8th Congressional District Democrats weigh in on issues in Auburn

Candidates discuss health care, economics and the opioid crisis.

Three Democrats in the running to face likely Republican front-runner Dino Rossi this fall in the race to succeed Rep. Dave Reichert for the 8th Congressional District seat he vacates at the end of year introduced themselves and their positions to a capacity audience at the William C. Warren Building at Veterans Memorial Park in Auburn on Friday night.

Auburn native and medical doctor Shannon Hader, King County criminal prosecutor Jason Rittenreiser and Sammamish pediatrician Kim Schrier explained where they stand on a wide range of issues, from health care and economics to the opioid crisis.

The top-two primary election is Aug. 7, and the winners move on to square off in the general election Nov. 6. The candidate filing deadline is May 18.

The 8th Congressional District extends from Pierce and King counties across the Cascade Mountains to Eastern Washington and the farming and ranching communities of Chelan and Kittitas counties.

Shannon Hader

Hader grew up on her great grandfather’s farmland on Auburn’s East Hill, where her parents live today. After graduating from Auburn High School in 1985, she continued her education at Stanford University, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from a four-year university. She earned her medical degree from Columbia University, finished her residency in medicine and pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center and completed an infectious diseases fellowship at Emory University.

Hader was an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and served in Atlanta, Zimbabwe, and Washington, D.C. Recently, she was the director of the Division of Global HIV & TB at the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, where she oversaw nearly 2,000 people in 45 countries and was responsible for an annual budget of $2.4 billion. As part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), she supported more than 7.3 million people with HIV treatment.

Jason Rittenreiser

Rittenreiser was born and raised in Ellensburg, where his father was a police chief and his mother found time to launch the Ellensburg Children’s Museum and serve on the Ellensburg City Council. His first job, he said, was on a hay farm in the Kittitas Valley, driving a swamper and bucking hay to pay for his economics degree from the University of Washington. After earning his law degree from the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, he went to work as a criminal prosecutor for King County’s Special Assault Unit and Violent Crime Unit. In 2017, the King County Bar Association named him its Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year. He lives in Issaquah with his wife, Michelle.

Kim Schrier

Kim Schrier described herself as the daughter of an elementary school teacher and an aerospace engineer, a mother and a wife, for 16 years a pediatrician in Issaquah and a Type 1 diabetic. She completed her pediatric residency at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and has a B.A. in astrophysics. Recently voted best pediatrician by her patients in the greater Seattle area, she lives in Sammamish with her husband, David, and their 8-year-old son, Sam.

What matters most

In the United States, Rittenreiser said, the government no longer works for the people; instead, it is beholden to the wealthy and to corporations, whose needs, he said, it puts ahead of the well being of everybody else. To rebuild a stable middle class, Rittenreiser said, the nation’s leaders must first address income inequality, public education and “ensure health care care for every man, woman and child.”

Health care, Hader said, is her top issue and the top concern of every person who feels squeezed by increased premiums, increased health care costs, out-of-control drug prices and the threat of having their health care yanked away. By solving the health care crisis, Hader said, the U.S. can relieve many of its economic stresses and rid itself of the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy, which is medical. Also, by dragging its feet on climate change, she said, the nation’s leaders are abrogating their responsibility to succeeding generations. Finally, she said, the government must ensure that every child receives the education and training they need to prepare themselves for the future

Schrier, like her fellow doctor, put 100 percent, accessible, affordable and quality health care for everyone at the top of her concerns, followed by rebuilding and supporting the middle class by charting a path to good, well-paying jobs, and tackling climate change. But the present Congress, including Reichert, she said, has stymied progress on all of the things that really matter, and indeed, appears to be paralyzed.

“We need to lower drug prices, we need to lower premiums, we need to let people opt into Medicare at earlier and earlier ages, and we need to let states that are progressive and have the wherewithal to do it start implementing single-payer and work out the details,” Schrier said.

Here’s how each, in their own words, would address the opioid epidemic

Hader: “I’m a public health doc, and I’m really glad that we’re starting to talk about the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis and not a justice crisis. Because, unless we really treat this as a multifaceted, public-health response, we’re not going to get on top of it. We just saw some news released today about other complications of the opioid epidemic, like increased HIV rates, which are shooting along a lot of our counties in this country, and we don’t want that to happen here. We need a multifaceted, fact-based approach to conquer this epidemic … and we need to set up collaborations to make things happen.

