The race to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District has been making headlines since the summer of 2021.
Amid coverage from national news outlets and big name endorsements, the time for ballots to be cast is drawing near. On Nov. 8, Southwest Washingtonians will choose between Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washougal — both political newcomers — for the seat currently held in Congress by six-term Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.
On Saturday afternoon in Vancouver, the largest city in the district which stretches into South Thurston County, the League of Women Voters from several counties in the region held a debate between the candidates in a partnership with The Chronicle, The Columbian, The Daily News in Longview, the Skamania Pioneer and the Chinook Observer in Ilwaco.
Representatives were present from all but the Chinook Observer, and the newspapers were involved in the preparation of the debate questions. The questions were posed by the four journalists present.
The candidates were given 60 seconds each for opening statements, 90 seconds to answer questions, 30 seconds for a rebuttal — granted only after the candidate who answered first finishes — and 60 seconds for a closing statement.
Gluesenkamp Perez, 34, began with a statement about her career running an auto repair shop with her husband.
“I fix things for a living. I know what it takes to run a small business. I’m running for Congress to be an independent voice for Southwest Washington,” she said. “I’m not going to be a cheerleader for any political party, and I’m not running to divide our country. I’m running to fix what’s broken in our economy.”
She then contrasted herself to her opponent, calling Kent an extreme politician for supporting a federal abortion ban and defunding of the FBI, wanting to abolish mail-in voting and celebrating perpetrators of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“A vote for Joe is a vote for even more chaos and disorder,” she said.
Kent, 42, first spoke of his career in combat deployments and intelligence operations. He said he intended to continue that work until his wife was killed fighting ISIS in Syria.
“Her death is a direct result of the failings of policy of our current ruling class,” he said.
Returning to the Pacific Northwest where he was raised, he worked as a program manager in a tech company and “watched our country continue to decline,” saying the Democratic majority in Congress had decimated the economy, that crime was running rampant and “children are being sexualized in the schools.”
He closed saying he’d be a “check” to President Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, both of whom he mentioned several times throughout the debate.
Paraphrased questions and answers are as follows:
Do you support continuing national health care programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act for your constituents? If so, why, and how could those programs be improved and made more cost effective? If not, why not, and what would you support to ensure that Americans have access to affordable health care?
Kent began by saying the problem with health care is too much control by the federal government.
He said programs for senior citizens and people with disabilities “obviously” must be maintained to take care of those in need of assistance, but otherwise criticized federal programs. He called for more competition in the market, easier access to foreign pharmaceuticals and tort reform (which Merriam-Webster defines as “alteration of laws imposing civil liability …” In this case, referring to reforming laws around civil lawsuits against health care providers for loss, harm or damage).
Gluesenkamp Perez began by saying American health care costs are among the highest in the world without the most successful outcomes.
“All Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care,” she said.
To control costs, she suggested negotiating all Medicare-covered drug costs, not just those covered in the Inflation Reduction Act, and speeding up access and delivery of generic drugs through patent reform. She said pharmaceutical companies often marry existing drugs with new delivery systems in order to create new patents.
The Washougal Democrat continued by saying that allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe medication could cut out “red tape” for patients in rural areas with less access to a variety of care.
In his rebuttal, Kent again said the Democratic Party’s management of health care has been a “disaster” and that more competition in the market would drive down prices.
Washington’s 3rd Congressional District borders the Pacific Ocean and includes at least six rivers, a national forest, a national monument and at least two national wildlife refuges. Do you have goals to protect those natural resources, and to ensure the survival of related industries such as timber, fishing and recreation? If so, what specific actions would you take?
Gluesenkamp Perez answered that she comes from a five-generation line of loggers in Washington and believes natural resources should indeed be resources.
With timber prices soaring and wildfires raging in the woods of Western Washington, she said forests in the region have become more of a liability than an asset.
She listed supporting timber harvest, cardboard and paper industries and replacing plastic packaging with paper from native trees. Likewise, fishing and shellfishing need more support to ensure the longevity of those industries, she said.
Kent said he “grew up in these woods” as an Eagle Scout raised by a forest ranger for a father.
He blamed Democratic leadership for killing timber industries “at the altar of environmentalism.” And he said when local timber is harvested, it is often shipped elsewhere to be milled “at the altar of globalism.”
The Republican candidate continued that management of resources should be pushed down to the lowest possible level; saying people who’ve earned their living in the timber and fishing industries know more about accurately and responsibly managing resources than the federal government.
He criticized the decision to shut down salmon fishing on the Columbia River in late summer for its negative effects on tourism dollars, saying it was an example of government overreach costing the district millions of dollars.
Lastly, he said local governments should be making enough from timber tax revenue in their areas to fund their own projects.
