization which he said has provided underserved students with programs and resources. Stuckart said he decided to run for Spokane City Council and defeated a former mayor and two-term councilman because he was willing to do the grunt work in going door-to-door to speak to citizens personally.

“If you’re straightforward with people,” he said, “they’ll trust you.”

Stuckart said the federal government has failed with recent initiatives, such as what he called the Muslim ban, and Democrats need to be bolder about their positions on important issues.

Stuckart said he was able to implement paid sick leave at the local level with restaurants in the Spokane area. The restaurant owners were previously not receptive to the idea, but he said he included them in the conversation and listened to their concerns, eventually convincing them to support the initiative.

During his time on the Spokane City Council, he said collaborated with one of the council’s most conservative members in order to negotiate regulations with cell phone companies that had been placing cell phone towers in people’s backyards.

In six months, the phone companies themselves were willing to cooperate with a working agreement and resolution, Stuckart said. He attributes his success in working with others to listening and valuing collaborative processes.

A theme of his campaign is listening, which he said is why he has been travelling throughout the 5th Congressional District to meet its citizens, from visiting a town hall in Pomeroy to sitting down for an interview in Walla Walla with the Whitman Wire. He spent about 10 minutes introducing himself, then fielded questions from attendees.

A 2012 WSU graduate said he took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans only to have to take out more when he returned to WSU in 2014. He asked Stuckart if he had any plans to protect students from “ballooning prices.”

Stuckart replied that he would like to work with the WSU student to figure out viable solutions, to which the student suggested a tuition cap.

When a citizen asked about an issue he was not as familiar with, Stuckart asked them about their thoughts on the issue.

“If anyone tries to tell you they’re an expert on anything,” he said, “they’re full of it.”

When asked about his stance on money in politics, Stuckart said he could see why there was a public perception that campaign donations easily sway politicians. He said he has turned down campaign money in the past.

In 2011, Stuckart said, he received a call from a lobbyist representing a casino who told him he could receive $8,000, what was a large proportion of his received donations at the time, on the condition that he stopped supporting the reservation and Native Americans in the area. This, he said, only strengthened his resolve and support.

McMorris Rodgers voted last week to allow internet service providers to sell customer data without regulation or consent, he said. She also accepted $25,000 from Comast and $50,000 from other communications companies, Stuckart said.

“I think [McMorris Rodgers] is focused on the Republican Party line instead of focusing on people’s needs here,” he said. “And that deals with healthcare, infrastructure, or dealing with poverty in our community.”

During his time as city council president, he said he has passed more ordinances, many of which focus on economic development, than the previous 20 years’ presidents.

“I think going in there with legislative experience for the last five years will give me realistic expectations about what I can get done,” Stuckart said. “We’re a very poor community. We haven’t benefited as significantly as other places from the economic recovery.”