Health care, infrastructure needs and exercising congressional power in policy were among topics covered in Democratic House candidate Carolyn Long’s virtual town hall event June 23, as the challenger to unseat U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler took questions from constituents ahead of the November election.
Long has taken part in a handful of the remote events this year, conducted over the internet with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic putting a halt to a number of in-person gatherings. The talk covered a variety of topics with access to health care among the top priorities for Long if elected.
Long said her health care focus stemmed both from her own personal experience as well as what she has heard from would-be constituents. She spoke about preserving the Affordable Care Act, “which while imperfect, has provided coverage for millions of Americans,” also noting the act’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions in receiving coverage.
Long said the act had been “under attack” for several years by lawmakers including Herrera Beutler. She also argued for a “low-cost or no-cost public option” to be available for individuals to choose as their coverage, allowing those who favor their private insurance to maintain it. She added the public option could also drive down insurance costs through competition.
Long also spoke about driving down costs of prescription drugs, laying out a number of measures she would like to see realized if elected. She said the first step would be to pass a bill introduced in the House that would allow the government to negotiate prices on some drugs, also saying that speeding the process for introduction of generic drugs and incentivising drug manufacturing in the U.S. to curb reliance on overseas supply chains were important aspects to realize that goal.
Long said that from her position in Congress should she be elected, not taking money from prescription drug companies for her campaign was key. She said she was committed “not to take a dime of corporate PAC money,” a promise she made during the 2018 election cycle when she first faced off against Herrera Beutler.
“I don’t want big pharma, which really does provide tens of thousands of dollars to members of Congress, to have the first seat at the table in speaking about how to bring down the cost of prescription drugs,” Long said. “It should be the people of Southwest Washington.”
Long also addressed the lack of healthcare in rural communities, recounting her own experience growing up in a rural community where a major hospital was hours away. She argued for the use of federal dollars to incentivize rural services.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we recognize that not having access to rural healthcare literally puts lives at risk, especially during a pandemic,” Long said. Regarding COVID-19 she said the top priority should be preserving public health, adding it was important to “listen to the experts” when it came to the pandemic.
Long said there were actions to combat climate change that she felt would receive bipartisan support, mentioning carbon sequestration specifically, which she said was “relatively uncontroversial.” She advocated for lower reliance on fossil fuels by removing subsidies on the industry, “something we’ve been doing for years,” she said, “and it certainly doesn’t incentivize the movement for what we really need to do, which is to pursue clean energy jobs here in Southwest Washington.
Long said the state as a whole has benefitted from investment into those types of jobs, particularly in the Seattle and Tacoma area, and would like to see manufacturing of energy infrastructure make its way to the Third District.
Long added she was exploring potential reimbursements for individuals who commit to reducing their carbon footprint, something she said the Citizens Climate Lobby is looking into.
Long said that addressing environmental policy “in a more targeted way” with focuses on beach erosion or forestry practices, having discussions with Congressional colleagues across the aisle and across the country.
“Sometimes we need to take a few smaller bites in terms of targeting legislation to achieve that overall goal of protecting the environment,” she said.
Part of environmental issues Long addressed were declining salmon runs, something she said was “directly connected to our climate policy and the weakening of our environmental regulations that protect our public air, water and land.” Climate change was increasing water temperatures in salmon habitats, she said, which was preventing populations from thriving.
Ways to help salmon populations she mentioned included increasing dam spill, which she said could be undertaken while still maintaining hydropower policy to keep energy costs from rising. She also supported addressing ocean acidification and increasing yield of salmon farms in a way that did not compete with wild populations.
Reining in Executive Power
Long, who is a political science professor at WSU Vancouver, spoke about the apparent lack of Congressional power in federal policy, saying the trend in increasing presidential power dates back to the 1930s. She noted that issues spearheaded by the executive branch over policies including trade and immigration were historically handled by the legislative branch.
“Congress has been unwilling to essentially do its job,” Long remarked, adding that electing individuals to Congress who knew the constitutional responsibility of their positions was important in stopping the trend toward executive domination of policy.
Long believed Congress should “aggressively exercise oversight of the executive branch,” giving the example of the CARES Act’s lack of oversight as an instance where legislators did not use their ability in monitoring where funds were going.
“When we’re giving away trillions of dollars, I think it’s very important that Congress does its job to make sure the money is going where it’s intended,” Long said.
Long is a proponent of “broadband internet for all,” noting that COVID-19 put the apparent need for the infrastructure in the spotlight as what was historically public business moved to remote interactions.
Long also addressed transportation infrastructure, specifically the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.
“This is a bridge that should have been replaced a decade ago,” Long said, pointing out its susceptibility to earthquakes, its contribution to congestion and fiscal irresponsibility not to address the issues the bridge faces, saying that costs had roughly doubled to improve the corridor compared to when talks for replacement were undertaken years ago.
“Not fixing (the bridge) is a tremendous barrier to the economic success of our community,” Long said, adding she had heard from stakeholders who considered the bridge the chief barrier for economic development in Southwest Washington.
Long said she would like to serve on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to help meet that end. She added that serving on the House Agriculture Committee could be a benefit both for the regional agriculture industry as well as for her push for rural broadband access.
Long also affirmed her commitment to preserving labor unions, noting she herself was a member of one during her earlier years working at Safeway. She also touched on recent national conversations on the state of policing, saying she was not in favor of defunding the police as “law enforcement plays a very important role in terms of our public safety.”
Long said that in some instances law enforcement was joining in on the “outpouring of concern” around police practices highlighted by the death of George Floyd, urging against the “false narrative” pitting law enforcement against those calling for its reform.
Long advocated for investments into mental and behavioral health, community policing and social programs to fund professionals that could address problems that oftentimes law enforcement ultimately had to handle.
On immigration, Long said “It’s a damn shame that we have not been able to have comprehensive immigration reform in decades in Congress.” She felt it was another example of Congress’ ineffectiveness at addressing needs.
On Showing Up
Some of the conversation dealt with community outreach, framed on what Long believed was something Herrera Beutler had lacked and which Long had strove for through town hall meetings and other events.
“I very much believe that you have to be in the community as much as possible,” Long said. If elected she said she was committed to holding “as many town halls as possible” in the district.