Both candidates seeking to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for Washington’s Third Congressional District seat had a chance to go head-to-head in a debate in Vancouver Wednesday.
Hosted at the RV Inn Style Resorts convention center, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez faced off against Republican Joe Kent in a debate featuring topics ranging from the economy to foreign policy. The event included a traditional debate format as the candidates had the chance to counter their opponent’s statements.
The format featured a more confrontational tune than the candidate forums that are usually hosted for local candidates in Clark County.
Gluesenkamp Perez, who owns an auto repair shop with her husband, started off by mentioning Kent’s multiple television appearances on Fox News and other stations in the leadup to the November election.
“My opponent has spent the last two years preparing for tonight, practicing on TV. I’ve spent the last two years running a small business and I think that’s the experience that’s really missing from Congress today,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She said Congress could address the cost of health care, child care, government overregulation of small businesses and the difficulty of getting small business loans in the near term. She spoke about Kent’s views on Social Security, saying he wants to raise the retirement age before people can start receiving it.
“Just because white collar workers are living longer doesn’t mean people working in the trades should pay for it by waiting longer to retire,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Kent responded by saying, “I’m not taking anyone’s Social Security or Medicare. It’s a tired, old talking point.”
Kent said the economy “was absolutely being destroyed by Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats at every level.” Specifically, he said the Biden administration’s energy policy has been a major driver of inflation.
Regarding housing costs, Kent said corporate interests are driving prices up.
“We have a major problem where major global corporations and hedge funds like BlackRock are being allowed to purchase massive amounts of housing,” Kent said.
One way to stop those acquisitions, he said, would be to remove a “carried interest” loophole, which he said allows those corporations to buy up real estate.
Kent blamed the Democrats for bailing on efforts to remove the loophole.
“Don’t let the Democrats tell you that they’re going to fight Wall Street. They’re with Wall Street lock, stock and barrel,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said housing is a complex issue of supply and demand. She said real estate issues aren’t strictly related to the housing market. It took her a full year to apply for a small business loan to buy the building her auto shop is currently housed in.
“How many people have a year to spend applying for a loan?” Gluesenkamp Perez asked.
Other auto shops that went up for sale were turned into coffee shops and tattoo parlors, she said.
“Rural communities are hemorrhaging the critical services they need to keep our economy vibrant,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She turned to the importance of career and technical education.
“I’m willing to bet that you’re on a waitlist for a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, the people that actually make things, and build things and fix things,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Kent rebutted by saying it’s important to train a new generation of workers, but noted “what we have to do is get our ability to produce things back here domestically once again.”
Gluesenkamp Perez said energy independence is important not only for the economy, but for geopolitical security.
“I am pro-renewables because I am pro-business,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Though she avowed support of fossil fuel alternatives, she said their continued use couldn’t be completely written off. She believes the transition away from oil will be slower than what others have hoped for.
“I don’t want the middle class to have to decide if they are going to scrape together money to buy a Tesla or ride the bus,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Kent said immigration is a major concern for him regarding the economy.
“Legal and illegal immigration is an assault on American workers,” Kent said. “You’ll hear this in the tech field. … They don’t want to pay American kids to learn STEM and then have to pay them. They want to import an endless wave of (immigrants on) visas that displace U.S. labor. It’s very simple. Onshore, buy American, hire American, deregulate,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she wants to bring back manufacturing. Glusenkamp Perez and her husband had to buy out a machine shop as the owners were retiring.
“If I have to literally buy out a machine shop to ensure my customers have good quality parts, there is a serious problem in our economy,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Kent mentioned it was former president Donald Trump who pushed on bringing back manufacturing.
Health Care and COVID-19
Gluesenkamp Perez said she supports private businesses who require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She mentioned she has vaccine-hesitant members in her own family.
“People have forgotten how bad it is to be really, really sick,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She said Americans who signed up for vaccine trials committed “an act of patriotism” as they helped with the development.
Kent is staunchly against COVID-19 vaccines, and the measures taken in Washington and the nation that placed restrictions during the pandemic.
“Never again to government-mandated lockdowns. Never again to government-mandated vaccines,” Kent said.
He said he wouldn’t vote for the National Defense Authorization Act until servicemembers who refused the “experimental, gene-therapy” COVID-19 vaccine are reinstated. He also leaned into the idea that the virus that causes COVID-19 was developed in a laboratory in Wuhan where the outbreak was first discovered.
Gluesenkamp Perez said Kent’s “clickbait politics” wouldn’t solve problems that stemmed from the pandemic.
“This is not how we move forward. This is how you fundraise on Tucker Carlson,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She also took a shot at Kent’s stance against abortion, which she said included situations of incest and rape.
