May 24, 2004

Conrad Lee (R WA-8th CD)

Conrad Lee believes politicians should “remember that they’re fallible.” The Bellevue City Councilmember emigrated with his mother from China when he was 10 years old to avoid the communist government takeover. He’s worked as an engineer at Boeing, as a stockbroker, and as an employee of the City of Seattle working on waste management policy. Lee has been a member of the Bellevue City Council for 10 years, and only recently resigned from a Bush administration appointment as Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in order to run for Congress. “I’m a workhorse, not a showhorse,” said the candidate.

Lee is pleased with the progress Bellevue has made over the years he’s been on the City Council. The city has a AA bond rating, the second best credit rating available, and the lowest property taxes in Washington State. He has voted against every property tax increase, saying that the city doesn’t need them, and provides good services with the revenue they have. But he said that some tax is necessary to serve the public and build up infrastructure. He compares reasonable levels of taxation to the practice of tithing in Christianity, where everyone chips in to help, and that it should be considered a cost of doing business.

According to Lee, Bellevue gets most of its revenue from sales taxes, due in large part to the retail center that’s grown up downtown around the Bellevue Square Mall. He said that the city is fortunate to have such a good business climate, but that it wasn’t always this way. Lee described the relationship between the business community and Bellevue neighborhoods as hostile as recently as 12 years ago, saying that he worked with other council members to turn things around.

Lee believes that government should take in only as much money as necessary based on needs determined ahead of time. He criticized the tendency of government to add new programs without considering whether old, unneeded programs could be gotten rid of to save money. When asked about specific tax changes, Lee said that any tax policy needs to respond to economic circumstances, suggesting that they be evaluated on their results. He said that in bad economic times, such as now, taxes need to be kept low. Lee said concern should focus on maintaining economic and technological superiority, as well as boosting the availability of jobs.

“Education is a tool for us to become prosperous, because it makes us more competitive,” said Lee. While he said that most school funding comes from state and local governments, the federal government should take its share of education funding seriously, and sees a role in Congress as an education advocate. He said that the United States already attracts top talent from around the world, issuing more PhD’s than any other country, and that it’s important to maintain that lead. “You’ve got to have a very good K-12 education” as a foundation for that, he said.

Though the federal government doesn’t provide the bulk of education funding, they can pass regulations that require states to spend money without attaching the money to pay for them. Lee said that as a local official, he always stood up against onerous unfunded mandates. As a City Council member, he said he always made sure that any measure was fully funded before passing because it’s important to know the consequences of any legislation. He said he would vote against legislation in Congress that didn’t include the money to pay for its provisions. He said that education is a local issue where the federal government should only intervene if they need to.

However, Lee does say that he favors the federal government passing a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “I believe in traditional marriage because of my values. I’m a Christian,” he said. Lee said that the subject is an issue that he would rather the government wasn’t involved in, but that people have forced it. He said that he doesn’t see any particular legal benefits he and his wife get by being married.

About abortion, Lee said it isn’t an option to him, though he doesn’t believe government should either make a law forbidding it or fund it with federal money. He said that he supports exception for rape, incest, and the health or life of the mother. Regarding sex education, he said that any education should be complete, laying out all the choices and consequences. Though he favors encouraging abstinence, he said that condom use and birth control should be discussed as well, because teaching people partial information distorts knowledge.

Lee said that he’s very interested in international politics, and that it’s important to be sensitive to world events. Even as a superpower, he said that the U.S. is linked to the global economy for both resources and markets, and needs to have good relationships with other countries. While he said it’s important to maintain policy independence, the U.S. shouldn’t act unilaterally, and should continuously engage with other countries when it comes to security issues.

Lee said that when it comes to allocating money to support security efforts at home, local governments should have significant say in how to spend it. He said that counties usually have their own established ways of coordinating, and may already own a lot of resources that local officials will know best how to use.

Regarding the PATRIOT Act surveillance provisions, Lee said that the unusual situation that exists after 9-11 requires some sacrifices, which he said amount to inconveniences. In his view, as long as the press and public are actively questioning the uses of government power, there's no need to worry. He also said that as a member of Congress, he’d ask tough questions about how law enforcement powers were implemented.

Lee is glad to be in a country where people have the opportunity to be free and to experiment. He said that “democracy can only succeed when everybody is involved and participating,” saying that because it isn’t a natural state, it has to be fought for. He considers democratic government and political freedom to be a form of protection for economic and religious freedom. He said that not enough people vote, and it’s important to encourage them to do so. “People need to feel that their vote can make a difference,” he said.

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Posted by natasha at May 24, 2004 05:56 AM | WA Politics | Technorati links |