VANCOUVER — It can be argued that Clark County’s most-noted conservative isn’t a politician or government official, but a prominent talk show host.
Lars Larson has been stirring it up on the radio airwaves as a conservative talk show host since 1997, after spending nearly two decades as a television and radio newsman. Larson, who moved to Vancouver in 2004, hosts the popular “The Lars Larson Show” on Portland’s Alpha Media Radio Northwest Network, as well as a nightly national talk show.
The foundation of the show is conservative talk, although Larson openly welcomes liberal guests and callers.
Larson calls Vancouver home after he and wife Tina sold their floating river home more than a decade ago. The couple moved to Vancouver primarily because of family ties, not for financial reasons.
“A lot of people assume I have a tax break. I don’t. I end up paying full rate to Oregon. I pay property taxes and vehicle licensing taxes. If anything, my taxes went up instead of going down,” Larson said. “People say, you moved across the river for a tax dodge. Nope. Not true.”
Larson is well-versed in Clark County politics and government issues, as those topics are prominent on his talk show. We asked Larson for his thoughts on several Clark County-related issues in this Q-and-A (answers edited for brevity and clarity):
Clark County Today (CCT): Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the current political and government situation in Clark County?
Larson: I’m more optimistic about Clark County, than say, Multnomah County, because the politics are slightly different. It has an impact on whether the place is job and business-friendly, or not. That’s the plus side. But the negative side seems to be that it’s difficult to see people getting their act together over here. The bridge might be a good example of that, although most of that was being driven from south of the Columbia River, rather than north of the Columbia.
I think Clark County is more business-welcoming than Multnomah and Washington counties are. The fact that we have one house of the legislature controlled by Republicans helps. Because in Oregon, every single statewide office is filled with a Democrat, as well as the legislature, and that’s not worked out well for the state. And of course, the city of Portland and Multnomah County, there isn’t a single conservative on either the city council or county commission. I think it shows in the policies. So at least Clark County has escaped that to some extent, although the mayor (Tim Leavitt) is fairly liberal and his policies show it.
CCT: What is your solution for I-5 and I-205 traffic problems?
Larson: Build another bridge, but just a bridge. Both sides of the river have rejected light rail to the north. I think light rail is a colossal disaster for Clark County, for Multnomah County, for King County.
The price keeps going up. I always compare light rail to a Ferrari. A Ferrari is a very, very nice looking vehicle, and so is light rail. But a Ferrari is hideously expensive, and so is light rail, mostly because of infrastructure. And a Ferrari doesn’t carry many people, and at the end of the day, light rail doesn’t carry many people.
My answer is to build a bridge. And it needs to be a bridge that has great capacity. Some people have proposed that one that somehow bridges to the southwest, and crosses either the industrial area or Sauvie Island, but there is no place to connect it to.
David Madore had a proposal for a bridge to the east side of Vancouver, and that kind of makes sense, because an awful lot of new development seems to be to the east, not where the existing I-5 bridge is. The only problem is, where do you connect it to? I-84, that’s already overloaded.
At the very least, we need a better way to get across the Columbia River, and one that connects more seamlessly to I-5, Highway 14 and preferably, a connection for trucks that go to and from Marine Drive.
The proposed Columbia River Crossing was three lanes each way. Why do you build a brand new project that costs billions of dollars, and not increase the capacity of the bridge at all? And yet, that is the mantra of Oregon, and to some extent, the Puget Sound region.
CCT: It sounds like you favor a bridge on the east side.
Larson: Yes. I get off (the Highway 14 exit) at Lieser Road, this would not affect my commute at all. I don’t really have a dog in the fight. I just say, where is all the new development. When I drive to the Costco on 192nd, when I go to the shooting range that’s up there to practice, I see huge amounts of development. I see Camas growing and Washougal growing. If you’re going to put a bridge somewhere, you probably ought to put it closest to where all the new people are at.
CCT: Are you optimistic anything will happen in the near term?
Larson: No, because I don’t see leadership on the south side of the river, and frankly, when it comes to Olympia and Puget Sound, Clark County comes about last on their priority list, sad to say.
CCT: What is the biggest political race in Clark County that has your attention this fall?
Larson: Other than the presidential race, which is hugely consequential, and the governor’s race, where Bill Bryant seems to have torpedoed himself by saying he’s not even backing the nominee of his party, I really don’t have one that I’ve picked out as singular in Southwest Washington.
I just think these national issues are so large and so consequential, that they override anything here locally. But maintaining control of the Washington legislature is hugely important. I had Sen. Don Benton on the show the other day, and we were talking about possible voter fraud. He said at least some input from half the state is conservative was the product of one race in Clark County in which a 36-vote swing would have sent the race to the Democrat instead of the Republican, and control of the Senate would have gone to the Democrats.
You would have had Democratic House, Senate and Democratic governor, and at that point you would have had taxes go up, because (Jay) Inslee doesn’t keep his promise on taxes. Washington state would have been in the same boat as Oregon, all Democrats all the time. It ends up with poorly-run schools, ends up with an unfriendly business climate in which jobs are hard to find.
CCT: What is one thing Washington does you wish Oregon would do?
Larson: I think Washington really builds roads a lot better than Oregon. Washington builds and expands roads and freeways well. Not long ago, a caller called in, and I asked, do you remember the last freeway that was built (in Oregon), and this was a young guy. He goes, before I was born. I said, exactly right. We have a department of transportation with 5,000 employees and a $4.2 billion budget, and they don’t build anything.
At least Washington builds things. A lot of the major reworking of I-5 and the interchange with 205, the reworking near Mill Plain, are really pretty efficient.
CCT: What’s one thing Oregon does that you wish Washington would do?
Larson: It’s hard to find one. I look at the economy, at regulation, at some jobs that are key, schools, and a lot of stuff is done very, very poorly by the state of Oregon. They manage to grow pot. How’s that working out? They put all these taxes on it, and they’re going to get something like, net, $32 million on pot this year. It looks as though between law enforcement and additional regulatory costs, it’s going to be a wash at best, and a loss likely.
CCT: Is there a Clark County Democrat for whom you have great respect?
Larson: I really don’t. I have some for Betsy Johnson, who is a senator in Oregon who is a Democrat and she’s sensible. I don’t agree with everything, but I agree with a lot of what she does, but she’s someone with a business background. She knows how not to screw the businesses over.
In Clark County, the Democrats keep voting for the wrong things. They vote for things that demonstrably hurt people. They hurt jobs and they’re not willing to bring the hammer down.
It’s tough to come up with a Democrat in Clark County who has advocated for something that matters. Think about the two primary focuses in people’s lives: do I have a job that pays the bills, and are my kids going to get educated? If you could do those two things competently, and maybe throw in a little transportation — jobs don’t work well without transportation — do those three things right, and you can ditch everything else.
CCT: How much do you talk about Clark County on the radio show?
Larson: Quite a bit, especially since we’ve broadened out the Northwest Radio Network to 21 stations. It includes Seattle, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Bellingham. When we originally were just an Oregon network with signals that went into Washington, we would do some Clark County topics. But now, we need to balance it out. It means a lot more that matters to Clark County. Plus it’s close. I don’t bias toward it because I live there. I bias toward it because of all the good topics that are there.