Elections

Congressional hopeful Aaron Swisher on unequal pay, nuclear waste & Trump’s ‘persona’

Aaron Swisher, Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District.
Aaron Swisher, Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Aaron Swisher is a Democrat. But in practice, the economist said, he believes he’s someone who can step outside each party’s rigid lines and craft “a new approach to our country’s economic problems.”

He’s touting that ability as he begins the last month of his campaign to try to unseat Republican Mike Simpson, who represents Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District.

Swisher’s ideas have been percolating for a while: He published a book, “Resuscitating America,” in 2011 that he said lays out his “full, comprehensive, detailed economic plan.”

And no, he didn’t think he had any connection to Perry Swisher, the well-known Idaho politician and newspaperman who died in 2012. But some of Perry Swisher’s family might have found a Virginia connection through genealogy work, Aaron Swisher said.

“It’s probably been the No. 1 question on the campaign,” he joked.

Swisher spoke to the Idaho Statesman’s Editorial Board on a number of topics Tuesday. His remarks here have been edited for length and clarity.

Read our Q&A with Rep. Simpson here.

Q: What is the most important issue that you feel you have an interest in, that is specific to the 2nd Congressional District?

The No. 1 problem in the country, for every district and every area, is our extreme level of income disparity. ... The way our economy is set up is killing rural America. … And it’s not new, we’ve been having that problem for decades.

(Asked about raising the minimum wage:) It is something I support. You have to recognize that it is not a silver bullet. You can’t just raise the minimum wage and expect that to take care of it all. It’s also important, I think, to do tax reform when you raise the minimum wage. There are some negative aspects to raising the minimum wage, I recognize that. You can mitigate those if you do tax reform properly at the same time.

If you go back to the 1950s and ’60s, when we had a higher minimum wage in real dollar terms, we had a much more vibrant economy, a much more robust and sustainable economy back then, an economy that relied a lot less on government assistance than we do now. Raising the minimum wage will eventually help small businesses, because people will have more money in their pocket to patronize those small businesses. It’s the transition that is difficult for small businesses. That’s where tax reform can come in and actually help smooth that transition.

You really have to do that in stages and reach it gradually. Going from $7.25 to $15 an hour would just be too much of a shock for the economy.

(Fixing income disparity) takes a comprehensive plan. It’d be nice to knock that all out in one bill, but it really has to be broken up. So the highest priority, the No. 1 thing we would have to do is your minimum wage increase and tax reform, your second thing would probably be either immigration or trade reform. After that, you’d probably want to do corporate tax reform, and then you also have to strengthen antitrust regulations as well to keep our economy competitive.

Q: What’s your position on the agreement regarding nuclear waste stored at the Idaho National Laboratory at the current time?

I fully support the agreement that was put together in ‘95. I know that the INL is very good at reprocessing waste, and there’s been a discussion of bringing waste in from places like Hanford to be reprocessed and then shipped to New Mexico to the (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) facility, and things of that sort. I’m OK with that type of thing as long as it’s done within that ’95 agreement, which essentially says you can’t store waste here longer than a year.

The cleanup seems like it’s going well. I think that needs to continue. There’s obviously been a little bit of a bottleneck down at the WIPP facility. But what they’ve repackaged, I think, will eventually be taken out. And like I said, if they want to bring in other things to be repackaged, I’m OK with that, as long as we’re within the parameters of that ’95 agreement.

My understanding is that the WIPP facility is our best option for storing waste. Getting it to operate properly, not having accidents, things of that sort seems to be the key there to making it functional. And so I support having it there. My understanding is Yucca Mountain is OK, but there’s obviously some politics. People in Nevada are going to fight that tooth and nail. I don’t think that facility is as good as WIPP, at least from my understanding of it. I’m not a scientist, so it’s kind of out of my wheelhouse, and I have to trust what I’ve been told by nuclear engineers out at INL. But basically, I would be looking for the best long-term option.

Q: Talk about America’s renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

I haven’t had a chance to look at the new NAFTA, or whatever they’re labeling it, so I can’t speak to that specifically.

There are two problems here. One is our trade with other nations. But the primary problem and the fundamental problem is the economy within the United States. We do not have an economy that really supports ag industries — base industries, let’s call them. Ag, textiles, things that … when a new society is created, this is what they work on, housing, clothing, food, things of that sort. Our economy is set up in a way that it doesn’t allow those industries to really have the income that they should.

Now, we can try and fix that by opening up markets in Mexico, Canada, China, other places like that. But any goods that we ship to those markets may displace workers in those markets, obviously, so you’re kind of just of exporting your problem.

The first thing you have to do is get our economy working properly, and have an economy that works for those base industries, and then have trade that is fair between nations.

Having free trade agreement or a very low tariff agreement between us and Canada actually makes sense. Canadian wages are very similar to American wages. Their regulatory structure is very advanced and developed, the way that ours is. They protect intellectual property much as we do. They do a fairly good job of protecting the environment, as do we do. It’s not a perfect playing field, but it’s a fairly level playing field, and so you can actually have free trade or something close to it between those countries. You don’t have that between the United States and Mexico. You don’t have it between the United States and India or China or Indonesia. So, free trade in those instances really doesn’t make sense. What we end up seeing is instead of countries specializing in the things that they do best ... industries just ship jobs to wherever the wages are lowest, and that’s what we have to avoid.

Q: Do you support or oppose President Trump’s agenda?

There’s parts of it that I appreciate and support, at least to some degree in rhetoric.

Every person is a complex set of issues, and President Trump is even more so. During the presidential campaign, he took numerous sides to numerous issues and sometimes took opposing sides within the same speech. If he is talking about creating trade that is fair for American workers, I support that. If he’s talking about slapping 40 or 50 percent tariffs on our trading partners, I’m opposed to that. So, I guess the devil is really in the details.

I’m not one of these people who supports or opposes him based simply upon the persona of Trump. I look at his policies and try to pull those out individually, and either support the policy or oppose the policy based on whether or not that fits in a framework that is good for the United States.

Nate Poppino is the Statesman’s politics and watchdog editor. Contact him at 377-6481 or on Twitter: @npoppino
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