On a Saturday afternoon in a crowded library room, Southwest Washington’s congressional candidates sat shoulder to shoulder to argue why they should represent the region and contest the other’s “magical thinking.”
The debate between Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Stevenson, occurred with only a few weeks remaining before the Nov. 8 general election. The candidates sought to position themselves as the most pragmatic option as they seek to succeed Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground as the 3rd Congressional District’s representative in Washington D.C.
Kent and Perez fielded questions from a panel of journalists covering topics ranging from the health of the region’s economy and ecosystems, to national security and collaborating with officials across the aisle.
The event was hosted by the Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat-Skamania and Lewis counties chapters of the League of Women Voters. The Columbian, the Chinook Observer in Ilwaco, The Chronicle in Centralia, The Daily News in Longview and the Skamania County Pioneer in Stevenson were co-sponsors of the event.
A recording of the debate can be accessed on the local government access channel, www.CVTV.org.
Where’s the money
For the past year, the U.S. has experienced a surge in prices that can be felt in nearly every aspect of daily living, whether it’s reflected in a grocery receipt, gas visit or house payment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index rose 8.2 percent in September, slightly less than August’s 8.3 percent. However, prices remain high for consumers.
A primary factor driving inflation is the U.S.’s labor shortage, Perez said, saying that policy makers need to evaluate why this is the case. Although it’s a multifaceted problem, she said, the issue can be tackled by increasing access to childcare, providing public service debt forgiveness and easing labor restrictions.
Additionally, Perez criticized Kent’s proposal to ban immigration for 20 years, calling it “economic sabotage,” since the farming industry is dependent on migrant labor.
“When you ban all agricultural, legal, work permits, the price of groceries are going to go through the roof; that’s how we end up with $40 cranberry sauce on a kitchen table,” she said.
She acknowledged there is a crisis at the U.S.’s southern border, which can be stabilized through comprehensive reform, such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which contains provisions for immigrant farmhands. A wall is not the proper solution for border security, rather enhanced electronic monitoring would be a better approach, she said.
Kent doubled down on his proposal to ban immigration and said American workers need to come first instead of someone with a visa. He supports building a wall and cracking down on illegal immigration.
“Make it very clear to everyone who’s here in the country right now. There is no pathway to citizenship if you enter this country illegally. Period. Full stop,” Kent said.
He faulted Democrats and the Biden Administration for fiscal irresponsibility that led to surging prices, such as by passing the American Rescue Plan and Build Back Better Act. For this reason, Kent said he is dismissive of omnibus bills, which typically contain diverse subjects wrapped in one document, because they can lead to irresponsible spending.
Perez pointed to this as indicative that her opponent won’t be effective in bringing home federal funding for Southwest Washington.
The Columbia River, neighboring ecosystem
Southwest Washington’s economy is intricately tied to its vast forests of timber and the Columbia River, with the latter functioning as the region’s major artery for importing and exporting goods. It’s also home to rich salmon populations and fisheries, which communities along the waterway depend on for sustenance, jobs or both.
Will you accept the certified election tallies by the auditors of the counties in the 3rd Congressional District and the Washington State Secretary of State – subject to the outcome of any post-certification election challenges prescribed by Washington law?
- Kent: Yes.
- Perez: Yes.
Do you support President Biden as the lawfully elected president of the United States?
- Kent: Yes.
- Perez: Yes.
Do you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions with the assistance of her health care provider?
- Kent: Non-answer.
- Perez: Yes.
Do you support the federal recognition of the Chinook Nation?
- Kent: Yes.
- Perez: Non-answer.
In one word, characterize the individuals who tried to stop the transfer of power at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and who have to date been arrested and convicted.
- Kent: Felons.
- Perez: Rioters.
Both candidates nodded to their roots in natural resource industries: timber brought Kent’s family to the area where his father worked as a forest ranger, and Perez came from five generations of loggers. Although both Kent and Perez grew up surrounded by these networks of forests and rivers, their approach to addressing the environment’s survival and its economic impact varied.
Perez said Southwest Washington’s forests need to be actively managed to become a stronger asset to the region’s logging industry and builders. Currently, the woods are a “disaster” and a liability, as overgrown areas are likelier to lead to wildfires, she said. Perez also suggested supporting the use of cardboard and renewable paper products to replace plastics.
Kent condemned green agenda initiatives, noting that a “tragedy has taken place at the altar of environmentalism” at the hands of the federal government, which he said mismanages the natural resources. Instead, he lobbied for reducing government regulations and placing the responsibility in the hands of those in the industry.
The candidates also addressed the U.S.’s and Canada’s Columbia River Treaty, which has a sub-agreement that is set to expire in 2024. The international agreement, originally established in 1961, coordinates dam and reservoir operations along the Columbia River between the countries. Recently, Pacific Northwest groups have pushed for U.S. policymakers to modernize the treaty before the expiration date to prevent “ecosystem collapse,” according to Save Our Wild Salmon.
Kent said he could not provide an accurate comment without knowing the details of the treaty.
