Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Democrat Carolyn Long have taken off the gloves in one of the nation’s costliest congressional races
VANCOUVER — The candidates for Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District know each other well by now, having faced off in a hotly contested race just two years ago.
That familiarity may have, as the old saying goes, bred some contempt, based on a feisty one-hour debate between fourth-term Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University Vancouver.
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark, Cowlitz, and Klickitat-Skamania Counties, and moderated by retired radio news anchor Steve Leader, the forum featured questions asked by reporters from four regional newspapers.
Topics ranged from recent protests over racial tensions, to healthcare, climate change, forest management, and the Interstate Bridge project on I-5.
Long repeatedly accused Herrera Beutler of lying or distorting her statements on police reform, taxes, and climate change, while Herrera Beutler pressed Long on her association with the left-wing group Indivisible, which supports defunding police, as well as statements in support of a single-payer healthcare system.
“She told the Washington State Indivisible podcast when they asked, ‘do you see yourself supporting a Medicare-for-all type health care plan?’ she said. ‘Absolutely. Absolutely,’” said Herrera Beutler.
“My opponent is … cherry picking parts of two quotes from two-and-a-half years ago, when I was running for office,” Long fired back. “My opponent thinks that if she says something often enough, you’re going to believe her.”
Pressed several times to denounce her endorsement from Indivisible, Long declined to do so, saying, “I’m endorsed by a variety of groups. I am not in favor of defunding the police. I’ve said that again. And again. And again.”
On the topic of recent protests, and the fine line between defending free speech and standing against hate groups, Herrera Beutler said she condemns violence on all sides.
“Racism has to be rejected, whether it’s Proud Boys, whether it’s Ku Klux Klan, the old ones, or the new ones,” the congresswoman said. “Especially in Southwest Washington, we soundly reject racism in all its forms.”
Herrera Beutler said she had supported legislation that would require more police training, ban the use of chokeholds, and increase funding for body worn camera systems.
“Look, police officers are honorable, and they do a job for you and I that I salute,” Herrera Beutler added, “but there are people who’ve violated their oath of office, and they deserve to have their badge removed.”
“Racial injustice is real,” added Long. “We have systemic racism in our communities, it’s a shame, and it should be denounced. I do so readily and repeatedly when it occurs.”
Long then launched into a condemnation of the president, alleging that comments following deadly violence in Charlottesville and, more recently his “stand down and stand by” remark during the recent presidential debate, had stoked “the fires of racial injustice.”
“This is a situation where our member of Congress needs to stand up to the president,” Long added. “Not by sending a tweet or a strongly worded letter. By calling his actions to account and doing so repeatedly.”
Herrera Beutler responded by noting that she is the first Hispanic to represent Washington state in Congress.
“I’ve seen racism, and I understand what it looks like,” she said. “I think it needs to be denounced in all its forms, which is why I called on President Trump to immediately make clear his positions on white supremacy, and I’m glad that he did.”
Another frequent area of attack from Long involved the debate over healthcare. She has said Herrera Beutler would support the Trump administration’s efforts to challenge the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court, potentially overturning protections for people with preexisting conditions, a move the Democrat labeled “unconscionable.”
“I don’t think the Affordable Care Act goes far enough,” Long added. “I’m strongly in favor of a public option where people, if they choose to do so, can access health insurance right from government. Or, if they choose not to, they can keep their own insurance.”
Long also repeatedly alleged Herrera Beutler had received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from Big Pharma.
“What you see is a candidate who is beholden to special interests, so she votes their way,” said Long.
“My 7-year-old has a kidney transplant,” responded Herrera Beutler, “and I get my health care through the Affordable Care Act. I’m not going to leave her exposed, and I’m not going to leave your family exposed.”
The congresswoman noted she crossed party lines to support legislation to bring down the cost of many prescription medications.
“Big Pharma was so enraged over that, they ran attack ads against me,” she continued. “I’m not in their pocket. I’m not afraid to stand up to anybody.”
Even so, Herrera Beutler referred to Long’s plan as a “$32 trillion dollar takeover of healthcare by the government,” which would largely eradicate Medicare, and cause rural hospitals to close.
“We can’t afford Carolyn Long,” she concluded in a line Herrera Beutler has often featured in her campaign ads.
“My position on this is clear,” responded Long, though she did not elaborate further, instead accusing Herrera Beutler of distorting her statements in an effort to hide her own record on healthcare.
On climate change, the candidates again went on the offensive.
Herrera Beutler said Long has supported carbon taxes, which she claimed would cost the “average family of four over $20,000.”
Long fired back that Herrera Beutler’s estimate was off, and that she hasn’t come out in support of carbon taxes.
“What I’m very much in favor of is pursuing clean energy jobs, clean, renewable energy projects we need to have here in the Pacific Northwest,” said Long. “And we need them here because that will create job opportunities for our workers, while also protecting the environment.”
“You don’t have to make them mutually exclusive,” Herrera Beutler said of reducing carbon output and protecting the economy. “I’m not going to support agreements either at home or internationally that are going to be paid for on the backs of working class citizens.”
Both candidates said they would support technologies aimed at carbon sequestration, a relatively new field that promises to collect atmospheric carbon emissions either for use in other applications, or to be buried.
Long cited the recent record wildfire season as evidence that climate change is creating hazardous conditions for many parts of the world.
“Addressing climate change, getting to the root causes of these intense forest fires, really should be our main focus,” said Long. “And that is bringing new energy and renewable energy projects into the area.”
Long also accused Herrera Beutler of taking over $170,000 in contributions from oil and gas companies.
“And that is affecting the way she votes on climate policy,” said Long, “and affecting the fact that she doesn’t highlight it as a key contributor to these terrible forest fires that we’re facing.”
“I do believe climate change is real,” countered Herrera Beutler. “And if you believe with me that we need to do something to reduce our carbon footprint, then you believe we must get into our federal forests yesterday, and sustainably harvest some of that timber. We need to get the dead and dying fuels off the forest floor.”
Both candidates said they support further investment in rural broadband, though Herrera Beutler indicated that she supports further investment in local infrastructure for services, while Long said she would prefer to see the government build the fiber networks, then lease bandwidth to service providers.
On the future of the Interstate Bridge project, as well as a new bridge over the White Salmon River, Long said Herrera Beutler’s constituents should be asking “why this hasn’t been fixed yet.”
“Every dollar you invest in infrastructure comes back at $2.20 and, for me, this is a job creator,” said Long. “I’m committed to this infrastructure investment, and it’s going to be a top priority in my pandemic recovery plan.”
Herrera Beutler noted that she recently helped to secure $5 million in funding for the White Salmon River bridge replacement, as well as funding to build the Pioneer Street extension in Ridgefield.
“When it comes to the I-5 Bridge replacement, I want to help us have an accountable process,” said Herrera Beutler, adding that she would pledge to fight Oregon’s plan to implement tolling as part of the bridge replacement project.
“We can talk about a million dollars here and there for these projects,” countered Long, “but the I-5 bridge is billions of dollars, and it is now twice as expensive to fix it now than it was 10 years ago.”
To hear more from each candidate, be sure to click on the video below and view the entire debate.