Congressional candidates vying to represent Southwest Washington’s 3rd District faced off last week in an Oct. 9 online forum that proved to be anything but dull.
Sponsored by the Clark County League of Women Voters and several local newspapers, the Oct. 9 forum featured Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and her Democratic challenger, Carolyn Long, a longtime Washington State University, Vancouver professor.
The candidates answered a wide range of questions on everything from environmental protections, access to affordable health care and a rise in far-right violence to replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge and bringing broadband internet services to Washington’s rural areas.
Peppered in between the candidates’ answers were accusations of deception, hidden records and outright lying.
At one point, the League of Women Voters’ moderator even thanked the candidates for keeping the forum interesting.
Herrera Beutler and Long set the tone of the debate with their opening statements.
Herrera Beutler, who was elected to Congress in 2011, harkened back to her first years as a congresswoman, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession of 2007-09.
“After we cut taxes on small businesses and families, we saw the economy start to boom and wages rise,” Herrera Beutler said. “I think we can get back there.”
The congresswoman pointed to her support of the Paycheck Protection Program — bipartisan legislation meant to help small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — as something that showed her “bipartisan work” in Congress.
PPP was “a lifeline to our small businesses,” Herrera Beutler said. “It brought 9,500 forgivable loans (to local businesses) and helped us save nearly 95,000 jobs here at home.”
Long touted her background as the daughter of small business owners who worked at a grocery store to pay for her college education, and as someone who has been responsive to Southwest Washingtonians’ concerns during her campaign.
“I believe in running a campaign based on honesty and trust,” Long said. “That’s why I won’t take a dime of corporate tax money. I want to be beholden only to (3rd District constituents).”
Long said Herrera Beutler is a “good, typical politician, a career politician who sounds good and tells you what you want to hear.”
“She’s also good at hiding what she does in Washington D.C. with her votes, which is why I always ask that people check the record,” Long said. “You’re going to see her commitment to inaccuracy on full display here today. She might sound reasonable and factual but she’s not. Her positions are … dangerous to Southwest Washington, to our public health and to our economy.”
And, with that, the candidates launched into an hourlong forum available online at CVTV.org.
On access to affordable health care
One of the questions posed to the candidates concerned the fact that 620,000 Washingtonians had no health insurance at the end of August. Stating that this number “could grow if the Supreme Court upholds the (Trump) Administration’s lawsuit that could throw out the Affordable Care Act,” the question asked the candidates, “What steps would you take to ensure that Washingtonians have access to affordable health care?”
Long went first on this one, stating that health care is the “No. 1 issue” for her campaign.
“Every Southwest Washingtonian I’ve talked to has a health insurance story … My plan is to get as many people as possible (access to affordable health care),” she said. “I have consistently been in favor of fixing the ACA, which has been under attack by my opponent and the Republican Party.”
Saying she believes the ACA doesn’t go far enough in protecting people’s health care access, Long said she is in favor of offering a public option in addition to the ACA, “so people can choose (health care) from the government or they can keep their existing insurance.”
Stating that Herrera Beutler has “taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from health insurance companies and from Big Pharma,” Long urged voters to “look where the money is (and) check the record.”
“What you see is a candidate who is beholden to special interests, so she votes their way,” Long said of Herrera Beutler, adding that the Republican congresswoman and the Trump Administration have not “come up with (their) own plan to provide comprehensive health insurance coverage to all Americans.”
Herrera Beutler said “protecting people with preexisting conditions” was her No. 1 priority, and brought up her own 7-year-old daughter, who was born with Potter’s syndrome.
“My 7 year old has a preexisting condition and I get my health care through the ACA,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’m not going to leave her exposed, and I’m not going to leave your family exposed. Which is why I’ve co-sponsored legislation that would make permanent people with preexisting conditions (having access to health insurance) irrespective of what happens with the Affordable Care Act.”
Herrera Beutler said she also “fought to slash prescription drug prices” and worked with members of the Democratic Party to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for Americans, to the ire of “Big Pharma.”
“I’m not in their pocket,” Herrera Beutler said of pharmaceutical companies. “I’m not afraid to stand up to anybody.”
The congresswoman also accused Long of backing “a really radical health care plan, a $32 trillion takeover of health care by the government that would get rid of Medicare as we know it.”
