A Vancouver resident and legal mediator has declared his candidacy in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Peter Khalil, a Democrat, is the first to announce a challenge to five-term Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who has already said she will be in the 2020 race. Khalil is running on four core tenets, he told The Columbian in an interview on Friday: anti-corruption, health care, environment and infrastructure.
A son of religious refugees from Egypt, he went on to graduate from Columbia University, where he studied political science. From there, Khalil attended law school at Stanford University.
He graduated $180,000 in debt, he said, and went to work on Wall Street in 2007 — just in time to watch the economy crumble.
“What I saw in Wall Street was a lot of dysfunction and a lot of corruption. I saw banks openly flouting anti-money laundering regulations,” he said.
Khalil then moved to Vancouver, where he lives today with his wife and 9-year-old son. He works as a legal mediator and arbitrator at Northwest Mediation.
This isn’t his first dalliance with public office. In 2011, the then-29-year-old joined and subsequently dropped out of the appointment process to replace Democratic state Rep. Jim Jacks. Khalil was discouraged by the appointment process, he said.
“It also gave me pause that I was new to the region at that time, to be honest, and I saw many good candidates,” he added. Until now, he hasn’t sought any other local, state or federal elected office.
Despite his lack of political experience, he said, his background in mediation will help him cut through the toxic tenor of the current national discourse.
He believes in free health care for the entire country, including the 56,000 uninsured or under-insured people in Southwest Washington, he said. He’s not sure how much that would cost, and said he’s skeptical of anyone who claims they do.
“I would either introduce or sponsor a bill that provides every American citizen with no-cost, nonprofit health care, including vision, dental and mental health care,” Khalil said.
His campaign manager, Linda Garcia, was among the loudest voices opposing the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Khalil is staunchly against any infrastructure that would support the fossil fuel industry, including the oil trains that still run along the Vancouver waterfront.
If elected, he’d aim to secure federal funding for a third bridge over the Columbia River, he said, though he’s currently undecided whether a third crossing or rebuilding the Interstate 5 Bridge should be higher on the priority list. He also declined to promote or oppose light rail, though he said the area needs some stronger form of mass transportation.
“My instinct is to go with something that involves trains,” Khalil said, adding that he opposes tolling as a source of revenue. “For me to say what’s best, it would be presumptuous to say before I listen and talk to everybody.”
Asked about the biggest difference between himself and Herrera Beutler, Khalil pledged to be more accessible to his constituents — a potential nod to a common criticism of the congresswoman during the 2018 election cycle, when democratic challenger Carolyn Long pointedly made town halls a cornerstone of her campaign.
“Our current representative does not make public appearances very often in the district,” Khalil said. “I will answer every letter, and I will try my damndest to return every phone call, because I will not forget the people who got me here.”