In rebuttal, Gluesenkamp Perez said 80% of the population of Skamania County — where she lives just over the county line in unincorporated Washougal — are employed outside the county.
“We’ve got to protect family wage jobs that these industries can generate,” she said.
Do you support the bipartisan effort of Northwest congressional members, including Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, to persuade President Biden to prioritize the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty?
The treaty is a 1961 agreement between Canada and the U.S. for energy from dams on the upper Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Kent said without looking at the treaty, he didn’t think he could give an accurate answer.
Gluesenkamp Perez answered yes; that maintaining energy prices and the country’s relationship with Canada are critical, and Washington has a history of renewable energy which should not be taken away.
Sally Hale, the debate moderator, asked if Kent would be using a rebuttal in this case.
Kent responded: “Yeah, my starting point would be is it a good deal for the people in the district? Is it going to lower our energy costs? Is it going to give us more control over the resources in our district? That's my starting point is putting us first and not any kind of treaty that puts the people of the district in a disadvantaged position for something like a conversion to green energy.”
What do you propose to do in Congress to help your constituents prepare for and mitigate natural disasters specific to rising sea levels, wildfires, shrinking salmon runs and flooding?
Gluesenkamp Perez began by saying her home nearly burned in the Eagle Creek Fire shortly after she and her husband finished building it. That memory stuck with her, she said. She added that climate change mitigation for rural communities must be reflected in federal legislation.
“We need a broad-scale reevaluation of what a green job is,” she said, expanding that her definition includes workers in the trade who wire heat pumps or stop oil leaks by fixing home insulation. She mentioned Pell Grants for trade apprenticeship programs and stated she is “pro-business.”
Kent answered that he supports preserving natural resources.
“What we can’t do is continue down the same path that Biden, Pelosi and Jay Inslee have taken us down with this rapid conversion to so-called ‘green energy,’ because the green energy is by-and-large produced in countries that absolutely hate us, like the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
Bringing down inflation and the state’s carbon footprint, he said, begins with energy independence. In the U.S., he said, regulations for energy production come with greener standards while providing more jobs.
He then criticized Gov. Inslee’s vaccine mandate for state workers and certain emergency responders, saying there are firefighters who can’t fight ongoing fires in Washington because they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
In her rebuttal, Gluesenkamp Perez said Kent had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the area’s natural resources. She said the region has resources to produce solar panels, but lacks investment in such industries.
“And I agree,” she said. “We’ve got to bring that home.”
Do you support pardoning federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana and a change in how the drug is classified at the federal level?
Kent answered he has issues with the pardoning of those in jail alongside the decriminalization of marijuana.
“I think it’s a states issue. And right here in Washington, we’ve made cannabis legal, so I support that. I think we should be looking, from a federal perspective, (at) what THC and CBD and those types of things can do for veterans,” he said.
The candidate called it hypocritical for the Biden-Kamala Harris administration to decriminalize marijuana considering Harris’ history prosecuting marijuana charges.
“But, I guess it’s a good start,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she believes it has been a waste of federal resources to keep people in prison for possession charges and thinks decriminalization is the right call financially. However, she said she felt it’s important to “follow the science” on increased potencies of the drug.
“Marijuana is not what it was when my parents were very young,” she said.
What can Congress do to help district residents survive in this economy in the short term and help bring prices down over time?
Gluesenkamp Perez said the first step to tackling inflation is addressing the labor shortage. While calling it a good thing that employers must pay workers more to incentivize retention, she said the shortage should be addressed at the root cause. One possible contributor, she said, is the high cost of child care and the shutdown of many child care facilities in recent years.
To reduce the cost of care, she proposed debt forgiveness for educators and caregivers.
“In the context of inflation, though, I’d like to say that Joe Kent’s plan to ban all legal immigration for 20 years is economic sabotage. When we talk about expensive grocery prices, (if) you ban all agricultural legal work permits, the price of groceries are going to go through the roof,” she said.
Kent blamed inflation on the Biden administration’s actions he said “killed off U.S. energy. Everybody remembers what gas prices were just two years ago. That drove this cycle of inflation. That's what started one month of your wages being stolen this year,” he said.
He claimed the Inflation Reduction Act will increase taxes on domestic energy and continue to push inflation.
“Democrats continue to spend trillions and trillions of dollars that we didn’t need in the American Recovery Act, Build Back Better, etc. These are all things that Biden and Pelosi pushed,” he said.
He continued by saying he’d ban immigration for work. While he said his opponent would call him “racist for saying so, but I want to put American workers first.”
In a rebuttal, Gluesenkamp Perez agreed that prioritizing American-made energy is important.
