Candidates face off at CUB

U.S. representative candidates for District 5 Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Joe Pakootas presented to more than 400 students and community members on Wednesday their ideas on how to keep college affordable as national student loan debt has passed $1 trillion and the cost of higher education continues to rise.

Pakootas, the democratic candidate, said at a debate in the CUB Auditorium that he is in favor of allowing students to refinance debt, and that Congress should reduce or waive interest rates for students who are in debt.

“As soon as they come out of college, they cannot get the job that they trained for,” he said, “so they have to take the lesser job and they cannot afford to pay their debt back.”

He cited Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to provide higher education at no cost to students as the final aim, but said Congress would not be likely to approve this now.

“It will be hard to make college free,” Pakootas said, “but that is a goal in the future.”

McMorris Rodgers, the republican incumbent candidate, focused on the importance of student loans, particularly the Perkins loan for first-generation students, which she said she has worked on in Congress.

She said she recently met with representatives from several Eastern Washington universities, whose first concern was regulation from the Department of Education that increases costs and limits programs they can make available.

She said 85 percent of jobs in the future will require higher-education, whether two-year, four-year or otherwise, making affordable education more important than ever.

“Having access to college, whatever that may be,” she said, “needs to be a priority in ensuring that no matter who you are, you feel like you can make that happen.”

Pakootas questioned how the public could trust McMorris Rodgers in light of an ethics investigation into her use of official government funds to enhance her political career in 2013.

He said the investigation uncovered evidence of retribution against a staff member who exposed the violation, and that testimony revealed McMorris Rodgers denied wrongdoing and “perpetuated a culture of dishonesty” among her staff.

The charges remain unresolved, but McMorris Rodgers said she has cooperated with the investigation and they are working on resolving them.

“As a public official,” she said, “it is important that I hold myself to the highest ethical standards, and that is the way I have always conducted myself.”

McMorris Rodgers was asked whether she supported Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration policies, including building a border wall, deporting undocumented immigrants and banning people from countries associated with terrorism.

“I believe that it is important, as a first step, that we secure the border,” she said. “That’s fundamental to keeping us safe as a country.”

She also advocated a workable guest worker program for Washington to help fill labor demands throughout the agriculture industry.

“We do have a broken immigration system, and it’s been broken for hundreds of years actually,” Pakootas said. “The solution isn’t building a great big beautiful wall or deporting 16 million undocumented citizens.”

Pakootas went on to talk about the children of undocumented immigrants being separated from their parents as a result of mass deportation.

“That has damaging effects, devastating effects to young people,” Pakootas said, “and it affects their lives all the way through.”

McMorris Rodgers defeated Pakootas in 2014, 60.7 percent to 39.3 percent. She also won the primary in August with 42.2 percent, while Pakootas received 31.5 percent.