VANCOUVER, Wash. — Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District holds the unique distinction of being the only district touching the Pacific Ocean that is held by a Republican. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has served the district since 2010 and is hoping to win a sixth term as she faces one of her toughest political challenges yet.
For the second time, Democrat Carolyn Long is hoping to convince voters it's time for a change. Long is a political science professor at Washington State University-Vancouver.
The race is a rematch from 2018 when Long came within about five percentage points of Herrera Beutler. In previous elections, the congresswoman had beaten her opponents by double-digits.
The two candidates diverge on many issues including health care, the environment and replacing the I-5 bridge.
The television airwaves are filled with attack ads from each campaign with claims the other side calls either lies or misleading.
Rep. Herrera Beutler and Long appeared in separate segments in this week's episode of "Straight Talk."
Both candidates were invited to debate on the program. Long accepted, but Herrera Beutler said her schedule didn't allow for it. The candidates have held only one debate which was in early October and online. It was sponsored by the Clark County League of Women Voters and local newspapers.
Plan for pandemic recovery
Rep. Herrera Beutler voted against the Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief plan because she said it removed funding for hiring police officers and personal protective equipment for law enforcement.
She said she’s worked since the beginning of the pandemic to bring people and businesses in Southwest Washington the assistance they need to survive. She highlighted her support for the Paycheck Protection Program that she said helped save 95,000 jobs in her district.
“I’ve already started to extend that effort to make sure it goes through the end of this pandemic, this disaster,” she said.
Herrera Beutler said she’s fought for more and increased COVID-19 testing for the region, and is working to make sure people get the unemployment benefits Congress approved last spring.
“I think Oregon and Washington have done an abysmal job of releasing those funds to folks. There are about 30,000 people in Southwest Washington who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Getting them their checks to keep a roof over their head, make their mortgage, make their rent payments has been a priority for me,” Herrera Beutler said.
She said working on those efforts in a bipartisan manner would be a priority over the next several months.
Long said she was one of the first candidates to release her own pandemic relief plan. The plan includes three parts. The first is to ensure affordable access to health care and lowering prescription drug costs. The second part of her plan lowers barriers to Americans getting back into the work force through expanding access to child care, paid family sick leave and supporting small businesses.
“The third part is investing in infrastructure and creates good family wage jobs and returns money to our economy. I’m hoping to pursue them at the same time. It will get our economy back on track,” Long said.
Health care is a top priority for many Americans and has proven to be an especially contentious issue between Herrera Beutler and Long.
Long has said Herrera Beutler’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act threatens coverage for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in November in the latest challenge to the constitutionality of the ACA. If the court upholds the lower court’s ruling, it’s possible coverage for those with pre-existing conditions would be threatened.
Herrera Beutler, who has a 7-year-old daughter who had a kidney transplant, pledged to protect that coverage.
“I am no stranger to pre-existing conditions or the need for quality, affordable health care. It is a passion of mine. I’ve sponsored legislation to make sure those folks who get their care through the ACA, those with pre-existing conditions, will continue to have their coverage irrespective of what happens in the courts,” she said.
Herrera Beutler has accused Long of supporting a health plan, “Medicare For All," that she said would dismantle Medicare.
Long said that’s not true and that her position has been clear: she supports expanding the Affordable Care Act with a public option.
“My position has been the same for three-and-a-half years and what I’ve seen my opponent do is cherry pick a few select sentences with a single quote out of context,” she said.
Long has been quoted in news reports from 2018 saying while her position remains in support of expanding the ACA with a public option, if Democrats controlled the House, she would vote for Medicare For All, but said the possibility of that happening was “nil.” In the mid-term election later that year, Democrats did indeed gain control of the House.
When asked on “Straight Talk” if she’d ever vote for a Medicare For All plan now that Democrats have the House majority, Long said her plan is clear.
“I’ve been very consistent about that. It’s shoring up the ACA with a public option. I think that’s the best, most pragmatic approach to health care policy which continues giving people an element of choice. If they want to keep their private insurer, they can keep it,” Long said.
