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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: A challenger to Kent is welcome

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: September 30, 2023, 6:02am

For political wonks, the addition of Leslie Lewallen makes the 2024 congressional race more interesting. And it raises questions about her policy ideas as well as the sources of her support.

Lewallen, who is running as a Republican and is a sitting member of the Camas City Council, this week jumped into a contest that has 14 months to go but already had ostensibly been reduced to two candidates.

Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez was the winner of the 3rd Congressional District race last year; Republican Joe Kent was the loser. With both in the race for next year, the general election matchup for 2024 has been considered a fait accompli.

But the entry of Lewallen creates enough questions — such as, where does she stand on the issues? — to add intrigue.

There will be time for some vetting, but at this point, Lewallen’s policy substance carries about as much weight as tissue paper. “A robust economy is at the heart of every thriving economy,” reads her campaign’s web page. Which, to quote those immortal philosophers from Van Halen, is kind of like saying, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.”

Lewallen provides a similar amount of detail on other issues, focusing on reducing fentanyl in our communities, stopping crime, reducing inflation and putting “parents back in the driver’s seat for their children’s education.” Important issues all, and the details for her vision will be worth hearing.

But mostly, judging by her first week as a candidate, she is focused on defeating “progressive Perez.” That, of course, is the goal of all area Republicans, even if it requires labeling one of the most centrist Democrats in the House with an oxymoron.

In striving for that goal, Lewallen makes a solid pitch. “I’m the only one who can beat Marie Perez in 2024,” she said in announcing her campaign. “If we do not beat Marie Perez, we could potentially lose this seat forever.”

That last part might be a bit of hyperbole. But the part about being the only one who can beat Perez could resonate with voters.

Kent is an extremist who has courted white supremacists and spent the 2022 campaign saying Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that people facing consequences for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol were “political prisoners.”

The strategy worked through the primary, where he finished ahead of six-term incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler. But when the general election rolled around, Kent disingenuously changed his tune during a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters, saying Biden won the election and characterizing insurrectionists as “felons.”

When Kent could not keep his story straight, neither could voters. Republicans received 64.8 percent of the 3rd District vote in the primary, and Kent still managed to lose the general election.

All of which leads to head-scratching over the actions of local Republican leaders. Kent already has been endorsed by party organizations in Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, Wahkiakum and Thurston counties — groups that apparently are unfamiliar with the proverb starting “Fool me once …”

And all of which makes a serious Republican challenger to Kent (Lewallen already has the backing of former Secretary of State Sam Reed) a most welcome addition. If the GOP is to survive, especially in Washington, it must render the Trump years as a sad footnote to the party’s history and move forward. When you find yourself in a hole, put down the shovel.

Whether Lewallen can serve as a viable alternative suddenly becomes the most important question of the race. And there is reason for doubt.

During her 2021 campaign for Camas City Council, Lewallen’s biggest financial supporters (aside from herself) were David Madore and his wife. As a Clark County councilor from 2013-16, Madore embodied the worst traits of the modern Republican Party, seeking to break government to prove that government is broken.

Whether Lewallen embraces that philosophy remains to be seen. Either way, it will be interesting.