“We have a lot of folks who are struggling with addiction right now, and we need to make sure treatment is available on demand, and especially in this district, all the way up to the furthest reaches of our most rural areas, because access is the true problem when we start getting farther away from Seattle, and even Auburn. Second, we need to do our best to try to ensure that people who are struggling with addiction stay alive in order to recover. We need to reduce overdoses, we need to empower our first responders and educate our families to overdose reversal methods. And then we need to shut off the process that is creating addictions; that is, we need to hold the drug companies who manufacture the opioid pills accountable. This means changing our prescribing-and-monitoring patterns and educating our communities and our families to be supportive.”

Rittenreiser: “Just last week I saw a headline, with Donald Trump (suggesting) increased penalties for drug dealers. Let me be clear: we’re not going to arrest our way out of the opioid crisis. As a criminal prosecutor, I know that’s not going to solve it, because it is a public health crisis, not a criminal justice crisis. We have layed the problem at the feet of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and our first responders to deal with it. That’s not how you deal with a public health crisis … I can’t tell you how hard it is to navigate a rehab treatment system in America today, and I’m a prosecutor. It’s time to revamp our system so that we take care of the folks on the fringes of society today. Sixty-eight-thousand people died last year of the opioid crisis – that’s 30,000 more than from gun violence. It’s time we take this and treat it like the serious problem that it is, time that we take on the Trump administration and its backward thinking, which sets us backwards.”

Schreier: “This crisis is hitting every corner of our society, and when 68,000 people die of opiate overdoses in our country, that is definitely a public health emergency. It is the reason that the life expectancy in this country is now dropping. And the first step is to do exactly what Shannon said: declare this is a public health emergency and a chronic disease, and treat it as such. We need to make sure we do the evidence-based treatments, that we train doctors who prescribe long-acting opioids, and that we use the best, evidence-based treatments to get people off of them. That includes counseling and understanding that there will be relapses, and this will take years … Second is to stem the tide. Doctors are already getting training in how to prescribe more conservatively, how not to overprescribe opiates, how to treat to a pain level of three instead of a pain level of zero, and reset expectations. And when we judiciously prescribe, we also need to make sure we are addressing people’s pain. Last, we need to remove the stigma of opiate addiction, because this is a public health crisis and a medical problem, and it needs be addressed that way. That’s why we need Medicare and insurance companies to cover this as a medical crisis.”

How they would deal with the greatest foreign threat to the country

Hader sees the greatest threat to the nation by far is the attack on truth, information warfare, cybersecurity and Russia’s meddling to further polarize an already sharply-divided population. While she concedes that she doesn’t know the answer, Hader said the best starting place is to ensure that education is good enough to teach kids to distinguish truth from propaganda, to have what she calls “the great B.S. detector” on when they people read things online, as it may become much more difficult in the days to come to distinguish real from fake news.

Schrier said the greatest threat is the Trump Administration’s posturing for isolationism and the destruction of its diplomatic corps. She said the country is headed down a path where it is no longer cooperating with its allies but antagonizing its enemies and stupidly dismissing its most senior diplomats. Today, she said, the threat may be information, tomorrow, it could be terrorism or even nuclear war. The nation, she said, needs professional diplomats and a way of interacting with the world, where citizens recognize that day in and day out, they are stronger, safer, and wealthier at home when the nation is interacting with its allies at the top of its game. She said she’d like to see the nation rebuild its Department of State – Rex Tillerson’s departure won’t do it, she said to laughter – signaling to its allies that we are part of the world with them by rejoining leadership at the table, including at the Paris Climate Accords.

Rittenreiser said that the U.S. is today most endangered today by Russia, but the greatest threat to national security is Congress failure to put a check on the Trump administration. The only way to do that, he said, is for Democrats to take back control of the House of Representatives. The true measure of America, he said, is that it can stand up to all threats foreign and domestic simultaneously. That will take action, he said, and coordination from the Trump administration, which not only is it not showing, it is actually making the nation less safe.

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