U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Democratic challenger Carolyn Long faced off in a virtual debate Friday afternoon, sparring on topics including health care, environmental policy and a replacement for the Interstate 5 Bridge.
The hourlong event was the first-ever formal debate between the two candidates, who are in the midst of their second contest for the 3rd Congressional District seat. Herrera Beutler defeated Long in 2018 to secure a fifth consecutive term representing Southwest Washington.
The debate proved to be highly confrontational, with each candidate aggressively attacking the other’s record. Long argued that Herrera Beutler obfuscates her policy positions and condemned her for failing to stand up to President Donald Trump. Herrera Beutler sought to cast Long as a supporter of left-wing causes such as defunding the police and “Medicare for All.”
“What you saw is what I said you’d see in the opening: someone who lies,” Long said during her closing statement.
“She wants the federal government to run your life and spend your money the way she thinks it should,” Herrera Beutler fired back in her own final remarks.
KXL-FM radio journalist Steve Leader moderated Friday’s debate, which was hosted by three local branches of the League of Women Voters along with The Columbian, The Daily News of Longview, the Skamania County Pioneer and the Goldendale Sentinel. Staff from each of the papers took turns asking questions submitted by Southwest Washington residents.
Multiple questions focused on climate change and other environmental issues, particularly the record-breaking wildfire season that the West Coast has endured this summer.
Long called the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement a mistake and called for Congress to reverse environmental policy rollbacks enacted under the Trump administration. She said she would pursue legislation to address climate change through carbon sequestration measures and support for jobs in the clean-energy sector.
Herrera Beutler said that the Paris Agreement would have put a financial burden on American taxpayers without adequately reining in carbon emissions from China, and said she wanted to work on reducing carbon emissions by incentivizing now technology like renewable energy sources.
She also declared her opposition to a carbon tax, arguing that the financial burden would fall on taxpayers, and sought to pin Long down on the issue as a carbon tax supporter. Long denied advocating for a carbon tax that would raise taxes on consumers, reiterating that her focus was on carbon sequestration and other reduction methods.
Herrera Beutler called for improved management of federal forests through techniques like thinning and prescribed burns in order to decrease the amount of fuel on the forest floor. She at one point argued that environmental lawsuits have prevented timber from being harvested in a sustainable way.
“Passing those (forests) on to the next generation is a priority of mine, and I’ll fight to do it,” she said.
Long didn’t dispute the need for forest management, but argued that the main cause of increasingly devastating wildfires is climate change, and again criticized Herrera Beutler for the environmental policy rollbacks during the Trump administration.
Protests and policing
Racial justice, policing and First Amendment protest rights all came up over the course of the debate, including questions about right-wing extremist groups. Both candidates expressed support for the right to protest and offered denouncements of racism and racial injustice — and called for reforms to provide greater police accountability.
Herrera Beutler stressed that unlawful violence shouldn’t be tolerated, and declared that she would oppose defunding the police outright. She repeatedly challenged Long regarding the latter’s endorsement from the Vancouver chapter of the advocacy group Indivisible, whose parent organization has called for defunding the police.
Long countered that she has never called for defunding the police and doesn’t adopt every policy position from the groups that have endorsed her. She argued that Trump has further inflamed racial injustice and said that Herrera Beutler and other congressional Republicans have enabled his actions by failing to directly confront him about it.
Interstate 5 Bridge
Long questioned Herrera Beutler’s record on the issue of a replacement for the Interstate 5 Bridge, arguing that the incumbent congresswoman hasn’t effectively used her position to move the project forward despite the inadequacies of the current structure and the rising cost of replacement over time. Long pledged to get the federal dollars necessary to build a replacement crossing.
Herrera Beutler countered that she has in fact secured federal funds for the region, pointing to the news from just a few weeks ago that the federal government had allocated $5 million to fund early work on a replacement for the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge, as well as another federal $5 million that went to the Pioneer Street extension in Ridgefield.
She pledged to secure funding for the I-5 Bridge too, but said that the process needed to be handled carefully in order avoid a repeat of “what happened last time” — a reference to the defunct Columbia River Crossing project.
Long called health care her No. 1 issue, declaring that she favored extending coverage by improving the Affordable Care Act and defending it from court challenges, as well as adding a public option that would allow American to choose between employer-provided insurance or a government plan.
“I don’t think the Affordable Care Act goes far enough,” she added. “I’m strongly in favor of a public option.”
She also criticized Herrera Beutler for taking donations from pharmaceutical companies and accused her and the Republican Party at large of seeking to eliminate protections for patients with pre-existing conditions — a claim that Herrera Beutler denied, declaring that she pushed for legislation to maintain protections regardless of what happens to the Affordable Care Act.
Herrera Beutler also said she had fought to bring down drug prices, and said she had been attacked by the pharmaceutical industry for doing so.
She also repeatedly sought to cast Long as a supporter of Medicare for All, meaning a fully government-run health care system rather than just a public option. Long disputed that characterization, arguing that she only supports a public option and stating at various times that Herrera Beutler was either lying or cherry-picking old comments.