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3rd District candidates address readers’ questions, concerns

Constituents ask candidates: How will you represent even those who didn’t vote for you?

By , Columbian staff writer
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When aspiring politicians first announced their candidacy nearly a year ago for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, some voters quickly leapt to their support.

Although hints of this eagerness remain resolute, other voters need more information before casting their ballots.

These constituents submitted questions through The Columbian’s reader-guided Clark Asks reporting project to ask candidates to explain their stances on past and current issues, as well as how they will ensure equal representation of their constituents — regardless of party factions.

Those vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, include Republicans Leslie French of Camas, Joe Kent of Yacolt, state Rep. Vicki Kraft of Vancouver and Heidi St. John of Battle Ground; Democrats Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Skamania and Davy Ray of Stevenson; and third-party candidates Chris Byrd of Toutle and Oliver Black of Longview.

Curtailing partisanship

Clark Asks question submitters wanted to know how congressional candidates would work with members of the opposite party in the face of increasing political polarization. Others asked how those vying for the position would represent all residents in the district — including those who did not vote for them.

The incumbent describes herself as a consistently bipartisan member of Congress. Herrera Beutler said the region’s priorities, such as bettering health care for mothers or managing gas prices, are not partisan; political ideologies do not obstruct her means of attaining these goals.

“If I remain focused on the region’s priorities, like making sure the views of Southwest Washington residents are reflected in the I-5 Bridge replacement process, then I’m doing my job,” she wrote to The Columbian in an email.

Perez holds a similar belief and said bipartisanship is necessary to circumvent political gridlock, noting that “for too long, we keep paying representatives to be part of the problem.”

Combative language aimed toward an enemy is a common sight on Kent’s social media accounts, whether it’s involving the Biden administration or the “establishment,” a group of Democrats, Republicans and other officials who are against the public. Kent said he views these stances as being in accord with the needs of the district.

St. John presents herself as a “pro-freedom” candidate — something she defined as a nondiscriminatory term that encapsulates everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. However, the candidate’s social media pages regularly feature divisive language toward Democrats and LGBTQ communities.

Editor's Note: Election Coverage

Although it’s barely summer, The Columbian’s election coverage is in full swing. As part of that, we’ve debuted a new elections page where you can easily find information about the candidates on your ballot and links to stories, videos and editorial board endorsements. Check it out at www.columbian.com/elections. – Craig Brown, editor

Having a dialogue between both sides of the aisle is critical for representatives, St. John said, but it doesn’t mean she will change her mind.

“I want to listen, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to violate my own conscience,” she said.

Kraft presented a similar message: She welcomes constructive dialogue yet draws a line on certain issues. For example, if most people in the 3rd District supported legislation protecting abortion rights, she would not be able to reflect this in her duties because it goes against her own beliefs.

“As a representative, I have to live with myself, and I have to be true and honest to who I am and my values,” Kraft said.

The two third-party candidates said they are advantaged in their position because they aren’t intertwined in partisan quarrels. Byrd, who registered as an independent, said any decision he makes will be a pragmatic one, void of any political rhetoric that places him in a red or blue box. As a member of the American Solidarity Party, a Christian-democratic party, Black said he won’t be consumed by political games.

“I don’t have any of that baggage as a third-party candidate,” Black said.

All the candidates targeted Herrera Beutler’s communication with constituents. They all said they would maintain open contact with Southwest Washington residents by hosting frequent town hall meetings if they assumed the role.

“I’ve never stopped holding town halls and meeting with folks throughout the region,” Herrera Beutler said, referencing these frustrations. “I regularly meet with residents in their place of work, at their school, in one-on-one meetings, at issue-specific discussions, at community forums, or at events like my annual jobs fair attended by thousands of people.”

Promoting, rejecting the ‘Big Lie’

The “Big Lie,” or the baseless claim that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election, has troubled politics on a state and national level. Allegations of widespread voter fraud have been disproved in states across the country, including Washington, yet multiple candidates running for the 3rd District seat keep repeating the claim.

Herrera Beutler defends her decision to vote to impeach Trump for inciting a mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. The congresswoman said she voted in accordance with her oath of office.

“In any election, there are instances of irregularities and some cases of voter fraud,” she said. “But according to the evidence presented to courts of law those instances were far, far less than would be needed to overturn the election.”

