3rd Congressional District: Herrera Beutler

Incumbent's strengths, plus foes' weaknesses lead to easy call

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Jaime Herrera Beutler continues to strengthen her political bona fides as she nears the end of her first term in Congress. An independent streak that enables her to occasionally step beyond the Republican Party consensus has been refreshing in the bitterly partisan Congressional arena. Her laser focus on "what's best for the people of the district" reminds her constituents in the 3rd Congressional District that they are her boss.The Camas Republican is The Columbian's lone endorsement in the Aug. 7 primary because of her strengths, plus her two opponents' weaknesses. Neither Jon Haugen, a Vancouver Democrat, nor Norma Jean Stevens, an Ocean Park libertarian, is gaining any meaningful traction in this campaign.

In Haugen's case, he failed to draw the state Democratic party's endorsement and is relying on a slash-and-burn campaign style. Granted, an aggressive offense is needed in challenging an incumbent, but when queried on most issues, Haugen mentions a solution, then quickly bombards the opposition. We called him a "firebrand maverick" in 2008, when his antagonistic style was unleashed and he lost a race for state senator by more than 10 percentage points. Two years ago, Haugen snared just 7 percent of the votes in a bid for state representative and finished fourth among seven primary candidates.

In Stevens' case, she acknowledges that "realistically, I probably won't get a lot of votes. I'm just running to make a statement." In 2010, Stevens took just 4.1 percent of the votes and finished last among six primary candidates for Congress.

A primary showdown is necessary in this three-person race. Two will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, likely Herrera Beutler and Haugen if only for their party affiliations. But as we see it, there's no doubt the incumbent is serving effectively — particularly for a Congressional rookie — and no challenger has built the foundation of support and campaign momentum that's needed to seriously challenge a sitting member of Congress. Herrera Beutler is so Republican as to sign Grover Norquist's no-tax-increase pledge, but not so deeply Republican as to oppose all aspects of the Columbia River Crossing. She supports replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge and is waiting to see the outcome of a fall vote when C-Tran service district voters will decide if the sales tax should be increased to fund maintenance and operation of light rail. If voters reject that proposal, Herrera Beutler says she would support a bridge replacement without light rail or a bridge built to accommodate light rail later. She said tolls is a matter to be decided by the state.Haugen insists the current bridge should be upgraded, and a supplemental bridge built with no tolls. He sees no current need for light rail. Stevens opposes any debt incurred by the CRC, opposes tolls and wants statewide votes on a new bridge.

Herrera Beutler's plan for creating jobs in her district is to increase access to credit, establish fair taxation policies, generate political predictability with more agreements in Congress, and emphasize creative energy policies such as recognizing hydropower as a renewable source. She established herself as solutions-oriented across party lines when she served on the conference committee that produced the recent transportation bill.

All three candidates generally follow party lines (or libertarian views) on major national issues such as health care reform, same-sex marriage, defense spending, reforming social services, foreign policy and reducing the national debt.

Primary ballots are being mailed today.