Debate highlights major differences between WA’s 3rd Congressional District candidates, ballot deadline looms

Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, or placed in election drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8

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Democratic candidate for Washington's 3rd Congressional District Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, right, looks skyward while Republican candidate Joe Kent gives his closing remarks on Saturday during a debate at the Vancouver Community Library. (Contributed photo courtesy of Taylor Balkom/The Columbian)

The midterm election is just a few days away, with ballots due in drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 8, or, for those mailing in their ballots, postmarked by Election Day.

Camas-Washougal voters will help decide several critical federal and state races, including contests for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District and for two seats in the state’s newly redrawn 17th legislative district. 

Candidates for the 3rd Congressional District participated in the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum on Oct. 15, where they sparred with each other over everything from climate change, abortion rights and access to affordable healthcare to voting rights, the economy and immigration. 

Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, of Washougal, runs an automotive shop with her husband in Skamania County, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Portland’s Reed College, has held elected positions within the Democratic National Committee and the Underwood Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors and was the executive director of the Stevenson Downtown Association. 

Republican Joe Kent, of Yacolt, served in the U.S. military for more than 20 years and was a foreign policy advisor to former President Donald Trump before taking a position as a project manager for a technology company that may, according to reporting published this week in the Post-Record’s sister paper, The Columbian, be related to a defense and government services corporation. 

The two candidates participated in a League of Women Voters debate on Oct. 15. 

“The race for the 3rd Congressional District seat has generated national interest in the wake of the defeat of the incumbent (longtime Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler), one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump,” the League wrote in its guide to the 3rd District debate. “Candidates are Republican Joe Kent, who asserts the 2020 election was stolen, and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who describes herself has a pro-choice moderate.” 

On the continuation of Social Security and Medicare

In the wake of several Congressional Republicans saying they would like to decrease federal spending on Social Security and Medicare, the moderators asked Kent and Perez to explain if they would support the continuation of these national programs.

“The problem with healthcare is too much federal government control,” Kent said. “Obviously, programs for senior citizens and people with disabilities — those must be maintained. We have to take care of those that need our assistance.”

“But one provider coming from the federal government has gotten us absolutely nowhere,” Kent said, calling on “more tort reform” and purchasing pharmaceuticals from Canada and Europe to help curtail healthcare costs. 

“At the end of the day, (we need) more competition in the market to benefit consumers while maintaining a safety net for senior citizens and those who are disadvantaged,” Kentsaid. 

Perez, on the other hand, said she recognized that Americans “have some of the highest healthcare costs in the world and … not the highest (health) outcomes.”
“All Americans deserve access to quality, affordable healthcare, Perez said. “We’ve got to control the healthcare costs. Some of the ways we can do that? Negotiating all Medicare drug costs … speeding access to and delivery of generic drugs, which means we have to pursue patent reform. A lot of big pharma is just marrying existing drugs with new technology and calling it something new. That’s not delivering value to consumers, that’s delivering profits to big corporations. And that’s one of the reasons I don’t take corporate PAC checks — because I want to be a voice for Southwest Washington and our healthcare.”

Perez said she also would like to help cut through “the red tape” that prevents certain kinds of healthcare providers, such as nurse practitioners from “providing care we rely on.” 

“In rural communities, where there is wild inequity and access to healthcare, we have got to be novel about bringing down costs and (providing) access to all citizens,” Perez said. 

Later, the candidates gave their views on abortion rights, with Perez saying she “unequivocally” supported a women’s right to make her own reproductive decisions and Kent, who has described himself as a “pro-life” or anti-choice candidate, said he supported a women’s right to make healthcare decisions about her body, with an emphasis on the “her,” likely alluding to the the idea an embryo or non-viable fetus is not part of a pregnant person’s body. 

As for protecting Social Security benefits, Perez said her opponent removed language from his website calling for increasing the age that people can draw from the federal retirement benefit they’ve paid into their entire working lives. 

“They make this argument that we’re living longer,” Perez said of Republicans who have called for increasing the age that Social Security benefits can kick in. “Spoiler alert: we’re not all living longer in the trades.” 

“It’s white collar workers, those in project management,” Perez said, motioning toward Kent, “who are living longer. People who work in the trades should not be paying for that.”
Instead, Perez would call for removing the income tax cap, so all Americans “pay the same (percentage of their income into Social Security) regardless of how much you earn.” 

Kent said he realized Social Security is “a system (people) have already paid into,” and that “the government owes them that money,” but said he wanted to “make sure the government stays responsible.”  

“We have to look at a new system that doesn’t give government blanket money without any (oversight),” Kent added. “Basically we have a reverse pyramid, where there’s not enough (younger people) to support (the older generations). We can start to look at real solutions. I’m for embracing reality.” 

On climate change and mitigating natural disasters

Asked how they would prepare for and help mitigate natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, the candidates had wildly different strategies. 

“Climate change is real and affects all of us,” Perez said, adding that she believes Americans need to change their thinking on what constitutes “a green job.”
“Trades jobs are green jobs,” Perez said. “We’ve got to start supporting more adoption (of) green jobs going forward. That’s why I support … federal Pell grants for people pursuing trades. When we say we respect work and value the trades, let’s put our money where our mouth is (and) support kids going into those careers.”

