CENTRALIA — On Tuesday night, U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, held a telephone town hall to speak with constituents in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
The call’s facilitator said there were “thousands of people” joining Tuesday night. Of those, at least one criticized Herrera Beutler for holding the town hall on the phone while she was willing to meet with lobbyists in person.
In response, the congresswoman said she wasn’t sure which meeting the caller was referring to, because she meets with Southwest Washingtonians in-person nearly every day. But, if they were talking about lobbyists representing anglers, guides, foresters and other local economic interests, she said: “I will absolutely do that.”
The congresswoman fielded questions from residents, most hailing from Vancouver, after she gave an introduction relating to her work in Congress relevant to Southwest Washingtonians. She first focused on Ukraine and her actions in line with the majority in Congress to cripple Russia through sanctions and send security assistance to Ukraine. Herrera Beutler called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “murderous tyrant” and added she will do whatever it takes to “make sure that Ukraine prevails.”
“This garbage notion that ‘Who cares what happens to Ukraine?’ to me, it’s disrespectful to the generation that fought World War II,” she said. “These men and women laid down their lives so that freedom — for the United States, but (also) for the other countries who want to join us — is within reach. When you have brutal dictators and KGB thugs really trying to undo all that, I think it behooves us and our allies to stand with them (Ukraine) and help them succeed.”
Herrera Beutler then focused on record-high gas prices, saying it was a particularly potent issue for the area given the high number of commuters. She said the United States needs to be more independent in its production of gas and oil while pursuing clean energy alternatives and claimed the two paths are not mutually exclusive.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that $5-a-gallon gas is an economic crisis for a lot of families,” she said. “We can protect our environment and make gas prices lower.”
Herrera Beutler noted she recently signed on to the American Energy Independence from Russia Act to increase domestic production of petroleum products and natural gas.
“Now, another issue that I think is really top of mind here at home is the rise in crime throughout our community,” Herrera Beutler said as she segued to her next topic. “The Clark County Sheriff’s Office made headlines last week when they announced that — honestly, due to no fault of their own but because of budget constraints — they’re going to need to put a cut in policing activities.”
The congresswoman warned this situation could add to already rising crime rates in the region. She blamed police reform laws passed in 2021 in Olympia for the issue, saying that although amendments were put in place during the 2022 Legislative session, it wasn’t enough. Herrera Beutler described her Invest to Protect Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that would make “critical, targeted investments” by way of funding police departments with 200 or fewer officers — which make up about 95% of departments in the district, according to previous reporting in The Chronicle.
Referring to those police reform bills in Washington, Herrera Beutler said she’d spoken with many law enforcement officers experiencing “demoralization,” which she claimed makes “our communities less safe.”
She also spoke on her Community Oriented Policing Services on the Beat Grant Program which, if passed, would allocate $25 million to qualifying local and state law enforcement agencies.
“Then the final piece of legislation that I’ve been working on in this space is called the Refund the Police Act, and this is another bill to boost funding for states that put laws on the books that support good policing policy,” Herrera Beutler said.
The next topic addressed by the congresswoman may appear trivial next to concerns about crime and safety, but she insisted the issue is extremely important to Southwest Washington communities, anglers, guides and the environment: killing sea lions.
As a result of a joint effort between Herrera Beutler and Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, a recently-passed bill includes funds to continue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to kill sea lions on the Columbia River, protecting salmon and steelhead. Herrera Beutler spokesperson Craig Wheeler told The Chronicle this process could have positive impacts for fishermen of the Upper Cowlitz River and the Columbia Basin as a whole.
Many subsequent questions asked by constituents revolved around the possibility of the Oregon Department of Transportation adopting a toll or congestion pricing program for Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.
The toll would “pick the pockets of Southwest Washington commuters who work in Portland,” or who go to Portland for health care and other services, she said, without the promise of benefits from the dollars collected. Herrera Beutler told a caller that the issue is something she is working on actively, but she needs the help of residents to express the importance to the governor.
Herrera Beutler said supporting manufacturing and the hydroelectric system in Southwest Washington was also relevant to this, because it could mean fewer residents being required to commute.
“I would love to not be sending any commuter across the bridge to Portland by necessity,” she said. “Desire is one thing, but by necessity — to be able to provide for their families or to have a livelihood. I want those jobs on this side of the river.”