Joe Kent further solidified his place as perhaps the furthest-right candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler Thursday night.
The Conservative Ladies of Washington candidate forum was held in Centralia’s Pathway Christian Church, where Morton Police Chief Roger Morningstar posed questions to candidates Kent, Wadi Yakhour and Heidi St. John.
While all three announced their candidacy in response to Herrera Beutler’s vote to impeach then-president Donald Trump, Kent was distinguished by his sometimes-militant language, including his promise to “hunt down” Black Lives Matter activists — who he referred to as terrorists — pull on his overseas combat experience and engage in “strategic decapitation” of anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter groups.
The Army Special Forces veteran compared liberal cities and anti-fascists to “Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and Iranians,” promising the crowd “you’re going to be in physical danger.”
“This can’t be the first time you get punched in the mouth or you’ve been blown up,” he said. “This is going to be a knockdown, drag-out brawl to save our country.”
Kent has pulled ahead of other challengers in terms of fundraising, but he’s still behind the sixth-term congresswoman, who was not in attendance. And while the race to represent Washington's 3rd Congressional District has proven heated — ignited by Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote, rebuke of 2020 election fraud claims and condemnation of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection — there’s also some evidence that the stance may have bolstered her support.
Recent telephone town halls have featured supporters thanking Herrera Beutler for her words and votes during the tumultuous period.
But some conservative groups in Southwest Washington bill Herrera Beutler’s impeachment vote as betrayal. All three candidates took a swipe at the congresswoman during the candidate forum.
Prompted by a question from Morningstar regarding transgender athletes — which was met with laughter from the unmasked crowd — the challengers also spouted anti-trans rhetoric.
St. John — a podcaster and author who described herself as a “Reagan patriot” — called transitioning and transgender people “from the pit of hell.” She told the crowd she doesn’t respond to emails from publicists who list their pronouns.
Kent contended that the “transgender issue” is “all about control” and breaking up families, while Yakhour mocked the “LGBTQ BLT sandwhich community.”
“They’re building a genetically modified army, almost,” Yakhour said of transgender people.
While Kent repeatedly villainized “the left,” anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter protesters, also pointing to the need to break up “big tech,” St. John highlighted her priority around schools, which she deplored as teaching students critical race theory and “400 genders.”
“Our school systems and our universities are educationally and morally bankrupt and are teaching our kids to hate this country and hate each other,” she said.
The mother of seven, who homeschools in lieu of public schooling, said in Congress she’d want to implement a school choice policy, where government funding follows a child if they are pulled from public schools. A “parental rights amendment,” she remarked, should be added to the U.S. Constitution.
Yakhour offered few policy proposals throughout the event, although he did speak on fiscal responsibility, lambasting New York’s Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having a credit score of 440 when she took office — a widely-spread Facebook rumor later found unsubstantiated by fact-checkers.
“Why should she make decisions on how America spends money when she doesn’t know how to spend it herself?” Yakhour said. “I have an almost perfect credit score, by the way.”
When asked about masks and vaccines, Yakhour said he would “never, ever enforce mandatory anything for any American citizen ever, period.”
The Navy veteran said he’d support law enforcement, noting his mother is a retired Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
“I grew up around law enforcement. I grew up around police. I think a police officer handed me my first beer when I was a teenager,” Yakhour joked. “He was testing me.”
All three challengers also spoke on the 2020 election, which they broadly dismissed as illegitimate. Yakhour said he’s working with leaders “in tech — not big tech, the good tech,” for future Washington state elections, but he’s “not ready to talk about it yet.”
St. John — who said Trump was “my favorite sitting president ever in the history of the world” — also cast doubt on the election and said she’s in favor of voter ID laws.
Kent called President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “not legitimate,” saying he wants to prove the 2020 election a fraud and impeach the duo.
The candidates also offered varying perspectives on immigration, with Yakhour describing illegal border crossings as “a slow, crippling death for us, the conservative movement,” and St. John calling the United States “a nation of immigrants.”
“We love our immigrants here,” she said. But “what we’re seeing happen now is people come across our border who hate the country … It’s like it’s open season on the United States of America and our sovereignty right now.”
Kent, on the other hand, said he would place a moratorium on all legal and illegal immigration and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“Tell anyone that’s here, if you’re here illegally, you self-deport now. There is no pathway to citizenship here if you are here illegally,” he said. “And that goes for your children too. We get rid of birthright citizenship.”
Herrera Beutler is slated to conduct a telephone town hall this Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 5:30 p.m. To attend, dial 877-229-8493 and use passcode 116365.