Rep. Herrera Beutler opposes rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and supported President Trump’s move in 2017 to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. She said the agreement would have caused energy and health care costs to skyrocket for American taxpayers and didn’t apply to the world’s biggest polluter, China.
“I’m not for faulty international agreements. What I’m for is reducing our carbon footprint in a smart, common-sense way using technology so we don’t hamstring our economy,” she said.
She accused her opponent of supporting a carbon tax on American workers and would raise the gas tax for Southwest Washingtonians.
Long fired back at the accusation, saying it’s not true, and lamented there haven’t been more debates between the two candidates.
“I said I don’t support a carbon tax in the debate several weeks ago. This is one of the reasons I asked for multiple debates with my opponent. You can fact check your opponent and you can hold them accountable,” Long said.
She emphasized she does not support a carbon tax, but rather ways to deal with the carbon problem such as carbon sequestration. Long believes pursuing clean renewable energy projects and protecting the environment will spur economic development in Southwest Washington and attract people to the region.
I-5 bridge and tolls
The Herrera Beutler campaign has accused Long of supporting tolls on the I-5 bridge. Long shot back that she has never supported tolls.
“This is yet another attempt by my opponent to try to mislead people from her own failed work on the bridge. She’s been in office for 10 years and at one point was on the Infrastructure Committee, and then she left the committee. She not only didn’t step up to the plate, she left the stadium,” Long said.
If elected, Long said she would work to get as much federal funding as possible for the bridge and work collaboratively with Oregon lawmakers to bring a replacement I-5 bridge to the district.
“I think the more important question is why hasn’t this been fixed in 10 years. The failure to do so, to replace the bridge, which I support, is now going to cost twice as much had it been tackled by the current representative,” she said.
Herrera Beutler said she opposed the last I-5 bridge replacement plan, the Columbia River Crossing, because it was the wrong plan. She said it would have been built too low, would have impeded river traffic, was too expensive and wouldn’t have shaved more than a minute off southwest Washington commuters’ travel time.
“That’s not good enough, especially with that price tag,” she said.
She said as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, she’s worked to secure a pot of federal money to help pay for a replacement bridge should the project come to fruition.
Rep. Herrera Beutler also criticized Oregon’s plan to toll the I-5 and I-205 bridges.
“Not to use the money to replace the I-5 bridge but to use that toll money – essentially picking the pockets of Southwest Washington commuters – and use it for projects elsewhere in Oregon. That’s a problem for many reasons,” she said.
Herrera Beutler said she’s been outspoken and taken a lead on the topic because that’s what the people of Southwest Washington expect.
Herrera Beutler's pitch to voters
While she remains the only Republican member of Congress on the western seaboard, Herrera Beutler said she doesn’t think voters support her through a partisan lens.
“I think voters here expect a problem solver. They are not voting Republican or Democrat. They are voting for someone who is going to put them, their families, their businesses and their communities first,” she said.
Herrera Beutler said she has been ranked the No. 1 most effective lawmaker in Washington state for her ability to problem solve and work across the aisle.
“I got that award because I’ve been able to pass legislation to help low-income moms and infants access health care. I’ve been able to pass legislation to protect our endangered salmon from lethal predation. I’ve been able to help fund things like infrastructure here in Southwest Washington.”
She said she doesn’t have an ideological ax to grind.
“I approach it as, 'How can I help solve problems for folks here, irrespective whether we’re in the majority or the minority?'” she said.
Long’s pitch to voters
In this campaign and in 2018, Long has criticized Herrera Beutler for not holding more town halls and only via telephone.
“I am present, accountable, and committed to working for the people of Southwest Washington. I’ve held drive-in town halls. They are just the latest things I’ve done to show just how connected I am to the community. Before that I held a dozen virtual town halls, all available on the web where I clearly respond to questions. I’m being responsive to the community,” she said.
Long called herself a leader, one that’s needed now more than ever, and said it’s time for a change.
“When somebody’s been in office for a decade and failed to deliver on major policy issues like health care and infrastructure, they have failed Southwest Washington. I am a clear alternative,” Long said.
The candidates also discussed lowering drug costs, support for law enforcement and taxes.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and Monday morning at 4:30 a.m. Straight Talk is also available on podcast.