CASTLE ROCK — What makes Peter Harrison special?
For starters, his life depends on the help of complete strangers. Due to a rare blood disorder, Harrison relies on blood products donated by people he’s never met.
In fact, Harrison says that’s one of the main reasons he is one of three Democrats challenging Jamie Herrera Beutler for the 3rd District congressional seat, which represents Southwest Washington.
“I don’t know how to thank them, so the only thing I can do is pay it forward,” the Vancouver resident said in a recent interview.
“Pay it forward” is also Harrison’s campaign slogan.
Of the four Democrats who have filed so far, Harrison also appears to have the strongest connection to Cowlitz County.
Harrison’s wife, Lynne, graduated from Castle Rock High School. The couple met in San Francisco in the late 90s and decided to move back to Southwest Washington in 2000.
They lived in the downstairs bedroom of his in-laws’ home off of Spirit Lake Memorial Highway while their house in Vancouver was under construction. Harrison jokingly refers to their Vancouver abode as “the house the dot-com built.”
Harrison earned a degree in computer science from Coleman University in San Diego and went on to write for a variety of technology publications, including an early iteration of Wired Magazine.
His first book, “The Internet Direct Connect Kit,” is still available for purchase on Amazon.
Harrison, 56, eventually was recruited by Microsoft in the mid-90s. While working there, he invented the first internet bandwidth speed test, for which he was paid a tiny fraction of a cent every time someone used it.
After leaving Microsoft, Harrison enrolled in Washington State University and earned a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. As a scientist, Harrison says he would bring an underrepresented perspective to Congress. He’s even taken the time to produce a campaign video that explains the science behind climate change, which ends with a fundraising pitch.
No stranger to politics
Although this is Harrison’s first time running for public office, he’s worked on Southwest Washington political campaigns before. In 2012, for example, he helped run communications for 49th District Rep. Sharon Wylie’s successful re-election campaign. Two years later, he worked on Bob Dingethal’s failed congressional bid against Herrera Beutler.
Harrison is careful to note that he did not serve as Dingethal’s campaign manager that year (Dingethal lost to Herrera Beutler by more than 20 points). Instead, he proudly takes credit for creating Dingethal’s website and penning the content that appeared on its issue pages.
When asked to differentiate himself from the rest of the field, Harrison points to his own website, which has a similar look and feel to Dingethal’s.
In Harrison’s view, his digital skills will help separate him from the rest of the pack. His site features a slick introduction video and position papers on health care, education, climate change, infrastructure and immigration. Each page also shows how Herrera Beutler voted on related House bills.
Unlike Democrats who have thrown their support behind Bernie Sanders’ call for a single-payer system, Harrison says he would prefer a more gradual approach.
“I think that you can’t change directions overnight,” he said.
Harrison said one of the best ways to start transforming the U.S. health care system is to lower the age for Medicare eligibility. He also suggests allowing people to buy into Medicare when there’s only one provider in a county selling health plans on the Obamacare exchanges.
On infrastructure, Harrison laments the fact that the last bridge built across the Columbia River in the 3rd Congressional District was the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 205 over the Columbia near Portland airport. The bridge was started in 1977 and finished in 1982.
“I think Clark County and Southwest Washington have grown a little bit since then,” he said. “We have to do what our parents did years ago, which was invest in the future.”
Harrison said those investments could be paid for, in part, by making the U.S. health care system more efficient and reducing military spending. Harrison said he favors limiting the military budget to one-and-a-half times that of China’s — the world’s second largest military spender. (The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 14 largest military spenders combined, according to Forbes.) He’d invest the savings in domestic programs.
The other candidates who have announced congressional bids in the 3rd District are Vancouver businessman David McDevitt; Iraq war veteran Dorothy Gasque; and WSU Vancouver professor Carolyn Long.
With the midterms less than a year away, Harrison said he’s looking forward to shifting to full-time campaign mode in the months ahead. He currently has about 10 regular volunteers and expects to hire a campaign manager soon.
“Money is important, but message is what counts,” he said. “I’m viewing 2018 as a sea change election.”