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Commentaries and editorials

Bush Talks About Environment, Economy

by Eric Sorensen & Sarah Anne Wright
Editorial, Seattle Times - August 22, 2003

(AP: Ted S. Warren) President Bush speaks at the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam near Burbank, Wash. Friday, Aug. 22, 2003 as Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton looks on at left. Bush was in the state to address environmental and salmon issues. President Bush today visited Washington state for the first time since the 2000 elections, talking about the environment in Eastern Washington and the economy in Western Washington.

"I'm fully aware that the unemployment numbers here are some of the highest in the country and that's a concern," he said this afternoon after a brief meeting with local business leaders at Boeing Field.

Bush noted that both the natural-resources and software industries have been hit hard and said he is trying to stimulate economic growth through his recent tax package. His remarks came as the Boeing Co. issued layoff notices to 1,440 workers, 1,250 of them in the Puget Sound. area

The local message was blunted somewhat by international news as Bush froze the assets of six top Hamas leaders and five non-governmental organizations that are reportedly providing financial support to the militant Palestinian group. Hamas had claimed responsibility for the Tuesday suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem that killed 20 people.

The president arrived in Seattle dressed for business, having donned a suit and tie after shedding the casual, open-collar look he wore to bring a populist, pro-dam message to Eastern Washington this morning. Speaking to a clearly pro-dam crowd, he promised to keep Snake and Columbia River dams from being breached while working to help save dwindling stocks of Pacific salmon.

Bush, introduced by Interior Secretary Gale Norton as a "compassionate conservationist," said Pacific salmon are a vital part of the way of life in Washington state.

"The mission has got to be to fight the decline" in their stocks, he said.

But he balanced this against pro-dam remarks that served as his best applause lines.

"We've got an energy problem in America," he said, playing off the recent blackout in the eastern United States. "We don't need to be breaching any dams that are producing electricity. And we won't."

The president capped off his whirlwind half-day visit at a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser on Hunts Point, where he met with campaign supporters at the home of telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw.

Air Force One landed a few minutes after noon at Boeing Field and Bush paused briefly at the plane's door to let U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt catch up. The Spokane Republican is making a bid to take the seat of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Bush then met with six state business leaders and the state's Republican congressional delegation at the airport before his motorcade left for the Eastside.

Protests in Bellevue and Seattle added to a clamor of voices surrounding the President's visit. Several 100 pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators were waving flags and signs in downtown Bellevue and near the entrance to Hunts Point.

At Victor Steinbrueck Park next to Seattle's Pike Place Market - far from Bush's scheduled events - hundreds of people gathered, listening to message-laden folk music and speeches from prominent Democrats in a midday protest rally.

Bush critics handed out bumper stickers and campaign material. Many protesters, as well as the homeless people who always hang out in the park, got free T-shirts.

The police presence was low-key a departure from some recent demonstrations in downtown Seattle. More obvious were about 50 aluminum workers who had taken a bus from Ferndale to express concerns about their jobs.

Others in the crowd also said they were worried about the economy. Andy Hallock, 23, a recent University of Washington graduate, said he was offended that the president was having lunch at Hunts Point. "They don't have an unemployment problem in Hunts Point."

The president and his entourage departed from Boeing Field at 3:34, about an hour later than he was initially scheduled to leave the Seattle area.

Bush failed to sway Washington voters in the 2000 election, losing to Vice President Al Gore by 6 percentage points, and his visit here is seen as an effort to build support among swing voters by projecting a pro-environment image.

Environmentalists were quick to differ, particularly at claims that rising salmon stocks were the result of White House action.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Seattle office of the National Wildlife Federation the improved salmon numbers were little more than a temporary spike driven by ocean conditions.

"It had nothing to do with the work of this administration," said Hasselman.

"The president touting what he calls good funding for salmon recovery doesn't ring true," said Michael Garrity, a conservation association coordinating the Columbia and Snake rivers campaign for American Rivers.

Only about one-fourth of the measures in the salmon-recovery plan have been implemented, Garrity said, and the funding has only been half of what was budgeted.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a candidate for president, weighed in from Arlington, Va.

"George Bush taking credit for increased salmon populations is like a sailor taking credit for the tides," Lieberman said in a prepared statement.


Eric Sorensen & Sarah Anne Wright, Seattle Times staff reporters
Bush Talks About Environment, Economy
Seattle Times Company, August 22, 2003

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