White Salmon resident Rudy Atencio is running for Congress in Washington’s 3rd District.
The 42-year-old Democrat’s campaign has so far proven unorthodox in his quest for the seat currently held by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.
He’s been quietly running since February, when he launched a campaign Twitter account that originally promoted the Whig party. Atencio, a member of the LGBTQ community, said he’s conducted most his of in-person campaigning so far from Portland gay bars frequented by Vancouver residents. He’s also launched a website, rudywa.org.
In a conversation with The Columbian on Tuesday, Atencio said he’s running on raising the minimum wage and implementing a single-payer health care system.
“I am behind a low-cost, needs-based, Medicare-for-all system. So if you need it, you get Medicare. If you don’t need it — there’s no need to extend Medicare to people who are not in need,” Atencio said. “That seems to be the preference for everyone in South Washington that I’ve spoken with while campaigning, as well as people in Portland.”
He said that he believes the federal minimum wage is too low, and he predicted that interest rates will rise after the 2020 election, and the cost of living will go up along with them.
“Jaime Herrera, the incumbent, voted against raising the minimum wage, and I want to raise the minimum wage,” said Atencio, who does not use Herrera Beutler’s full name in his statements or his website.
He declined to specify how much the minimum wage should go up nationwide, saying that the exact amount “is something that should be debated in the public square.”
“We would have to look at the standard of living nationally. I would personally like to see the minimum wage at $15,” Atencio said.
He also proposes building a shipping channel along the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce America’s reliance on the Panama Canal. The channel would serve a dual purpose, he said — it would improve America’s capacity to ship goods to and from other countries, but it would also serve as a symbolic rejection of President Donald Trump’s current border policy.
“We are building bridges and not walls. It would send a message of inclusion,” Atencio said. He added that his campaign’s messaging will seek to unify a divided country.
Atencio was born in Texas. His family moved to Venezuela to run their ranching and shipping business, where Atencio lived until he was 10 years old. He finished middle and high school in Texas, he said, then attended the University of Alaska in Anchorage to earn his undergraduate degree studying ocean acidification and pollution.
He moved to Washington in 2017 when his partner got a job with Providence Health & Services.
Through a graduate certificate program with Creighton University, Atencio said, he worked with the mayor of White Salmon, David Poucher, to better understand the town’s infrastructure.
So far, Atencio has raised no money. On Monday, he filed a campaign committee with the Federal Elections Committee under the name “RUDYWA WOKE 2020.”
His campaign slogan is “I’m With Them! Woke 2020,” he said.
Including Atencio, three Democrats are currently challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the Republican incumbent seeking a sixth term representing the 3rd District in 2020.
Peter Khalil, an Ivy League-educated mediator and progressive Democrat, launched a campaign in April. Carolyn Long, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver, is also back in the race after posing a challenge to Herrera Beutler in the 2018 general election.