OR-1: Brad Witt: Pro-Growth Democrat

Carla Axtman

OR-1: Brad Witt: Pro-Growth Democrat

Brad Witt/Photo by Carla Axtman

Brad Witt was the second Democrat to announce his plans to run for the First Congressional District seat which currently stands open with the departure of David Wu. Witt has represented Oregon House District 31, which is mostly engulfed by Columbia County. This likely explains why the house party being held for Witt on the afternoon of our interview was on a beautiful holly farm on the outskirts of St Helens. I joined his campaign toward the end of the event and sat down with Witt as it wrapped up.

Witt was raised on the east coast and received his Bachelor's Degree in History at the University of Massachusetts in the mid-70s. He put himself through school working in sawmills, graduating in the middle of a recession in the east. The recession made it difficult to find stable employment where he lived. As a result, he chose to relocate to Eugene to work on his Master's Degree in Labor Relations at the University of Oregon, all the while working in the local timber industry to pay for school. After completing his Master's, Witt took a brief stint as an intern with the national AFL-CIO. Then Witt moved back to Oregon. After working as an economist with the Pacific NW Labor College, he became a research director for the Western Council of Industrial Workers. He later worked for the United Food & Commercial Workers and then went on to be the secretary/treasurer for the Oregon AFL-CIO.

In 2005, then State Representative Betsy Johnson was appointed to the Oregon Senate. Witt ran successfully for that seat, and has represented the district ever since. I asked Witt which of his many jobs he enjoyed the most and why. Witt replied, "I liked different jobs for different reasons. Each job piqued different interests that I have. I always enjoyed working as a union rep with the members and the mental challenge of being a researcher." Witt said that his time as a State Representative has been an honor and exceedingly rewarding. All of these jobs, Witt says, have given him an opportunity to make a difference.

I then asked Witt to discuss some of his policy positions. We began with the recently debated debt ceiling negotiations.

"We have to become serious about reducing our nation's debt load. At best its unsustainable. At worst it threatens to undermine our economy nationally, and world stability." Witt went on to say that he believes President Obama's target revenue increase and spending reductions were the right mix: 2/3 spending reductions and 1/3 revenue increase. I asked Witt what revenue increases would look like, but Witt wanted to address spending first. "If you look at the two largest outlays we're facing, these make little sense. First, military spending. We need to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the troops home expeditiously." Witt said we also need to address Social Security and Medicare. "With respect to Social Security we could make that system sustainable very quickly without reducing benefits by raising the funding ceiling. As it is right now, that system taxes everyone in the middle class fairly. But those who make over $106,000 per year are not paying their fair share." On Medicare, Witt blames President Bush's failure to allow the program to negotiate prescription drug prices. When I pressed him on the revenue side, Witt says he believes that the Social Security and Medicare changes would solve that problem along with "judicious spending decisions". I asked about the allowing the Bush tax cuts to sunset, and Witt agreed that this was necessary as well.

As he's out on the campaign trail, Witt says the issue he hears most about is employment. "We are somewhere between two and a half and three and a half years into a protracted and deep recession. In my legislative district, our unemployment has hovered around 20%. In the winter it can hover around 25%. Those are Depression era levels. Its had a profound impact on local and family budgets--the entire regional economy." Witt noted that one in every five Oregonians is on food assistance and many families simply don't know where to turn. Witt says its particularly bad in rural areas. Witt discussed the special problems of regions where timber mills shut down, creating a devastating impact.

"We need to manage and nurture our public assets. A prime example is our federal forests, the health of which is abominable. The rate of overstocking in our federal forests is nothing short of a disaster. The stocking is at a rate that is inviting major pest infestations or major conflagrations of forest fires." Witt relayed how fire on managed lands is much easier to to get under control than the numerous fires that burn thousands of acres on lands where "laddered fuels" allow fire to get into the crowns of trees, which spreads quickly. Witt says there are significant employment opportunities in using the fiber supply on these lands.