“(Kent) says that Biden is trying to kill off oil and gas. Biden actually issued more permits for oil and gas drilling in 2021 than Trump did —” she began, but was cut off before finishing her sentence as the crowd erupted. When the audience was silenced by the moderator, Gluesenkamp Perez finished, “His entire tenure. We’ve got to rebuild our supply chains.”
Many Kent supporters held signs in front of the venue before the debate began and were vocal during the event before the moderator reminded the crowd they would be asked to leave if rowdiness continued.
Do you support changing eligibility requirements to receive Social Security? If so, what specific changes would you make? If not, why not?
For those on it and approaching it, Kent said the government needs to retain Social Security.
“We have to make sure that the government is financially responsible enough to continue to meet its obligations,” he added.
However, he said the program will be insolvent very soon. He said as the population ages, a new system should be established that doesn’t just “hand out blanket amounts of money.”
Gluesenkamp Perez said Kent used to have a statement on his website related to increasing the age of qualification for Social Security but, “he softened that because he knows it’s a bad idea.”
She said people working in the trades “like me and my family, we’re not living longer. It’s white collar workers and project managers who are living longer and they want us to pay for it.”
She proposed removing the income tax cap to ensure taxpayers pay equal portions of their income to Social Security to keep the program solvent.
For his rebuttal, Kent noted in his previous profession as a soldier, many of his colleagues were killed at a young age.
“So I know a thing or two about dangerous work,” he said, adding there are not enough people in younger generations to support paying for the baby boomers.
“We can continue to do what we’re doing right now, or we can start looking for real, new solutions,” he said. “That's what I’m about, is embracing reality.”
Name two specific legislative changes that you would propose to the American immigration system, and why.
Gluesenkamp Perez began by saying there is a crisis at the country’s southern border that needs to be addressed with comprehensive immigration reform, such as the legislation proposed by Republican congressman Dan Newhouse. She said she wants to ensure reliable labor for agriculture and other industries and proposed sending a “surge of judges down to the southern border to process the backlog of amnesty cases. If they have a valid claim of amnesty, they should come in. If not, they should not come in. … I believe in securing our border. We can do that through enhanced electronic monitoring of the border. I don't think a wall is the right solution.”
Kent answered: “Number one: build a wall.”
He said he’d have the military perform construction of the wall. He proposed “harsh costs on South American countries that continue to send wave after wave of illegal immigrants here.”
Next, he said he would ensure there was no pathway to citizenship for any individual who came to the country illegally, “period. Full stop.”
He then blamed Pelosi and Biden for an unsecured border, saying Biden “invited” fentanyl to be pumped into the district by the “Mexican drug cartel and the Chinese Communist Party. It is our duty to stop that.”
Again, he stated his plan, if elected, to ban “economic” immigration.
“According to our ruling class Republicans and Democrats, Americans are too stupid to work in STEM so we have to import a bunch of H-1B visa workers to work in tech. Americans are too dumb and lazy to do any kind of manual labor, so we need to import them as well. … I completely, totally reject that,” Kent said.
In her rebuttal, Gluesenkamp Perez said as part of the working class, she was offended to hear him call Americans stupid and lazy. She said he completely disrespected the people who work, fix things and build the country.
“I want to be sure we heard what you just said,” she added.
At what point does our country have a responsibility to provide support or become involved in foreign conflict? Provide concrete examples to show where you would draw lines.
Kent answered that the military should not involve itself in foreign interventions not directly tied to national security.
He said members of Congress should be getting consent from constituents to take action on security interests, adding he feels the southern border is the country’s biggest security concern.
Kent continued there’s not a security concern “sending billions of dollars and escalating potentially a nuclear conflict on the eastern, Russian-speaking border of Ukraine.”
Gluesenkamp Perez responded that nobody is proposing sending troops to Ukraine, and helping that nation is a security interest as Russian aggression is a threat to Europe and, therefore, America.
“If Canada invaded America, what part of Washington state would you all be willing to give up to appease our aggressors?” she asked the crowd, adding later, “My opponent has confused our enemies and allies. He’s called (Russian President Vladimir) Putin reasonable and he’s called (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky a thug. Putin has threatened nuclear war three times. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t be a ‘reasonable’ dictator and threatening a nuclear war.”
Kent’s rebuttal mirrored his response when asked to defend his position that Putin’s terms were reasonable in an interview with The Chronicle in March: “I’ve spent most of my life dealing with thugs, reasonable values and everything in between.”
He continued by saying his opponent was recycling rhetoric and that Putin poses no threat to Europe.
Is our democracy under threat? If so, why, and what can we do about it? If not, why not?
Gluesenkamp Perez answered it is, thanks to candidates denying outcomes of elections if they don’t like the results.