3rd Congressional District candidates

Oliver Black

  • Party: American Solidarity
  • Age: 32
  • Residence: Longview
  • Education: William Jessup University, Liberty University
  • Occupation: High school history teacher
  • Experience: None
  • Online: blackforwa3.com

Chris Byrd

  • Party: Independent
  • Age: 40
  • Residence: Toutle
  • Education: Virginia Tech
  • Occupation: High school social studies teacher and coach
  • Experience: None
  • Online: byrdforcongress.org

Leslie French

  • Party: Republican
  • Age: 68
  • Residence: Camas
  • Education: Portland State University, Concord Law School
  • Occupation: Staff at Believe LLC
  • Experience: None
  • Online: frenchforcongress.com

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez

  • Party: Democratic
  • Age: 34
  • Residence: Skamania County
  • Education: Reed College
  • Occupation: Auto repair shop co-owner
  • Experience: Washington State Democratic Party executive committee (2020-current); Underwood Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors (2018-current)
  • Online: marieforcongress.com

Jaime Herrera Beutler (incumbent)

  • Party: Republican
  • Age: 43
  • Residence: Battle Ground
  • Education: University of Washington
  • Occupation: Congresswoman for Washington’s 3rd District
  • Experience: U.S. House of Representatives (2010-present); Washington 18th Legislative District representative (2007-2011); Congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.
  • Online: votejaime.com

Joe Kent

  • Party: Republican
  • Age: 42
  • Residence: Yacolt
  • Education: Norwich University
  • Occupation: Tech startup project manager
  • Experience: None
  • Online: joekentforcongress.com

Vicki Kraft

  • Party: Republican
  • Age: 52
  • Residence: Vancouver
  • Education: Michigan State University
  • Occupation: Washington 17th Legislative District representative
  • Experience: 17th Legislative District representative (2017-present)
  • Online: vickikraft.com

Davy Ray

  • Party: Democratic
  • Age: 58
  • Residence: Stevenson
  • Education: University of North Alabama,
    University of Oregon
  • Occupation: Unemployed
  • Experience: Stevenson Planning Commission
  • Online: davyforcongress.com

Heidi St. John

  • Party: Republican
  • Age: 52
  • Residence: Battle Ground
  • Education: Multnomah University (partial)
  • Occupation: Author and speaker
  • Experience: None
  • Online: heidistjohnforcongress.com

Kraft, Kent and French demand election audits and reject voting by mail. French has supported the group Washington Election Integrity Coalition United by signing onto multiple lawsuits against the state government. Kraft wrote to then-Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman asking her to conduct a forensic audit.

Democratic candidates Perez and Ray, as well as third-party challengers Black and Byrd, quickly denounced the claim and said there is no evidence to support it. St. John did not explicitly reject the conspiracy theory, but she hesitantly agreed that President Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate. She said there needs to be greater voter engagement to minimize feelings of disenfranchisement by the system.

“The surest way to lose an election is not to vote,” St. John added.

Government processes, involvement

Ranked choice voting is a format that allows voters to list candidates by preference — first, second, third and so on.

Some cities, counties and states throughout the country conduct elections using ranked choice voting. Washington laws restrict local jurisdictions from adopting that voting format, except for Clark County and San Juan counties, and it’s not allowed in presidential primaries.

Such alternative voting methods could provide greater representation — especially if a voter’s preferred candidate is less likely to win, Black said. Rather than “throwing away a vote,” constituents feel more empowered to engage in an election.

Vote splitting, or diluting opportunities for majority rule, is likelier in regular methods of voting, and radicalism can sneak through, Perez said.

“I think it is the right move for democracies,” Perez said. “If you are worried about political extremism, ranked choice voting is one of the most implementable solutions we have at our disposal.”

Republican candidates argue that ranked choice voting is convoluted and would complicate voting. Kent and Kraft predicted that ranked choice voting would create an element of distrust in election processes and would deter voter engagement. French said it could be beneficial in smaller, nonpartisan elections.

COVID mandates

Readers questioned whether congressional candidates’ views regarding COVID-19 vaccination and masking mandates have evolved since the latest pandemic spike.

Although the incumbent received a COVID-19 vaccine and supports taking precautions, she opposes government intervention in mandating vaccinations. In February, Herrera Beutler introduced a bill that would prohibit health care providers from administering COVID-19 vaccines to children younger than 18 without parental or guardian consent. Washington health care providers can waive this consent for vaccines.

QUICK HITS

Did you agree with the overturning of Roe v. Wade?

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler: yes

Oliver Black: yes

Chris Byrd: no

Leslie French: yes

Joe Kent: yes

Vicki Kraft: yes

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: no

Davy Ray: no

Heidi St. John: yes

Do you support light rail?

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler: no

Oliver Black: yes

Chris Byrd: yes

Leslie French: yes

Joe Kent: no

Vicki Kraft: no

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: yes

Davy Ray: yes

Heidi St. John: no

Would you back the federal decriminalization of cannabis?

