Bush Bullish on Snake Damsby Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, February 29, 2000
Few causes could play better in the Tri-Cities than saving the Snake River dams, and Republican primary candidate George W. Bush reminded Tri-Citians again and again Monday that he's the candidate who would do it.
"I understand the importance of water. I know it's the lifeblood of the agriculture industry," said the Texas governor, drawing cheers from a crowd of about 600 Monday at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.
Hundreds more watched television monitors or listened to loudspeakers outside the packed auditorium as Bush spent an hour speaking, answering questions and shaking hands with the crowd - giving the impression he'd dropped by for a friendly chat.
He's been running advertisements in Washington state saying the four dams on the lower Snake must be saved for the sake of the economy and low-cost power. The dams, while providing power, recreation and navigation, are on the hook as federal agencies try to reverse declines in salmon and steelhead stocks.
Those ads may not be popular on the west side of the state, he said in a press conference after the meeting, "but I run ads based on what I believe. I take a stand, and I hold my ground."
The Northwest can use technology to make sure we have both salmon and a healthy economy, he said. "Fish and humans can coexist."
It's an issue he's looking forward to taking up in a debate with Vice President Al Gore this fall, he said, criticizing the Democratic candidate for not taking a stand. Gore has said he will not rule out the possibility of breaching the dams to restore threatened and endangered salmon populations.
Today, Washington voters will cast ballots for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, but Monday, Bush sounded as if he already was campaigning against Gore.
He didn't mention the Clinton administration directly but hammered away at the theme of "ushering in an era of responsibility" if he's elected.
"When I have my hand on the Bible, I will swear not only to uphold the laws of the land, but the honor and dignity of the office to which I'm elected, so help me God," he said.
Bush didn't mention his Republican opponent, John McCain, by name until Bush supporters at the rally told Bush they didn't believe McCain's charges Bush has shown religious bias.
McCain campaign workers were calling Tri-City residents Sunday, warning that Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University, a South Carolina fundamentalist school, was an anti-Catholic act. University officials reportedly have called the Catholic Church a satanic cult and the school bans interracial dating.
"Getting the call yesterday really convinced me Bush was the guy we want," said Bob De Lorenzo of Richland. "I found it very offensive."
Tricia St. Hilaire of Pasco waved a sign that stated, "I'm a Catholic, and I'm for George W. Bush."
"I think he's been treated unfairly because I don't think he has to agree to everything an organization stands for in order to speak there," she said. "He may be a good influence on them."
Bush, who's facing a primary in New York where there's a large Catholic population, told the Tri-City crowd, "I missed an opportunity. I readily concede I should have stood up and said I don't believe in the anti-Catholic views of the university."
He blasted McCain for "subscribing beliefs to me I don't hold."
"He claims he's a Ronald Reagan Republican, but Ronald Reagan did not run those kinds of campaigns," he said.
Flanked by three of the state's top Republicans, Sen. Slade Gorton, Rep. Doc Hastings and Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Bush pledged to support Hanford cleanup.
"It's important a commitment be made ...," he said.
Hanford depends on environmental appropriations of more than $1 billion in federal money annually. Appropriations in recent years have fallen short of what's needed for the Department of Energy to meet all its legal obligations at Hanford.
Bush said he would depend on the Washington delegation to recommend how much money should be spent at Hanford.
"These people know the issues well," he said. "They know what's affordable and what's doable."
He said he was looking forward to the release of the environmental study on restarting Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility, a reactor that's being considered for nondefense uses.
Making medical isotopes there to treat cancer and heart disease in new ways "seems like an exciting opportunity," he said.
Now, only cleanup work is being done at Hanford, and FFTF critics don't want a production mission to resume there. But Bush said the issues were separate: One is cleanup, the other is looking to the future.
Bush also used the rally to point out successes he's had as governor of Texas, including cutting taxes and building on an education reform movement that's led to higher test scores for students, including Hispanic students.
But he's also been criticized for not addressing pollution problems in Texas more effectively. Environmental groups say Texas leads the nation in the release of some toxic emissions from industry.
"The attitude in Washington, D.C., is they say you can sue or regulate your way to a clean environment," he said. "I do not agree."
Technology is the answer to clean air and water, he said, adding, "Every day is Earth Day if you're a farmer."
He already had support of farmers at the rally after promising to save the dams, but his message for them kept getting better. He pledged not to appoint out-of-control bureaucrats who'd endanger the region's way of life and also told farmers he'd be a trade leader.
"Agriculture needs to be the cornerstone of economic policy, not the stepchild," he said at the rally. Later he told reporters he would make agriculture a higher priority at trade talks.
He criticized moves to use food as a diplomatic weapon, saying U.S. farmers should be the ones to feed the world. He stopped short of saying he'd lift all sanctions, but he would not impose any new ones, he said. Rather than sanctions, trade can be used as a good tool of change, he said.
Increased demand for farm products will help the farm economy more in the long term than production controls, he said. In the short term, he'd support appropriating money for emergency grants.
He left most of the crowd impressed.
"He sounds very caring," said Celia DeWeber of Pasco. "He sounds like he knows what he's doing."
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