“My opponent wants to abolish mail-in voting,” she said. “Paper ballots are the gold standard in election security.”
Further, she said restricting access to voting by mail simply reduces the number of citizens who can vote, thereby threatening the foundation of democracy.
“My opponent thinks that he’s been tough on China. There’s nothing China likes more than seeing us clawing at each other and claiming that our elections are frauds and rigged,” she said.
Kent said in direct response there was nothing China likes more than Biden and Pelosi.
“The biggest threat we have right now to our democratic republic is the fact that our economy is being absolutely decimated,” he said.
He has been clear about his position for over a year that he believes the 2020 presidential Election was stolen from Donald Trump. He said Congress’ resistance to more scrutiny of that election is what has made people lose faith in the system.
Gluesenkamp Perez responded the election has been proven valid in courts many times and Kent’s claims have no basis but are a charade for “flowers and sweets on the internet.”
She recalled the instance where Kent referred to those arrested for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as “political prisoners.”
As a member of Congress, what actions, if any, would you take to upkeep Columbia River navigation channels and other infrastructure, including access to ports and ensure sustainable and stable salmon fisheries for tribal, commercial and recreational users.
Kent echoed his answer to the question on supporting timber and fisheries, again criticizing government oversight of fishing on the Columbia River. He said ports are the district’s strength and berated calls to remove dams on the river “at the altar of environmentalism.”
Gluesenkamp Perez answered at the last debate, Kent said he wouldn’t support bills too long to read.
“That's how you get funding for these projects that our ports depend on. You need a bipartisan coalition,” she said, stating that Kent has not been endorsed by other congressional Republicans in Washington.
Kent, in rebuttal, said support for “massive omnibus spending bills” is music to the ears of corporate lobbyists.
“I won't sign off on bills that no one reads,” he said. “You heard Nancy Pelosi, her speaker, saying that you have to pass the bill to see what's in the bill. That's how these guys roll.”
Provide examples of how you’d work across the aisle to reduce the political division in Congress and among your constituents?
Gluesenkamp Perez said as a rural working Democrat, she’s basically an endangered species.
“If we expect to take the middle back and to actually deliver benefits for our country, we've got to change what Congress looks like,” she said, adding later that most Americans agree on “90% of the stuff. But we’re letting extremists take all the oxygen out of the air.”
She then detailed her bipartisan endorsements.
Kent answered that he was just endorsed by Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democrat, because “she recognizes right now the political realignment within our country,” aligns with his stances, he said.
He continued by criticizing his opponent before saying, “Look, the problem is the Democrats continue to have this extremely radical agenda.”
Kent also said he thinks there is an opportunity for building coalitions with members of the “populist left,” naming Bernie Sanders as an example.
In a rebuttal, Gluesenkamp Perez said “wannabe celebrities” make up a lot of Kent’s endorsements, claiming he took an endorsement page off his website as it was “too skinny.”
She called it “magical thinking” for him to say he’d build coalitions with leftists.
The candidates moved into a lightning round with the following questions and answers. They were asked to only use one-word responses.
Will you accept the certified election tallies by the auditors of the counties in the 3rd Congressional District and the Washington Secretary of State — subject, of course, to the outcome of any post-certification election challenges prescribed by Washington law?
Gluesenkamp Perez: “Yes.”
Do you support President Biden as the lawfully elected president of the United States?
Gluesenkamp Perez: “Yes.”
Kent: “Yeah, he’s there.”
Do you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions with the assistance of her health care provider?
Kent: “That’s a pretty loaded question. I’m pro-life.”
Hale cut in and reminded him of the rule to keep responses to one word.
He closed out, “I support a woman’s right for her body.”
Gluesenkamp Perez: “Yes, Unequivocally, yes.”
Do you support the federal recognition of the Chinook Nation?
Gluesenkamp Perez: “That is a complex issue that we all need to learn more about.”
In one word, characterize the individuals who tried to stop the transfer of power on Jan. 6, and who have to date, been arrested and convicted.
Kent: “And convicted? Well, they’re convicted of what they're convicted of.”
Hale replied, “generally speaking.”
Kent said: “I guess that would make them felons?”
Gluesenkamp Perez: “Rioters”
In closing, Gluesenkamp Perez summed up again that she is a mother, small business owner and fixer, reiterating that Kent is an extremist and saying she would listen and support constituents of all parties
Kent closed by saying his opponent gives anecdotes about her being a unique Democrat but that she is “more of the same old,” who, he said, bragged about signing omnibus spending bills, didn’t address crime, didn’t endorse a border wall, supports “radical mutilation of children,” and more. He again stated he would be a “check” against Pelosi and Biden.
To watch a recording of the debate, visit https://bit.ly/3VuypIc.
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