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler: no

Oliver Black: yes

Chris Byrd: yes

Leslie French: no

Joe Kent: no

Vicki Kraft: no

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: yes

Davy Ray: yes

Heidi St. John: no

The third-party candidates said they were supportive of actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 but opposed the enforcement of them, as this led to a massive sway in public opinion and increased polarization around the issue.

Ray chided recalcitrant individuals for being “stubborn” and not listening to qualified experts.

Kent, who regularly referred to the state health board as the “Gestapo,” adamantly opposes COVID-19 mandates, saying they thwart Americans’ freedom. In January, he rallied people to gather outside the Clark County Public Service Center and oppose Clark County’s COVID-19 mandates.

The opinion is not unique among the multiple Republican candidates.

St. John said mandates are an “egregious overreach” of government and do more harm than good. Kraft denounced the COVID-19 precautions less than a month after Washington’s first lockdown, gathering with protesters in Olympia to oppose the order.

“It’s a personal choice, not the choice of the state,” French said.

Although Perez supported the government’s actions, she questioned why certain agencies — such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — were expected to oversee the regulations. She added that these departments weren’t equipped to handle the implementation of mandates.

Foreign aid

In 2019, the most recent year with available data, the U.S. spent about $48.18 billion in foreign aid — about 1 percent of the country’s federal budget. Readers asked the candidates whether this amount was acceptable.

Key dates

July 15: Elections offices will mail ballots to voters for the Aug. 2 primary election.

July 25: Deadline to register or make updates online.

Aug. 2: Deadline to register or make updates in person.

Aug. 16: Official results will be released.

The top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

Having these investments total less than 1 percent of the national budget can save money, Herrera Beutler said.

“While China is aggressively working to expand its malign influence throughout the globe, the U.S. should continue to demonstrate the character of our country by aiding those families displaced by war or confronting famine,” she wrote.

St. John said former President Donald Trump was correct in cutting back foreign aid, saying it should be invested internally. She criticized Herrera Beutler for agreeing to provide foreign aid for Ukraine while disregarding bolstering a southern border wall.

Kent said he saw foreign aid being misused while serving in the military.

“There’s a ton of fat that we can trim right there,” he said. “There needs to be something tangible that the United States gets in return for that foreign aid.”

Black and Perez both said investing in more foreign aid is a great alternative to military intervention, as it’s a humanitarian approach to stabilizing regions throughout the world. However, it needs to be delegated wisely to avoid feeding corrupt governments that violate human rights, they said.

Other challengers were dubious of the funding. Byrd said there should be a thorough cost-benefit analysis to see whether it’s in America’s best interest to influence other regions. Similarly, French questioned what the exact figure is.

Providing foreign aid supports America’s economic interests while strengthening security, Kraft said, but federal spending needs to be focused inward rather than on other countries. She suggested that most humanitarian aid should be delivered through churches or nonprofit organizations.

Gun regulations

The U.S. has experienced more than 300 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Mass shootings — in which four or more people are killed by a gun — have plagued Americans’ minds, and recent occurrences in Highland Park, Ill., and Uvalde, Texas, have only increased the urgency to find a solution. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected lower-court rulings that implemented a variety of gun restrictions, and President Joe Biden later signed federal gun reform legislation to reestablish some regulations.

The 3rd District’s third-party candidates, Black and Byrd, and Democrats Perez and Ray said there are commonsense measures that can reduce incidences of gun violence, such as bolstering background checks.

Some gun owners have a complete disregard for the respect and responsibility owning a firearm requires, Perez said. The candidate, who said she owns guns, said there needs to be a change in how people see firearms — as a tool, not as a shortcut to power.

Ray said the Second Amendment is not sacrosanct, and it should be modified to represent how society progresses. It was ratified in 1791 to aid Americans in establishing independence, and it should be modified to reflect reality, he said. Ray added that guns should not be taken away, but some require restrictions to ensure safety.

Herrera Beutler, who backed the banning of bump stocks and improving background checks, said she supports reform to make gun ownership safer. Yet the details of legislation need to be seriously considered, such as red-flag laws that may not align with due process protections, she said.

The remaining challengers all said gun regulations are an infringement on an individual’s constitutional rights. They blamed the shootings on mental health and said restrictions wouldn’t keep criminals from getting guns.

Kent, a self-described Second Amendment absolutist, argued that the solution to gun violence is to invest in law enforcement and allow people to be armed to defend themselves and others. French said gun regulations make people vulnerable to violence.

St. John said the root of gun violence is not access, but rather issues such as “fatherlessness, drug addictions and other ills.” Similarly, Kraft said mental health issues — which she, too, describes being the center of shootings — are caused by the deterioration of the family unit that lacks spiritual and emotional support.

“Broken people produce broken outcomes, and it’s time that we get serious about helping people become healthy people,” the representative said.

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