At an Aug. 26 luncheon sponsored by the Council of Independent Business Owners, Rep. Heath Shuler emphasized his credentials as a moderate "Blue Dog" Democrat who’s willing to buck both parties to do what he thinks is best for the country. Touting his efforts to bring jobs to the region, lower the deficit and reinstate pay-as-you-go budgeting, the two-term 11th District representative, who's up for re-election this year, also hinted at a possible bid for speaker of the House.
And though Shuler said his party may lose seats in the midterm elections, the former football star sees advantages for his Blue Dog caucus.
"The margins [between parties] will narrow after this next election. And I truly feel that … the Blue Dogs will have the opportunity to run this country," he predicted. "Because how can legislation pass without us? We are the deciding vote. … Blue Dogs represent how 80 percent of Americans feel."
Asked whether he supports Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, Shuler expressed interest in running for the position himself.
"Who have I been talking about running our country? The middle. So I haven't ruled out the idea that I might not run," he revealed. "We'll see who's actually up for it and who decides to put their hat in the ring. You never know, maybe a Blue Dog will make it."
All together now
Shuler arrived at Magnolia’s in downtown Asheville from a job fair he co-sponsored at A-B Tech, which he said showcased 60 corporations looking to hire 500 new workers.
"I couldn't be more thrilled about that, to be able to unite our business leaders together with potential employees," he told about 100 attendees as they finished plates of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Shuler said he’d also met with Hunter Goosmann of ERC Broadband to congratulate the regional nonprofit on landing $15 million in federal stimulus funds to build and maintain more than 100 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout Western North Carolina. He praised the program as the kind of cooperative measure he will continue to fight for if reelected
"Here's an opportunity for a group of people who may have been pulling the rope in two different directions, and we brought everybody in and we sat down and said: 'How can we do this together? How can we put broadband throughout this community and everyone pull the rope in the same direction?'" said Shuler. "And now millions of dollars will flow into this community based on the broadband expansion we're going to have."
Neck and neck?
That same day, Real Clear Politics released a poll showing Shuler holding only a one-point advantage over Republican challenger Jeff Miller. Asked about it, however, Shuler showed little concern.
"I kind of focus on the issues that we've done that have put us in the position that we are, representing our district and making our district grow," he told Xpress. "I'm really focused on what we're doing. … I'm not looking at any opponent that I've had, at their issues. I look at what we can do and do better."
Shuler also responded to a number of written questions from the audience. Here are a few of them:
If given the opportunity to vote on repeal of “ObamaCare," how would you vote?
Shuler: “Well, obviously, if President Obama is still there, he would have to overturn his own legislation, and I don't think that's going to happen. … I believe that health care should be reformed but not in the manner in which it was done. …
“I think there's so much waste, fraud and abuse within the current system that we have that it would pay for those who don't have the opportunity to have health insurance.”
What can you contribute to the effort to get a comprehensive climate-change bill passed next session?
“Continuing to purchase petroleum from our enemies is not the right answer. It's a national-security issue.
“And whether you agree or disagree on the issue, here's the way I look at it: The Good Lord has given us the world as we know it as of today: our mountains, our streams. He has blessed us. And I want to be able to make sure that the next generation has the same natural beauty that we have and the same assets that we're able to have here.”
Do you want to continue the tax cuts put through by the Bush administration?
“Before we can have the discussion about it, we have to ensure that we cut as much as we possibly can — the waste, fraud and abuse — out of the federal budget. … You have to get control of your expenses first. Because if you don't get control of your expenses, you have to raise revenues, and that's unacceptable.
“We cannot continue the path that the Bush administration took with expenses, and we can't continue the path that the Obama administration has taken when it comes to increasing expenditures year in and year out.”
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.