Herrera Beutler claimed that under the plan she said Long supports, “60 million Americans would see their Medicare upended and there are 180 million Americans who would see their private health insurance plans kicked to the curb.”
Long shot back in her response, saying: “Remember when I said my opponent was going to lie directly to you? She’s lying now. I’m not in favor of ‘Medicare for all.’ In fact, moments ago, I told you what my health care plan was. And moments ago, I told you that the Affordable Care Act protects people with preexisting conditions. My position on this is clear. What my opponent is doing is continuing to deflect from her own record. She will lie to you. She will hide from you, in order to hide from her own record, which is to get rid of health care that protects people with preexisting conditions, including her own family, which I will protect with my plan.”
On replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge
The candidates were asked about their plans to address transportation and infrastructure needs, such as the Interstate 5 Bridge and the bridge connecting White Salmon to Hood River, Oregon, in the Columbia River Gorge.
“We need to ask why this hasn’t been fixed yet,” Long said of replacing the aging, earthquake-vulnerable I-5 bridge. “This is something I’ll make one of my top priorities. My job is to get as much federal funding as possible (to replace the bridges). Every dollar you invest in this project brings $2.20 back into our community.”
Herrera Beutler countered that she has brought funds into the area to help with transportation needs.
“I secured $5 million (for the bridge connecting White Salmon and Hood River),” Herrera Beutler said. “This will go a long way to replace that 100-year-old bridge.”
Herrera Beutler said she is willing to “work in a bipartisan fashion” to get federal dollars for the I-5 bridge replacement, but said “the issue is we need to be accountable … we have got to fight Oregon’s unfair tolling system. Not just be against tolls. The time for silence has passed. The time for leadership is now.”
Long responded that “the time for leadership was 10 years ago” and said Herrera Beutler didn’t fight for the bridge back then.
“She’s using tolls to detract from her lack of leadership on the I-5 bridge replacement,” Long said, adding that she has never said she is committed to a tolling scheme for bridges that connect Oregon and Washinton. “The I-5 bridge (replacement will cost) billions of dollars. And it is now twice as expensive as it was 10 years ago. So it’s fiscally irresponsible that (Herrera Beutler) hasn’t been there when we needed her on this project.”
On far-right violence, white supremacy and defunding the police
The environment was not the only question that showed the two candidates’ very different worldviews.
When asked about their views on the FBI’s recent identification of far-right domestic violence extremists as being “one of the greatest threats facing the United States” and about Trump’s recent call out to the Proud Boys to “stand by” without denouncing white supremacy during the first presidential debate, Long said she believed the president’s “divisive rhetoric … stokes the fires of racial injustice” in the country and said members of Congress, including Herrera Beutler, “need to stand up to the president by calling his actions to account and doing so repeatedly.”
“Instead, what we’ve seen from members of his party, including my opponent, has enabled the president to say these types of things,” Long said.
“And we can see how dangerous that is with these recent threats against the governor of Michigan,” she added, referencing the FBI’s recent announcement that it had foiled a plot by at least 13 men with ties to far-right-wing groups to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, target the homes of police, attack the Michigan capitol building and threaten “violence intended to instigate a civil war.”
Long said she believes constituents in the 3rd District need their elected Congress members “to stand up to this president and the daily hatred coming out of his mouth.”
Herrera Beutler said “whether it’s the Proud Boys or the Ku Klux Klan, the old ones or the new ones … racism in all forms needs to be rejected.”
“All of us have seen the tragedy that happened to George Floyd,” Herrera Beutler said, referring to the 46-year-old Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody in May, whose videotaped death and cries for his mother reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and launched nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality. “I believe racial injustice is real and is something we have to root out and push back, which is why I was really pleased to help introduce the Justice Act in the House, which would retrain police officers and make sure they reflect the communities they serve, and make sure there’s a built-in accountability. It would end things like choke holds and (increase) body camera use.”
Herrera Beutler also said she believes police officers “are honorable,” but that “there are people who have violated their oath of office and deserve to have their badge removed.” She said officials “need to make sure we have a process for doing that so people feel safe and protected.”
“Now, I think the idea being bantered about (regarding) defunding our police is dangerous,” Herrera Beutler said. “I think it could cost more lives.”