“It is not your place, Joe, to tell women to carry a baby to term. It is a slap in the face,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She wants lower costs and increased access for health care, adding she also wants to address burnout in the medical profession.
Kent said he wants to open up competition and options in the U.S. health system.
“The problem with health care right now is there’s not enough choice,” Kent said.
He said health insurance should not be tied to one’s employer, and advocated for deregulating the control the Food and Drug Administration has over pharmaceutical development.
“If drugs are tested somewhere in Europe or another first world country, they should immediately be able to be reproduced as generics and introduced to the market here. That’s why everybody goes up to Canada to buy their drugs,” Kent said.
Kent took time to decry gender-affirming care as “a predatory practice.”
“We need to protect our children from this ideology that says they can have sex changes under the surgeon’s knife or via big pharma,” Kent said.
Foreign Policy, National Security
On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Gluesenkamp Perez expressed her support for federal aid to Ukraine.
“Russia invaded a democratic nation, full stop,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “Brave Ukrainians are dying and defending their god-given right to a democracy, and we have got to ensure they have the tools necessary to end the war on their own terms.”
She said if Ukraine falls, Europe, and by proxy the United States, would be in danger.
Kent asserted his stance against intervening in the conflict.
“Russia shouldn’t have invaded Ukraine,” Kent said. “(But) what we need to be doing right now is not piling on billions and billions of dollars of arms to the Ukrainians and telling the Russians that we’re at war with them.”
“I would not give one more penny to fund anything in Ukraine until we give an equal amount to secure our border. That’s where our vital national security interest actually is,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez disagreed with Kent’s hardline stance on immigration.
“We have got to have strong borders, absolutely, but we also have to have a legal system of immigration,” Gluesenkamp Perez added.
She said Kent’s desire to ban legal immigration temporarily is an attempt to “re-establish a white majority.”
“This nonsense about me being a white nationalist is absolutely despicable,” Kent said. “I fought for this country for over 20 years. I placed my life in the hands of minorities and people of every single race and creed and sexuality, and they placed their lives in my hands.”
Kent said he wants to cut off illegal immigration and get rid of visas that are tied to jobs.
“The American role in the world from the American government’s perspective is to look out for our people,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said Kent’s stance is more theatrical than practical.
“He is a perfect example of someone who is entirely incapable of making things better. What he wants is a political football that he can toss back and forth and fundraise off of,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “Joe Kent’s policy is just magical thinking, morally bankrupt and economic sabotage.”
Working in Congress
Kent said a good deal of bipartisan collaboration in Congress could come from infrastructure projects. He mentioned the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.
“It needs to be upgraded. It needs to be replaced,” Kent said. “I think we need to work on a third bridge solution and a railroad solution.”
He said those solutions are in the purview of the federal government, but they are “jammed into these massive omnibus bills” filled with items outside of infrastructure. He added he is against the extension of light rail from Portland into Vancouver and Oregon tolling the interstates in the Portland metropolitan area.
Kent said he is willing to work with Democrats as long as the work “benefits the American people and it’s within the parameters of the Constitution.” He said there used to be consensus with the populist left among some on the right side of the aisle.
“The problem is the populist left was consumed by Wall Street Democrats who now control their entire party,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said it is shocking to hear Kent talk about bipartisanism “because that is the last thing he is offering.”
“This is a man who is there to throw a wrench into things and get likes on Twitter. This is not someone who is there to deliver for our district,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She stressed she would bring a different perspective to Congress that may make her easier to work with among Republicans.
“I am not your typical Democrat. … I work in the trades. I live on a gravel road. My family has worked in logging,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
On federal spending, Kent strongly opposed the use of omnibus bills to direct funding.
“We have to stop doing business where we submit a bill that is 3,000 pages long, 300 pages long, a couple hours before Congress is supposed to vote on it,” Kent said.
Bucking the precedent is a difficult proposition, he acknowledged.
“They love these massive bills because everybody gets to scratch everybody’s back,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she would focus on infrastructure spending in omnibus bills, pointing to the I-5 bridge as an example of where federal funding is needed.
“If I’m in D.C., I will fight tooth and nail to bring our federal tax dollars back to our district to ensure that our projects are built with labor from Southwest Washington with American-made steel,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Kent replied that’s “music to lobbyists’ ears.”
“They will get her to sign off on anything as long as it’s just got a couple projects for this district, and that’s going to do a little bit of good here that she can use to get elected the next time,” Kent said.
Gluesenkamp Perez pushed back, characterizing Kent’s policy as incompatible to accomplish work in Congress.
“He is there to be a figure of opposition and division, and I’m there to fix s--t and build things. This is a very clear difference,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.