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April 22nd, 2009 Hank Stern, Mark Zusman | Q & A
 

Peter Defazio

Congressman takes on cap-and-trade, Obama and the Columbia River Crossing. Now will he take on a 2010 race for governor?

     
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DEFAZIO: “I think Wall Street pretty much owns the Secretary of the Treasury office and has for years.”
IMAGE: Ben Mollica

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has no shortage of political juice or opinions.

A 12-term congressman, the Lane County Democrat is the Oregon delegation’s longest-serving House member and has acquired enough seniority to chair a subcommittee responsible this year for authorizing hundreds of billions in spending on highways and transit.

Back in Oregon for a congressional recess, DeFazio stopped by WW this week to answer questions about what’s on his constituents’ minds, how he’d deal with global warming, and why the Obama administration sometimes ticks him off.

We also got in a couple political questions, namely whether he’s going to run for governor and what he thinks now about a long-ago ex-staffer, a guy by the name of Sam Adams.

WW: What’s most on people’s minds?

Peter DeFazio: The economy, obviously. In my district, we are worse off than here. I don’t know what Portland’s unemployment rate is [11.1 percent]. My district is probably close to 15 percent.

What is Gov. Ted Kulongoski doing—or doing that he shouldn’t be doing—to help turn the economy around?

He’s really trying to look forward, and to think about what is over the horizon. He is looking toward carbon reduction, energy efficiency and new forms of energy, and hoping Oregon can put itself toward the front of the queue.… There are a number of established renewable technologies we seem to be focusing on. He’s talking more breakthrough stuff like electric cars. I don’t know that we are going to land an electric manufacturer in Oregon, but they are currently talking to some. Should the governor and the Legislature spend time on cap-and-trade when it’s being taken up at the national level in Congress?

There’s an acceptance in this administration that global warming is real. So I don’t think state or regional efforts are as important as something that will work nationally. The question is, how do we move ahead in Washington? And I have been one of the most outspoken opponents there of cap-and-trade. You look at Europe in ’06 and ’07—they traded $60 billion of carbon credits and they had higher carbon emissions, in part because there’s a lot of phony stuff going on.

So what do you favor?

I am a very old-fashioned guy. First you inventory the sources of pollution, then you cap them. You get people a schedule to reduce. You monitor them, and you fine the heck out of them if they don’t meet them [the standards].

If we’re trying to green up the economy, why’d you fight to get credit help for buyers and dealers of RVs, many of them made in your district?

They actually had a study that shows if a family of four goes on a trip to Disneyland, and they fly and rent a car and stay in a motel—versus they drive their RV —which is the bigger carbon footprint? Turns out flying, renting a car, staying at the motel. These things are not driven very much, these large RVs. People buy them as second homes. A lot of snowbirds buy them and park them. So they don’t have a very big carbon footprint. A Hummer probably puts out a lot more carbon than these people because they drive them more. And the other thing is that these [manufacturers] are good jobs.

What do you think about President Obama’s efforts to fix the financial crisis?

We should be regulating. They seem to be very reluctant to do that…I fear with [director of the National Economic Council Lawrence] Summers and [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner and a lot of these guys, they think everything was fine except it fell apart, and we should go back there instead of setting an entirely new path. I think Wall Street pretty much owns the Secretary of the Treasury office and has for years. And we are having a hard time breaking that pattern. And if there was a time we could break it, it is now. I was very disappointed in Obama’s economic team when he chose them. And they haven’t done anything to convince me I was wrong.

At the same time, Congress hasn’t been aggressive on this either.

Who writes all those checks? Come campaign time, that’s not where I get my money. But look at where Chuck Schumer [2008 chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] gets his money to take back the Senate or dominate the Senate. There is an inordinate amount of influence of the financial sector. I like Paul Krugman. He said banking needs to become boring again. I’m with him.

What’s your take on the Columbia River Crossing?

I have said from Day One, they should think small. And they have been thinking really big and really expensive. And I am not sure how that project moves forward and how they will fund it. I have raised concerns throughout the process—keep the price down. You can’t solve all your problems with one project. That’s what they seem to want to do.

When are you going to decide if you run for governor in 2010?

I don’t know. A traditional time line for a viable candidate to announce would be Labor Day.

What do you think Sam Adams should do?

He worked for me more than 20 years ago. We do have a long-term friendship. But I do not represent the Portland area.

 
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