A year and a half before Election Day, Vancouver resident Peter Khalil is getting a head-start on campaign season, launching his bid in the 3rd Congressional District with a pledge to hold “dozens and dozens and dozens” of town halls and respond personally to every email, phone call, and letter.
“I’m going to be in coffee shops, diners and houses from Pacific County to Skamania,” he said. “I’ll be out there so much that I hope you will one day consider me a friend and neighbor. … I want to live and breathe the fears, the hopes, the dreams of people of the 3rd Congressional District.”
The Democrat is running, he said, because he wants to change a political system controlled by wealthy corporations, which he witnessed firsthand working on Wall Street during the early days of the financial crisis. Khalil’s ideas are avowedly progressive — free universal healthcare, universal pre-Kindergarten education, opposing the fossil fuel industry. But he said he wants to craft the specifics of his policies to the needs of people in the district.
“My goal here is to both achieve the ends that we need to achieve, but also to listen and to find out what it is that we can narrowly tailor to folks here in the community,” he said.
Khalil is the son of immigrants who came to the U.S. after facing religious persecution as Coptic Christians in Egypt. After attending Columbia University and Stanford Law School, he worked as a securities lawyer on Wall Street before being disillusioned with the “stacked” system.
“You realize the people with money, the companies with money, these are the ones who control the system,” he said. “These are the ones who stack the deck ... The main reason why I’m running is to get power back in the hands of the people and to get moneyed interests out of our political system.”
In 2010, Khalil moved to Clark County, where his wife Becca grew up. He started Northwest Mediation, where he serves as a professional mediator and arbitrator. Now, though, he’s putting the business on hold for two years to focus on his campaign. The early launch, he said, was necessary in what’s likely to be a hard-fought race.
“We’re in a targeted district,” he said. “There’s going to be a full field (of candidates). We’re also in a district that is purple. We need to persuade some people, build relationships and be out there listening. … I want to do this right.”
Khalil said he’s always been politically engaged, despite having no previous electoral experience. He made the decision to run for office this cycle because he was able to line up a strong team, he said. His campaign manager, Linda Garcia, was a vocal opponent of a proposed oil train terminal at the Port of Vancouver — which would have been the largest in the U.S. That terminal was ultimately rejected by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Notably, the press release announcing Khalil’s candidacy makes no mention of the incumbent, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground. That’s by design, he said.
“No election is about running against somebody,” he said. “To the extent that I contrast with my opponents, I’m gonna point those contrasts out. … I’m not going to attack anybody. I’m going to have a spirited debate about what’s right.”
Khalil did draw a pair of contrasts, policies where he believes Herrera Beutler is seeking to deal with the “symptoms” of issues, while he wants to deal with the “roots.” Herrera Beutler has called for better forest management practices to deal with wildfires, as well as additional funding for child care. Khalil wants to see a comprehensive effort to combat climate change, as well as universal pre-Kindergarten education.
“Jaime has already officially announced her intention to run in 2020,” Herrera Beutler spokeswoman Angeline Riesterer said in a statement. She still believes she has plenty of work to do in Congress to improve economic opportunity, increase public safety and address the real needs of our Southwest Washington residents. She’ll have an opponent on the ballot next year, just as she has in every election.”
The 3rd Congressional District drew nationwide attention last year, when challenger Carolyn Long brought in record fundraising totals and came within five points of Herrera Beutler on Election Day, the incumbent’s first challenging race since her initial bid.
While Long ran a more competitive race than many expected, Khalil said her performance is not the ceiling for a Democratic candidate in the district, and he plans to detail more specific policy stances.
“I think Carolyn Long didn’t take positions on anything,” he said. “Her positions were pretty vague, and I think that’s why she lost. … It’s not enough just to be out there and be kind of a centrist and talking and lecturing to people. She didn’t listen and feed back to them and evolve to people’s ideas.”
Long, a Washington State University, Vancouver professor, did not respond to a voicemail on her office line seeking comment.
While his policy aims are undoubtedly on the liberal side of the current political spectrum, Khalil said he wants to build broad support from outside of partisan labels.
“What I’m working toward is neither conservative or liberal. It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I can’t control the labels that voters apply.”