WOODLAND — During their first public faceoff, Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler and Democratic challenger Carolyn Long traded barbs at a forum Tuesday while organizers fought to control a boisterous, overflowing crowd in Woodland’s Oak Tree restaurant.
Herrera Beutler, who is seeking a fifth two-year term, emphasized that the economy has rebounded during her time in office and credited the 2017 tax cut with returning money to taxpayers.
“Real wage growth has happened — almost 3 percent in the last year — for middle income workers. That’s tremendous success,” she said.
She described the difference between long lines at a jobs fair in 2011 compared to this year when a man told her he already had a job but was looking to see what else was out there. “That was music to my ears,” she said.
In a fiery response, Long said the economic recovery started during the Obama administration. Unemployment is low right now, but people are working multiple jobs to stay afloat, Long said.
“I absolutely disagree with the tax bill (because) 83 percent of the benefits go to corporations and the wealthiest in America,” she said. “It is the most fiscally irresponsible bill that I’ve ever seen. We are borrowing from my daughter’s life. She’s 13 years old. We’re borrowing from her in order to fund tax cuts for the uber wealthy in America. That is not right.”
Organizers struggled to control the boisterous audience, which cheered and jeered and shouted out comments between candidate answers. On several occasions, moderators had to lecture the crowd, some of which spilled into the bar because the banquet room was already jammed with spectators.
Attendees came from all over the district to hear the candidates in the race for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, which has garnered national attention after a close top-two primary in August. Herrera Beutler captured 42 percent of the vote, but Long trailed by only about 7 percentage points. The Democratic and Republican vote total among all candidates was essentially equal.
The hour-long forum, which ended at about 1 p.m., could be one of the decisive encounters in the race, even though the November election still is about seven weeks away.
Herrera Beutler claimed that Long supports a “medicare for all” health care system that she said would cost 32 times more than the tax cut bill. Long accused Herrera Beutler of misrepresenting her position. What she wants, she said, is to improve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and provide a public option for rural areas in Washington, which have been underserved by insurers.
Controversies about the Mueller investigation into Russian campaign influence and the debate about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court also came up.
“(Kavanaugh’s) position on executive power is not one that’s in line with our constitutional democracy,” Long said. “He very much believes the executive (branch) should have a pass in certain instances and may not be able to be indicted or prosecuted, and that’s problematic to me.”
Herrera Beutler said she earlier had supported Kavanaugh, but recent sexual misconduct allegations about the nominee are “serious and I think both the accuser and the accused deserve to have their stories heard out, which I now understand is what’s going to happen next week in front of the U.S. Senate.”
Both Herrera Beutler and Long said the Mueller investigation, which President Donald Trump calls a “witch hunt,” should continue.
Both candidates said climate change needs to be addressed, pointing to this past summer’s widespread wildfires, but Herrera Beutler said she opposes a carbon tax like the one proposed in Initiative 1631. She said it would stifle the economy. Long said she still is studying the issue and has not decided how to vote on Initiative 1631, which voters will decide on in November.
Long criticized Herrera Beutler for failing to host in-person town halls and declining invitations for two additional campaign debates. Herrera Beutler responded that Long, who has taught political science at Washington State University Vancouver for 23 years but moved into the district about 17 months ago, doesn’t know the community as well as she does.
“My husband and I are raising our two children here because this is home. Win, lose or draw, these are the communities that shape my perspectives and my values and my priorities,” she said. “I haven’t had to hold a series of campaign rallies to get to know the hearts and the minds of the folks here. I actually am living here with my family.”
Her allegation that Long is waiting to raise her family in the district until after the election elicited loud groans from the packed room. But Herrera Beutler received cheers for her statement that there’s more than one way to connect with people.
Cory Elliott, a union carpenter from Centralia, said he came to support Long because she opposes right-to-work laws and supports unions.
Robert Basina, who sported a “Make America Great Again” hat, said he didn’t initially vote for Herrera Beutler but will do so in the November general election because he wants to prevent Washington from becoming “completely socialist.”
Following the debate, Walter Pistor of Kalama said Long promotes “typical” Democratic ideas that aren’t viable.
“Carolyn is a theorist and Jaime is a realist,” he said. He added that, as an U.S. Air Force veteran, he is grateful for Herrera Beutler’s work with other veterans.
“She comes across as more compassionate,” he said.
Susan Taylor, a Long supporter from Vancouver, said it seemed like Herrera Beutler took more shots at Long and she wished the crowd was less “unruly.”
“I’m really worried about the (budget) deficit,” she said. “Rep. Herrera Beutler said (in a debate held by the Vancouver Columbian) that she was beyond happy with the economy (but) the debt continues to grow. Long recognizes that it’s a problem.”
Hannah Landrigan, a Woodland High School senior, said she and her whole 39-member AP government class attended the event as part of a field trip. She told The Daily News ahead of the forum that she was undecided but expected to make up her mind after hearing the candidates’ positions Tuesday.
“More (young people) are involved than the older generation thinks. We are opinionated in a good way because we want to see change happen.”