Rep. Adam Smith spoke Thursday evening at Bellevue City Hall to an audience of about 25 people which included Bellevue Mayor  Conrad Lee, City Council member Claudia Balducci, and State Representative Marcie Maxwell.

The small turnout was rather surprising, but it had the beneficial effect that it was easy to ask questions.  Rep. Smith spoke without a microphone.

This was the first time I’d seen him in person. He seemed down-to-earth and approachable.  A likeable personality. Not condescending or elitist.

Rep. Adam Smith
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)  [photo courtesy of Al Garman]

Smith mentioned that he joined the New Democrats — a moderate, pro-growth caucus.  In keeping with the moderate views of that caucus, Smith echoed Republican some talking points. He said the Federal government is part of the problem when it comes to fixing the budget.  “There’s too much uncertainty.” He mentioned that he tries to be bipartisan.

Progressive Punch gives Smith a progressive voting score of 70.4% on crucial votes (80.2% overall), saying also that he’s the 153d most progressive House member and that he’s 12.9% less progressive than his district. Certainly he’s not a strong progressive. (The same page says Dennis Kucinich is the 73rd most progressive House member; are there really 72 congresspeople more progressive than Kucinich? )

The National Journal (a conservative publication) rates Smith as the 159th most liberal (269th most conservative), quite consistent with how Progressive Punch rates him.  It rates Kucinich as the 110th most liberal.

Rating site http://thatsmycongress.com/house/ gives Smith a conservative score of 30 (“weakly liberal”). It gives Kucinich a 76.  For this site a score of zero (0) means middle-of-the-road.  Negative scores signify conservative.

Conservative.org gives Smith a lifetime conservative rating of 14.4 out  of 100. (It gives Kucinich a 9.1.)

[Note: This web page discusses biases in such scoring of politicians. For example, Kucinich may have gotten the scores he did (not so progressive) because he opposed certain measures considered “liberal” but opposed them because they weren’t liberal enough.]

Smith said he voted against the recent $110 billion middle-class tax cut, because of the deficit. The tax cut was passed a year earlier and was supposed to end, but now Congress has extended it again.

Fixing the budget deficits will require changes in all three of the following  1. Discretionary spending (via appropriation bills), 2. Mandatory spending (debt servicing, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, pensions and salaries for federal employees), and 3. Revenue.

Smith favors testing students in public schools, to make sure the kids don’t graduate unless they have basic skills. But No Child Left Behind risks causing most schools to be labeled as nonperforming.   It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to destroy public education — which is something many Republicans want to do. People applauded when Smith defended education.    He mentioned that he went to public schools and he sends his kids to public schools, though he lives in a not affluent district.

Smith serves as senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. So I asked him about the high defense spending. I mentioned that while I disagree with Ron Paul on most issues, I agree that it’s insane that the US has hundreds of military bases around the world. I mentioned the fraudulent war in Iraq and Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex.  Smith agreed that we need to lower defense costs.

Smith said “it’s difficult to do our job with a 10% approval rating for Congress.”  “I will listen to you and be responsive.”

Not only did the Supreme Court decide that corporations are people. It also decided that money is equivalent to speech. Many people are unaware of that latter decision.  “Even if we congressmen are not bought, people assume we are.”

Smith agreed that the Feds should stop enforcing draconian drug laws when so many states and most citizens believe that marijuana should be regulated and not illegal.

On the issue of immigration, Smith said that we need immigrants both for agriculture and for high-tech firms like Microsoft.  An immigration attorney in the audience said that she has many clients who spend years fighting to stay in the country, despite having deep roots here and advanced skills. The immigration laws are broken.

Someone asked him about whether Glass-Stegall should be reinstated.  He agreed but pointed out that existing laws already on the books haven’t been enforced. The regulators didn’t do their jobs.  (Was he implying that government is to blame?)  Though the dismantling of Glass-Steagall was deleterious, there were other causes of the crash, and some financial institutions that acted in a way that was consistent with Glass-Stegall failed as well. For example, Countrywide and WaMu; they just made bad business decisions.

Smith lamented that very few of the people responsible for the subprime crash were held accountable.  The rating agencies in particular engaged in fraud, he said.

Smith’s congressional district, the new 9th, was redistricted this year. It now extends from Bellevue down to Tacoma. Amazing that Dave Reichert, the incumbent in the old 8th CD, didn’t even know what Glass-Steagall was when someone asked him about it in a public forum.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force raised his hand to speak to Rep. Smith. The veteran  was forced out of the Air Force years ago on charges that he was gay.  He was given a less-than-honorable “administrative” discharge. There was no proof at the time that he was gay, but in fact he was, he told everyone.  He had to fight his discharge for years. Having a less-than-honorable discharge is a huge blemish on a veteran’s record; it makes it difficult to get jobs, etc.   The veteran asked Rep. Smith to work on asking President Obama to issue an executive order to reverse all such less-than-honorable discharges for gay veterans kicked out under DADT or prior anti-gay rules.  Smith said he supports the issue and is working on it, but it’s difficult in some cases to track down the precise reasons for a discharge.

After the speech I spoke with Smith in person for a minute, asking him to be less bipartisan. We need Dems who fight the Republicans.  The public needs to know who’s to blame for the mess we’re in.

Two of his aides were there: a female African-American community outreach coordinator and a male Asian American community liaison.    A third volunteer, an unpaid intern, manned the sign-in desk.

(See related, later article: Rep. Adam Smith at Drinking Liberally Bellevue.)