The congresswoman then mentioned her opponent has been endorsed by Indivisible, a grassroots movement composed of locally formed groups that seek to defeat Trump’s agenda and elect progressive leaders.
“(This) very radical group has made defunding police the center of their policy,” Herrera Beutler claimed. “I’d like to know if (Long) has rescinded or given back that endorsement because defunding police is dangerous.”
Long again reminded listeners that she had told them during her opening statements that Herrera Beutler “would mislead” them.
“I’ve never called for defunding the police,” Long said. “And, in fact, I am a very strong supporter of law enforcement. That’s consistent in my records, with my dozens of public appearances. It is unfortunate that my opponent tries to deflect away from her own record when raising issues like this.”
The national Indivisible organization lists several campaigns on its main website, including protecting the results of the 2020 election by “building a coalition of voters ready to mobilize if Donald Trump refuses to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election;” restoring the Voting Rights Act; reforming the Supreme Court for a “less hyper-partisan process for selecting and appointing judges;” breaking up media conglomerates and investing in public broadcasting to “ensure a free and independent media;” and supporting For the People legislation that would require members of Congress as well as the vice president and president to “divest their assets and disclose conflicts of interest, “fight racial and partisan gerrymandering at all levels of government (and) instituting public funding for elections to reduce the power of corporate money in government.”
Among the multiple campaigns listed by Indivisible as priorities is “Taking Action in Solidarity with Black Lives.” Inside literature on this campaign, the movement’s leaders say “it is not enough to discuss the need for bias trainings or an increase in body cameras” when talking about dismantling systemic racism in law enforcement.
“We must demand transformative change,” the group states. “Following the lead of Black-led organizations like the Movement 4 Black Lives, we believe it is critical to defund the police and reinvest in community services that keep everyone safe.”
The group goes on to explain what it means by “defund the police,” stating: “police departments have massive budgets — often 30 percecnt or more of all the city’s spending in a given year — funds which are often used to criminalize unhoused people, respond to mental health crises and over-police communities of color. That’s why local activists have been calling on their city officials for years to cut spending on police and invest that money instead into programs that serve the community’s needs, like housing assistance, clean water, mental health services and more.”
Herrera Beutler continued to press Long on her endorsement by Indivisible, calling the progressive, grassroots movement, which has chapters in Vancouver and Camas, “a radical group” throughout the candidate forum, and asking her Democratic challenger if she would renounce the endorsement because of their position on “defunding the police.”
“I don’t take funding from Indivisible,” Long said. “I have endorsements from many people, from labor groups. I’m endorsed by a variety of groups. I am not in favor of defunding the police. I’ve said that again and again.”
On protecting the environment
“Remember when I said my opponent would mislead you and try to divert attention from her record?” Long asked after Herrera Beutler, the five-term Republican congresswoman who has represented Southwest Washington’s 3rd District since 2011, said she did not support environmental policies “either at home or internationally that are going to be paid for on the backs of working-class citizens” and claimed that the Paris Accord, a global effort to address climate change, would “cost the average family of four here $20,000 (while) letting China continue to pollute without any ramifications,” then asked if Long would oppose a carbon tax that would “raise the cost of gas … groceries, heating.”
“Two things: The Paris climate accord will not (cost) American families $20,000. No. 2: I’ve not talked about how I’m going to increase taxes by having a carbon tax or a carbon fee. Quite the opposite. I actually speak about carbon sequestration … and other ways in which we can decrease our carbon footprint. My record on this is clear through my dozens of town halls. So my answer, Jaime, is in my record. What’s yours?” Long shot back.
Herrera Beutler seems to be referencing a 2017 report by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank deemed “conservative-leaning” by Harvard Kennedy School’s Library and Knowledge Services, which said the landmark Paris Accord, from which President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2019, would have “raised energy prices, killed jobs and cost the average family of four $20,000 by 2035.”
The World Research Institute, a think tank listed as nonpartisan by Harvard Kennedy School, looked into the Heritage Foundation’s estimates on the Paris Accord and found the conservative think tank’s “study’s claims on costs do not stand up to scrutiny and the study fails to provide a relevant estimate of benefits.”
WRI researchers concluded that the Heritage Foundation had “not provided a substantive analysis that can inform these important policy discussions.”