Witt is also an ardent supporter of the federal timber payments program for counties in Oregon. He says that the funding is critical to county budgets. Given the amount of land owned by the federal government, Witt says this money is an integral part of the funding for roads and schools. He says we must find a way to stabilize those payments.

I also asked Witt about his position on marriage equality. "There simply is no reason why two people who are in love and wish to share a life together and enjoy the benefits of a relationship together in a sanctioned marriage should not be able to do so. Quite frankly we would be a lot better off in the nation and the world with more love and more recognition of that love than we are with less of it." On reproductive choice, Witt says he is completely in favor of each woman having the opportunity to make the kinds of choices that she believes are important to her. Witt says he views Planned Parenthood as a critically important institution that provides reproductive services to both men and women in the communities in which they live.

The decision to enter the race for Congress came, Witt says, when he'd decided that Congressman Wu was no longer viable. "It was evident that he wasn't going to survive another election," he said. When asked what sets him apart from his opponents in the primary, Witt said that he believes the district needs reasoned and effective leadership. He says he believes he is the "voice and the advocate for the middle class" on the issues that matter to the district. Witt refers to himself as a "pro-growth Democrat". He says this means he's an advocate for both business and workforce development. "I'm absolutely convinced that we can neither tax or cut our way back to economic prosperity. We need to grow our way back. That begins with job creation."

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    You might want to correct the typo in the header- wit though he may be, Witt he most certainly is.

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    Hey there. Am sitting with my guy right now at the Buffalo Gap eating lunch--just did his Teamster endorsement interview. I just read this on my iPhone and asked him what he thought of your article. He read it this morning, he told me. He said it was "A very fair interview" & he enjoyed getting to know you a little bit.

    Said he'd do another one with you anytime.

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    Carla thanks, I hope you'll do a similar interview with each of the serious candidates. Many of us have a big decision to make and the more reads on the candidates we get the better.

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    So this "pro-growth Democrat" is in favor of raising taxes on every single income tax paying American (allowing the Bush tax rates to expire) and also supports raising payroll taxes.

    I think Brad Witt is a nice guy. But if these are "pro growth" policies, I guess I am afraid to ask what would make BlueOregon say is anti growth.

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      Historically, the economy has boomed when taxes were higher. If low taxes equaled high growth, the 00s would have been a time of unparalleled economic growth. Obviously, that was not the case.

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        I'm not sure what history you are reading, but it isn't the United States' history over the last 100 years.

        Maybe your history only goes back 10 years. If you look at long, sustained economic expansion, it typically follows tax reduction. The last 10 years are the anomaly, not the norm.

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          I'm looking at the last 30+ years. Regan raised taxes, the economy boomed. Clinton raised taxes, the economy boomed. Bush II lowered taxes, the economy went stagnant. And then it collapsed, despite low taxes.

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            Um.... I lived through Reagan's years. He lowered personal and business tax rates.

            But thanks for proving my point.

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              I lived through Reagan's years, too. In 1983 he signed legislation that raised payroll taxes for those in higher income brackets and required the self-employed to pay the full payroll tax. The 1986 tax reform bill that he signed got rid of a lot of tax shelters and tax breaks--and high-income folks who had been paying little now had a bigger tax bill. In fact, Reagan's initial tax cut when he started in office was about half way wiped out with increases he signed by the time he left.

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                In 1983, two years after the biggest tax cut ever, most economists were concerned that the US economy was running way too hot. The payroll tax increase did have the effect of slowing down a red-hot economy.

                Once again, proving my point. The boost came after the tax rates. The payroll tax cooled it down a little, but by then the economy had recovered. Keynesian economists had to find ways to explain how everything they said in 1980 was wrong.

                In 1986 the tax reform act also simplified the tax code. Bob Packwood helped engineer that through.

                Ah yes, thanks for reminding me of the Reagan years. Quite a contrast to the ineffective narcissist in the Oval Office now.

