WOODLAND — As the first public forum between candidates for the 3rd Congressional District began Tuesday, tensions were high. Hundreds packed into the Oak Tree Restaurant only to find they would be forced to listen in from the bar or the hall. About 40 students from a Woodland High School government class were tucked in near where the snack table used to be.
The rules for the overflowing audience were simple and strict: no applause, statements or opinions. Each candidate had 10 minutes to say whatever she wanted, and then audience questions would begin.
Based on the reception received when Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Democrat Carolyn Long entered the room, the audience was divided.
The questions were divided as well.
Attendees asked about how long each candidate has lived in the district — an issue Herrera Beutler has made central to her campaign strategy citing Long’s recent history as an Oregon resident — what each candidate would do to reduce the deficit, how to address homelessness and their views on the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which relates to wages paid to public works laborers.
One of the issues that surfaced again and again is whether or not Long is advocating for Medicare for all. Herrera Beutler argued Long’s support for the bill is well established and if implemented, would cost each “man, woman and child in this country ($100,000) and even if we doubled all federal income taxes, we wouldn’t pay for my opponent’s expensive plan.”
Long didn’t explicitly say she doesn’t support Medicare for all, but said her plan is to first look at a public health insurance option for rural residents.
“I’m not sure which Democrat my opponent thinks she’s running against,” Long said.
The first question addressed residency and asked each candidate how long they’ve lived in the district. Herrera Beutler said she has lived here most of her life. Catching onto the implication, Long answered 17 months, but also cited her 23 years as a faculty member at Washington State University Vancouver.
“I have met more voters in Southwest Washington in my 36 live town halls than Jaime Herrera Beutler has through her career,” Long added.
Herrera Beutler said she doesn’t need to host campaign events to “know the hearts and the minds of folks here. I actually am living here with my family.”
That’s something Long hasn’t chosen to do, she added.
“She’s waiting to see whether or not she wins this political election before she chooses to live among us,” Herrera Beutler said. “You cannot call into question my record and my presence in my community.”
To be clear, Long said her husband and daughter joined her in Vancouver earlier this year after his job transfer was complete.
The candidates were also asked if President Donald Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. Both said they believe the investigation needs to continue.
“No one is above the law and I’m not afraid to take a stance on what the investigation brings forth,” Herrera Beutler said.
Long said she’s alarmed when the president announces staff changes because “that sounds a little like obstruction to me.”
But Long added “nobody wants impeachment. I hope the president would resign first.”
An audience member also asked if Herrera Beutler and Long would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was recently accused of sexual assault. (The Senate, not the House, confirms Supreme Court appointees, so the question was hypothetical.)
“I was leaning yes,” Herrera Beutler said. “I will tell you, I believe the allegations that have come forward are serious. The accuser and accused deserve to have their stories heard.”
Long said Kavanaugh’s position on executive power is not in line with constitutional democracy.
Carolyn Long is greeted by applause and chants as she enters the event hall for today's debate between herself and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler at Oaktree Restaurant in Woodland. pic.twitter.com/r8xxrEBLqT— Nathan Howard 📷 (@SmileItsNathan) September 18, 2018
Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler gets her own applause as she enters the hall shortly after Long. pic.twitter.com/sczI17lOU8— Nathan Howard 📷 (@SmileItsNathan) September 18, 2018
“I suspect that is why he was chosen,” Long said.
Only one additional joint appearance remains on the candidates’ schedules, on Oct. 17 in Goldendale, 115 miles from Vancouver. Herrera Beutler declined an invitation by the League of Women Voters to debate Long in Vancouver.
Also on Tuesday, the candidates participated in a CVTV interview that is available online.
Tuesday’s forum was hosted by the Woodland Chamber of Commerce.