Ballots mailed: Oct. 21
Mail-in deadline: Postmarked by Nov. 8
Ballot box deadline: 8 p.m. on Nov. 8
Deadline to register or update existing registration:
- Online: Oct. 31
- In person: Nov. 8
Initial results will be announced around 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 8
Election certification: Nov. 29
Perez said there needs to be continued negotiations between the countries, adding that keep renewable energy on the table is vital for having a broader availability of power systems.
“Is it going to lower our energy costs? Is it going to give us more control over the resources in our district?” Kent rebutted. “That’s my starting point, is putting us first and not any kind of treaty that puts the people of the district in a disadvantaged position for something like a conversion to green energy.”
In recent years, the district has experienced an increase of dangerous wildfires, leading constituents to ask lawmakers what they are doing to prepare for an influx of natural disasters, whether in relation to fires, floods or dwindling salmon populations.
Climate change is real, and it affects rural communities in different ways that need to be reflected in legislation, Perez said.
Perez, who co-owns an auto shop with her husband, advocated for generating more trade jobs — something she equates to “green jobs” — through policy, such as increasing access to technical education through Pell grants, or special scholarships for those who are financially burdened.
“I believe that (technical) work is inherently noble, and we need to be doing more to address the climate crisis and supporting the trades jobs that are going to navigate out of that,” Perez said. “I’m pro-renewable energy because I’m pro-business.”
Kent had a different take on renewables.
“What we can’t do is continue down the same path that Biden, Pelosi and Jay Inslee have taken us down with this rapid conversion to so called ‘green energy’ because the green energy is, by and large, produced in countries that absolutely hate us like the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
Instead, the U.S. needs to become energy independent by placing higher value on domestic industries — something that is hindered by Democratic and environmentalist politics, Kent said.
Perez said this was a misunderstanding of how natural resources work; she said the U.S. can produce this technology internally.
“What we’ve lacked is an investment in career and trade and entrepreneurship to grow those native industries at home,” she said. “I agree we’ve got to bring that home. We’ve got to bring manufacturing of solar panels back to the U.S.”
Health care, federal regulations
The federal government has too much control over health care programs, which hasn’t benefitted people who have paid into them, according to Kent. He said the U.S. must open opportunities to purchase pharmaceuticals from other countries without too many regulations, or “red tape,” to create more competition in the market.
Perez supported negotiating all Medicare drug costs, not just the limited options that are outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act. The delivery of patenting generic drugs needs to be expedited, she said, which will increase consumer access to care while reducing pharmaceutical companies’ hold on drug manufacturing.
On the note of drugs, both candidates addressed President Biden’s pardoning of those who had federal offenses for possessing cannabis, as well as his motion to review the federal classification of the drug.
Kent said decriminalizing cannabis should be made on a state-level and supported studying the benefits it can have for veterans.
It makes financial sense to decriminalize cannabis on a federal level, Perez said, but there needs to be a greater emphasis on studying its impact on those who use it, as today’s cannabis is stronger from what it was decades ago.
Foreign aid and national security
Kent, a former Green Beret, opposes U.S. intervention unless it directly impacts the country’s national security, especially if the initiatives are guided by those without “real skin in the game.”
“We don’t need to listen to people who have never heard a shot fired in anger (and) tell us all the different places that we need to go to war,” he said.
Perez said that foreign aid isn’t synonymous with sending American soldiers to Ukraine to fight. She said Americans should be deeply troubled by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. If Ukraine falls, Europe is in danger, which subsequently puts the U.S. in jeopardy, she said.
“There is a vital security interest in America and preventing the kind of despotism that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is advancing from taking over more of our world,” Perez said.
Both candidates said they would be able to work with Southwest Washington’s best interests in mind — a topic that constituents have been vocally skeptical of.
Perez has raised $2.1M since primary election
Third Congressional District candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Stevenson, has spent most of her political campaign operating on a shoestring budget. Now, she has emerged as a top fundraiser after gathering more than $2 million since the Aug. 2 primary election.
Federal Elections Commission data showed that she raised $2.1 million during the third fundraising quarter. More than 13,000 separate donors have contributed since August, with average contributions being $129, according to the campaign.
According to Republican candidate Joe Kent’s October quarterly report, he gathered more than $650,000 in total contributions during the same period.
In order for proactive change to occur in Congress, it begins with changing its composition and entering the discussion with a willingness to collaborate across the aisle, Perez said.
“We’ve got to start getting people in there who fix things for a living who believe in hard work, you know, and that’s the reality most of us agree on 90 percent of the stuff, but we’re letting the extremists take all the oxygen out of there and it’s like pulling a bull around by his nose,” she said.
Kent rejects being called an extremist. He said he’ll be able to work with people regardless of political factions, noting his recent endorsement from former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.
“The real question is, can you afford two more years of one party rule? I’m going to Washington DC to provide a strong check against Nancy Pelosi against Joe Biden,” Kent said. “I served this country for 20 years. I’d be honored to serve you for two more as your representative.”