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    So if we raise the current cap on payroll taxes two questions:

    1. Does the 50/50 split(currently reduced temporarily on the employee side) continue?

    2. Does the maximum monthly benefit cap also get lifted and counter the increase revenue with increase expense?

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    Brad Witt is pre-growth for Government, certainly. I have seen nothing he says that indicates he is pro-growth for private business.

    My first substantive discussion with him some years ago (his freshman session), culminated in him informing me he DID believe Government should dictate to citizens how to live their lives and that Government should limit liberty for citizen's own good. I then realized he and I had no common ground.

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        Typical liberal response. Full of personal attacks; light on facts. None of what you are referring to has any bearing on what I am talking about.

        This is why your words are irrelevant to me. Come up with empirical data, we'll talk.

        For what it is worth, the conversation I had with Rep. Witt was about Government telling people what they should eat and how they should live their life.

        Please let go of the hate. It diminishes you.

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            One: I have been on here for years and I don't need your permission to participate. If you only want to read sycophantic posts that's your business.

            Two: He is a State Rep, not a Senator. You just removed any gravitas you thought you possessed.

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      Are you saying that conservatives do not believe that government should dictate to citizens how to live their lives? How do you explain the conservative position on same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, recreational drug use, etc?

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        The topic is Rep. Witt. Not your hatred of Conservatives, or your stereotypes.

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            Both major parties have an affinity for Government to dictate to citizens. Only the Libertarians are free of that disease.

            Robert A. Heinlein said it best: “Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”

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    You claim Brad said "Government should dictate to citizens how to live their lives and that Government should limit liberty for citizen's own good." That statement is completely out of character for Brad and I'm 100% certain he didn't say it. It's also not the way he talks. I know this because I've worked with Brad often since the late 1990's as a worker advocate and for several years when the Oregon AFL-CIO was a client. It's also suspect because it's contrived propaganda used often by conservative idiologs to describe any Democrat.

    Is your need to make things up a character flaw and/or psychological disorder related to your occupational background as a professional liar?

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      I heard what I heard. It was after the House General Government Committee in Hearing Room D in the Rep's first year as a state Rep. I don't remember what year it was. It was the year that he was appointed after Betsy Johnson went to the Senate.

      Maybe it was an out-of-character statement from him, but when he said it, it sounded like he believed it. It was during a one-on-one discussion of Government passing laws to dictate lifestyle choices regarding health and nutrition.

      I have no doubt he is a much finer human being than David Wu. And Blue Oregon was in love with David Wu until last year, so I know you all love Rep. Witt now.

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        No, your quote is quite clearly a paraphrase of what Brad Witt said.

        Or, more accurately, it's a paraphrase of what you think you remember Brad Witt saying six years ago.

        By definition, it's colored by your own reaction at the time, and in hindsight.

        Unless you've got contemporaneous notes - or better still, audio or video - excuse us for being skeptical.

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          I didn't expect to change your mind. In fact, even if I had those notes I am sure you would find a reason to dismiss them.

          Nonetheless, I heard what I heard. And since I lean hard Libertarian, his position is anethema to my philosophy.

          But, for what it is worth, I do like Brad Avakian very much. I hope he is the nominee. Commissioner Avakian is someone who understands that liberty is a good thing and I am not certain Rep. Witt does.

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        LOL! You can't win, can you Kari?!? Wink

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    Ok, I'll bite. Why do you have to define a Democrat as being "Pro-Growth"?

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    I'm Brad Witt's campaign director. He is a "Pro-Growth" Dem. Pro-jobs growth through restoring our manufacturing base and he's a huge sustainability fan, green jobs that pay well, and he wants investment in America's infrastructure-upgrading schools, roads, bridges, etc. Look to history, Bonnaville Dam was a public works project --got people back to work and has paid for itself many times over. I'm using Bonnaville as an example.

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    Thanks, Carla. Nice interview. It will help make my decision on who to support.

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