Perez said she has “actionable steps” toward mitigating climate change through the promotion of “green jobs.”

“I’ve worked in the trades not because I wanted to run for office or think it’s a good talking point, but because I believe in the nobility of fixing things. I believe work is inherently noble,” Perez said. “And we need to be doing more to address the climate crisis and supporting jobs that are going to help us navigate out of it.”

Perez said she also considers herself to be “pro-renewable energy” because “cheap renewable energy is what our businesses need to continue to manufacture quality goods.”

Kent said he would not support “going down the same path that (President Joe) Biden, (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and (Washington Governor) Jay Inslee have taken us down with so-called ‘green energy,’ because the green energy is produced in countries  that hate us, like communist China.”
“We have to be energy independent,” Kent said. “And bring back these renewable industries that are not in China. Not in India.” 

In discussing the management of wildfires, Kent said: “We must ensure someone like Joe Biden or  Jay Inslee can’t force a vaccine mandate that takes people’s jobs away. Right now, if wildfires are raging, (there are) firefighters who have been fired for not taking the (COVID-19) vaccine. So we absolutely cannot continue to go down this path, saying we support natural resources while putting our firefighters last and putting countries that despise us, and their workers, first.” 

On immigration and asylum seekers

The candidates also differed on how they would address immigration and those people coming from other parts of the world who are seeking asylum in the U.S. 

“We must build a wall and get the military down there (on the U.S. border with Mexico) to enforce that,” Kent said. “(There should be) harsh penalties on countries that send wave after wave of illegal immigrants up here … and no pathway to citizenship if you enter illegally, period, full stop.”

Kent, who has been endorsed by former President Trump, said Americans “can’t trust Biden, who opened the border on day one of his administration.” 

Kent added that he believes Biden’s border policies have allowed drugs like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, to come into the U.S. and repeated a false claim circulating in right-wing circles that fentanyl is the “No. 1 killer of (Americans) ages 15 to 50.”

Perez said her opponent’s immigration plan would would negatively impact the country’s agricultural industries and leave Americans vulnerable to higher produce prices. 

“Joe Kent’s plan is to ban all immigration for 20 years,” Perez said. “If you ban all legal agricultural work permits, prices are going to go through the roof. That’s why so many in agriculture support me.” 

Perez supports “comprehensive immigration reform” as well as the Farm Modernization Act proposed by Republican Washington Congressman Dan Newhouse. 

“All countries have the right … to know who is coming (across its) borders,” Perez said. “I believe in securing the border and in enhanced electronic monitoring (at the border), but a wall is not the right solution for that.”
Perez has also called for the U.S. to send “a surge of judges” to the southern border to help “process amnesty cases and address the backlog” of immigration cases. 

Democracy under threat? 

Asked if they believe our U.S. democracy is under threat, the candidates again diverged in their answers. 

Perez said she believes our democracy is under threat and warned of political candidates who “deny elections unless they like the outcome of it.” 

“My opponent supports abolishing mail-in voting,” Perez said of Kent, adding that she wished her Republican opponent would “talk to anyone who does shift work” about why ending mail-in voting would have negative consequences for them. 

Perez said the goal should be to “have as many Americans participate in voting” as  possible and chastised politicians who have called for voting access restrictions as well as those who have said the 2020 election of President Biden was fraudulent. 

“My opponent thinks he’s been tough on China, but there’s nothing China likes more than us claiming our elections are fraud,” Perez said. 

Kent blamed “one-party rule” in Washington D.C., “having leaders who just go for what Biden and Pelosi say, not questioning it,” as well as Democratic Party policies as “the biggest threat to our democratic republic.” 

On reducing political divisions

Kent said his endorsement by Tulsi Gabbard — the former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee who stepped down from that position in 2016, and who recently announced she is leaving the Democratic Party — showed he was willing to work across the aisle. 

“She recognizes (we should be) preventing more wars, preventing nuclear wars, enshrining our Second Amendment … bringing back manufacturing,” Kent said of Gabbard, adding that he also “looked forward to working with (leftist) Democrats who voted against the Iraq War.” 

Perez said it made sense that Gabbard, who has regularly appeared on far-right media shows and who last month turned her back on the Democratic Party, would endorse Kent. 

“It’s magical thinking that he is going to find leftist, populists who are excited to work with him,” Perez said of Kent. “That’s just not what the world looks like.”
Instead, Perez, who has garnered endorsements from Republicans — including Kathy McDonald, the former chairperson of the Clark County Republican Party — called for more of what she said she would bring to Congress. 

“As a rural Democrat who works in the trades, I am an endangered species,” Perez said. “If we expect to take the middle back, we have to change what Congress looks like. Most of us agree on 95 percent of the stuff, but we’re letting extremists take the oxygen out of the air. It’s ‘clickbait politics’ and we have got to get away from that and build in the middle.” 

Perez said she would bring her work experience — “as someone who has dealt with overregulation, made payroll, ran a small business” — to Congress, instead of peddling in “YouTube conspiracy theories that will only divide our district.”