Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long faced off for the first time as 2020 general election rivals during a joint interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Wednesday.
The day after the two candidates sailed through the primary, they fielded questions about COVID-19 recovery, health care, systemic racism and whether Congress has exercised appropriate checks on President Donald Trump’s administration.
Herrera Beutler, the Republican and five-term incumbent, leaned on her roots and experience in the region, saying she was “uniquely qualified” to help Southwest Washington through a complicated time. The congresswoman also claimed that she approaches legislating through a nonpartisan lens, and avoids viewing the president’s administration as someone with an ideological “ax to grind.”
She’ll vote for Trump in 2020, she added, a departure from her 2016 write-in ballot for former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I just think the government should work for the people,” Herrera Beutler said.
Long pointed to her rural childhood spent working at her father’s produce stand, as well as her long career in academia — the Democrat has taught political science courses at Washington State University Vancouver for the past 25 years. She also highlighted the dozens of virtual and in-person town halls she’s held with constituents in the 3rd Congressional District.
“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done in the community, bringing people together to talk about issues in a way that is civil and productive,” Long said.
Sparks occasionally flew during the meeting, as the candidates brought three years’ worth of political ammunition. November will mark the second time Long challenges Herrera Beutler for her seat — in 2018, the Democrat gave Herrera Beutler the closest reelection of her career, losing to the incumbent by about 5 percentage points.
On a few topics, the candidates were in sync. They both agreed that climate change is real, and caused by human activity. They also both agreed that systemic racism has built institutional barriers that hold people of color back from the safety and opportunities offered to their white peers.
But the list of unifying topics was short, especially for two candidates who represent fairly moderate wings of their respective parties. The women diverged widely on their vision for the country’s future, as each looks to carve a distinct path through the general election and to Washington, D.C.
On COVID-19 recovery: Herrera Beutler said the Paycheck Protection Program has been instrumental in helping businesses in her district retain 90,000 employees. Keeping small businesses from shuttering, she said, will prove valuable in economic recovery down the line.
“As we get out of this, it’s really going to be the small businesses who lead the way. They’re the ones who always do,” Herrera Beutler said.
She added that she’d be supportive of more direct relief like the checks provided through the CARES Act, and that “we have to get through this before we shut that spigot off.”
Long said that while the CARES Act was helpful, it was far from enough, especially for people with hands-on jobs who couldn’t just transition to working from home.
She also said that erosions of public programs under Republican leadership meant that the country was caught “flat-footed” when the pandemic hit. She criticized the White House’s slow response, especially when it came to using the Defense Production Act to manufacture tests and supplies. Now, nearly six months after the virus came to U.S. soil, states are still fighting for federal resources “like ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” she said.
“We can’t take a victory lap with the CARES Act without looking at the tremendous limitations,” Long said.
On taxes and the federal deficit: Herrera Beutler said that the 2017 tax cuts implemented under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act were the cause of the country’s robust pre-pandemic economy.
The cuts, which the Congressional Research Service estimates will reduce federal tax collection by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, were “beginning to pay for themselves,” Herrera Beutler said.
“I don’t believe that adding to people’s taxes and raising people’s taxes are going to get us out of this,” the congresswoman said.
Long countered that the stock market and unemployment rates aren’t actually good indicators of the health of the economy for everyday Americans, who likely don’t hold stock portfolios and may work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“We were told two years ago that the Republicans’ tax plan was going to pay for itself,” Long said. “We learned that within a year, a trillion dollars was added to the federal debt. That’s money that my daughter is going to pay for.”
Long added that most corporations who saved money with their tax cuts didn’t reinvest in their employees, but paid dividends to shareholders and bought back stocks to drive share prices higher.
“Trickle-down economics has never worked,” Long said.
On racism and policing: The candidates agreed that racism and police brutality are major issues, and each presented their own vision for police reform that largely adheres to the legislation proposed by their respective parties in Congress.
Neither is a proponent of defunding police departments.
Herrera Beutler supports a bill that would ban chokeholds, make lynching a federal crime and create a database that tracks disciplined police officers.
“There are officers on the force who should not be on the force,” Herrera Beutler said, but “a majority of law enforcement officers are there to serve you and me and our community.”
Long said she agreed with the provisions in Republicans’ policing bill, but was frustrated by the lack of enforcement power. It’s toothless “window dressing,” she said. She pointed to the Democrats’ version, which focuses more on police demilitarization and de-escalation tactics.
Trump’s decision to send federal agents to Portland, she added, was a gross overreach of power that should have been checked by Congress.
“We saw this coming when the president walked across the street and held up a Bible upside down after gassing protesters in a show of executive force,” Long said, referring to a June 1 incident in Washington, D.C.
“I think Portland shows that it actually escalated the violence that occurred in that community, and I would argue that it was intentionally done to do so.”
Long and Herrera Beutler will appear on the general election ballot on Nov. 3.