Congressional candidate Bill Driscoll has never held public office, but the Republican is wagering that his lack of political experience will be outweighed by his experience in business and the military, where he served in combat duty as a Marine in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Driscoll is a timber industry executive and a multi-millionaire as part of the Weyerhaeuser family and his own business dealings. despite his fortune, he joined the Marines and later decided to re-enlist so he could serve in the Middle East. Besides a stint working for Weyerhaeuser, he worked for Greenwood Resources and is still a board member with Potlatch Corp.
“We need more people who are coming up, not through political backgrounds, but through business backgrounds,” Driscoll said in a recent interview with The Daily World’s editorial board. “You don’t get anything done by vilifying the other side. You get things done by finding common ground and moving things forward.”
Driscoll pointed out that in “the civilian world” bi-partisanship happens every day. He notes that when he was a manager at Weyerhaeuser’s mill in Longview, he worked with the union to help save jobs.
Asked how he would work to bridge the partisan gap, Driscoll said he’d first look for people with whom he had common ground. “What I would do when I get (to Congress) is identify the other Iraq and Afghanistan vets, especially on the other side of the aisle, and try to figure out the bonds that are not political,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll is running for the 6th Congressional seat of retiring Congressman Norm Dicks. He beat out four other Republicans and an Independent in the August Primary. He faces Democrat Derek Kilmer, a state senator from Gig Harbor, who works for the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and finished first in the primary.
Driscoll says he’s a Republican because he believes in smaller government. He and Kilmer don’t differ much on social issues. They are both pro-choice and they both believe in marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
Driscoll says he will not sign conservative Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. And, he says, that should Barack Obama win re-election, he would support Obama’s ideas to reform Medicaid.
“You can’t go to Congress and say someone is evil,” Driscoll said. “I hold the president, any president, in high esteem.”
Driscoll said he would support delaying some aspects of the president’s health care reforms, noting that his biggest concern is the cost in expanding coverage across the states.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t expand coverage, but we need to know how to pay for it,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll says he’s developed a keen sense of foreign policy. In the timber industry, he spent several years in China selling products and developing relationships. In 2006, he voluntarily returned to service 18 years after leaving the Marine Corps, and served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Driscoll said he felt a sense of patriotic duty to go back. As a Congressman, Driscoll vowed to help end the war in Afghanistan and influence foreign policy however he can to reduce the more aggressive military stances he says the United States has taken over the past 10 years.
He says it was the right thing to do to invade Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he says the mission changed at about the time he returned to service.
“The mission was expanded to do more nation building,” Driscoll said. “I think that was a mistake. Military shouldn’t be used to do nation building, especially with a government like Afghanistan that I think we’re certainly supporting, but much about the government doesn’t align with our values. …
”Over the last 10 years, going into countries was more in pursuit of an aggressive policy thinking we could solve things quickly,” he added. “We need to recognize we can’t control everything.”
Driscoll says the most important thing to do in Congress is to reduce the nation’s deficit. He favors both a plan to increase taxes, as well as cost reductions.
“If we don’t deal with the deficit, we almost lose our sovereignty as a country to be able to honor our promise making to folks,” Driscoll said. “So, if that puts me on an island (in the Republican Party) that I’m going to reach across the aisle to try to figure out how to do that, then so be it. I also think it’s important for people to realize I’m not going back as part of my career, but to get something done. So, if that means I (get voted out) then that’s OK. I could do this for six or eight years and be just fine with it.”
Driscoll says he doesn’t believe in higher, marginal tax rates, but it wouldn’t be completely off the table. However, he thinks the tax code should be simpler and fairer, especially with some corporations paying no taxes. If he had his way, the tax rate would be much flatter than it is now, he said.
Driscoll says as part of cost cutting, he’s willing to put defense spending on the table, but notes that entitlement programs need to be looked at “because we’re not going to balance the budget on the defense side.”
Driscoll says anyone who’s 55 years old or older should be allowed to keep the same programs they’ve been paying into since they were teens. However, he has his doubts that anyone who’s 25 years old today will still be able to tap in and get Medicaid or Social Security.
“Whatever does happen, we need to be sure to protect the most vulnerable,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll says he’s in favor of more tax advantages for businesses to invest in rural areas, especially Grays Harbor, which has coped with double digit unemployment since 2008. He says it’s also important that whatever tax system is developed not be too burdensome, noting that existing incentives for job growth aren’t being taken advantage of by small and medium-sized business because the bureaucracy is too difficult to navigate.
“The folks who take advantage of the most deductions aren’t the small guys, it’s the guys who can afford the accountants and can lobby,” he said. “Let’s simplify it.”
“I believe jobs come from the private sector and we’re better off moving back regulations to a more reasonable level,” Driscoll added, citing rules the Environmental Protection Agency had proposed that could have impacted boilers at local mills. “I’m not saying we need to get rid of all regulations, but some are overzealous and we need to pull some of those back. And I think that’s where jobs come from as opposed to the federal sector. Look around this area. We’ve had Norm for 36 years and a Democrat before that and we have unemployment at about 13 percent and underemployment and folks who have stopped working and it’s closer to 25 percent.”
Driscoll said he also wants to be a voice to push the Forest Service to allow more timber harvest on National Forest land.
Driscoll says he believes the Weyerhaeuser Co. may not have closed mills on the Harbor, had the timber harvest in the National Forest increased. Driscoll was not part of the company making closure decisions, he’s quick to point out, having left Weyerhaeuser in late 1997.
“We’ve got to get lumber going and I think that’s going to be an initial catalyst,” Driscoll said. “It’s not going to bring back jobs the way it was in the 1960s, but it certainly can form a base that we can expand from and develop a broader economy. But, looking around, if Norm Dicks didn’t fix this area with federal dollars, it’s not going to happen moving forward.”
Driscoll said he would also like to support the Port of Grays Harbor, however, he says he would not favor earmarks in federal budgets.
Driscoll said that if he were to support earmarks, as a freshman, it would mean he would owe “party bosses” favors. And he’s not willing to do that.
“I don’t know how you pull the politics out of it enough, given the abuses that have been there,” Driscoll said.
The Federal Election Commission shows that Kilmer has raised more than $900,000 for his campaign, which includes $686,530 in individual donations, $212,345 from Political Action Committees and $2,090 from the Democratic Party.
Driscoll has raised more than $870,000, which includes $349,104 from individuals and $520,000 from himself.
Asked if that represented a significant amount of money to him, given his wealth, Driscoll said, “That amount of money is significant to anybody.”
And he said it’s not off the table for him to use more of his own funds for his campaign.
Driscoll said he and his wife’s net worth is about $50 million.
“If you get into this race late, like I did, and you don’t have a familiar name and are not coming out of a political background like a state senator, then you can’t do it,” Driscoll said. “That’s one of the issues I have with our system today.”
Driscoll also accused Dicks “of using his influence to get people not to make donations and that’s frustrating to me.”