Four of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s challengers from her own political party had a chance to speak in front of hundreds of people to provide their thoughts on how they would better represent the Third Congressional District than the six-term incumbent.
During an event ostensibly described as a “debate” at the RV Inn Style Resorts event hall in Hazel Dell on May 31, four Republicans running for the seat fielded questions in more of a candidate forum style of event. Former Washington state Senator and current Clark County Council candidate Don Benton moderated the forum, which featured half a dozen subjects provided to the candidates ahead of time.
Candidate Leslie French made a debut of sorts compared to the other three candidates who have made more public moves in their respective campaigns. French said he moved to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s. He noted growing up during the space race and the Vietnam War were formative experiences.
“We had a lot of things going on back then with Vietnam and so forth, but nothing like we’re seeing today,” French said.
Washington State Rep. Vicki Kraft leaned on her experience in the state Legislature since 2017 during the forum. She is not seeking re-election to her current seat, in part due to redistricting which moved her out of the 17th Legislative District.
Joe Kent, who has prior experience in the military of more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, including as a member of the Special Forces and 11 tours of duty, said he would drop impeachment papers for President Joe Biden “on day one” and wouldn’t sign off on the federal budget unless energy policies from the Biden administration are reversed.
He said the U.S. is moving to authoritarianism “in accordance with the progressive left and the globalist agenda.”
“We are on the slippery slope right now and moving at a breakneck speed,” Kent said.
Author, blogger and public speaker Heidi St. John said the federal government is meant to be limited in scope, but is “now overreaching and massive on every scale.”
“Our founding fathers knew exactly what they were doing when they gave us the Constitution, the most amazing governing document ever written by human hands,” St. John said. “And they declared boldly that our rights do not come from government. They come from God.”
All of the candidates spoke out about policies making certain jurisdictions “sanctuary” cities or states. Kraft said she came out against Gov. Jay Inslee signing a bill that made Washington a sanctuary state years ago.
St. John said sanctuary cities are evidence of “a Marxist takeover of the United States,”
“stripping us of the language of male and female,” and espoused the support of law enforcement.
“The men and women that serve this nation that would take a bullet for you if it was required deserve your respect and they deserve your support,” St. John said.
Kent said recent changes to law enforcement has “essentially turned them into bureaucrats,” pointing to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas the week prior which left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead. Law enforcement’s hands were tied while trying to figure out which procedure to follow, he said.
He wants to declare antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement terrorist organizations, as well as cities who support the groups.
“If they want to be cesspools of violence and crime, they don’t deserve to get one penny from federal government,” Kent said.
French said he doesn’t “believe the nonsense that police are discriminat(ing) more often against the Black community than they do the white community or any other community.”
“That just led to Black Lives Matter and the current ‘defund the police’ movement,” French said, adding he would withhold funding from cities that take the sanctuary policy.
All of the candidates pushed for stronger immigration policies, slamming actions from the Biden administration they generally said undid progress made by former President Donald Trump.
“What we see on our southern border right now is not immigration. It is invasion,” St. John said. She said immigration is one area where the federal government is “100% responsible.”
Of the four, Kent is more hardline against immigration.
“Our vital national security interest, it’s not in Ukraine, it’s on our southern border,” Kent said.
He pushed for the use of the military to go after cartel operations, potentially partnering with the Mexican government.
“We have to cut off every single amnesty program, cut off the federal and state welfare system for anyone who’s here illegally, and tell them very clearly there’s no path to citizenship if you’re here illegally,” Kent said.
He also advocated for ending birthright citizenship.
Foreign policy, education
On foreign policy, Kent also differed slightly on his support of Taiwan and Ukraine compared to the others. He focused on the economy of the United States, saying the reversal of current policies on fossil fuels would take away Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to hurt U.S. energy resources.
Kent also wants to bring advanced microchip processing to the U.S.
“That’s why Taiwan is so critical right now, because they could tie up the entire world’s production of microchips,” Kent said.
“We don’t need to commit our troops, our boots on the ground. What we have to do is strengthen our economy,” Kent said.
China wouldn’t dare a military conflict with the U.S., and would instead go the economic route, of which the country has a hold on, he said.
In contrast, French said he “would go to the greatest extent possible to defend Taiwan.”
“I recognize Taiwan as our greatest ally in Asia, not red China,” he said.
He added what has happened in Ukraine has given China some food for thought.
“I think it cannot be overstated that Taiwan is our ally,” St. John said. “China is our enemy. These are not our friends. Russia is not our friend,” St. John said.
Those countries see weakness in the U.S., she said. She believes if the country doesn’t stand up in support, “we will see an invasion of China into Taiwan.”
Kraft said the U.S. should “start from a position of strength and sovereignty” in its foreign policy.
“Obviously they’re an ally,” Kraft said about Taiwan. “All you have to do is look at China and Russia. They’re both communist countries. They’re both anti-America.”
The candidates also largely supported the dissolution of the federal Department of Education.
“Education should be pushed down to the lowest level, max amount of transparency for the parents,” Kent said.
He is also in favor of getting rid of teachers’ unions.
“Public sector unions are an absolute scam. There is no reason why we should be funding them. They are hostile entities indoctrinating our children,” Kent said.
St. John said she has worked on education issues for 17 years.
“Our public education system is broken. It is cranking out by the hundreds of thousands every single year, kids who hate this country, and they hate each other,” St. John said.
Kraft pointed to her work in the state Legislature as she pushed back on the teaching of comprehensive sexual education courses.
“I was the first voice of any legislator to actually speak on the bill. That’s unprecedented,” Kraft said, noting that bill supporters generally speak first.
“With the Republicans in charge, I would right all the wrongs — critical race theory, comprehensive sex ed, transgender bathrooms — yank those all out first, get things right, then shut that (Department of Education) down,” Kraft said.
French acknowledged the Department of Education isn’t enshrined in the Constitution, “but it’s there. It is well-entrenched and what are we going to do about it.”
French said unions at the national level are “absolutely corrupt, but you can’t just throw out the baby with the bath water” in regard to local unions, which he said are necessary. He said he is supportive of voucher programs.
“I do not believe that sex education belongs in the schools, period, (at) any grade level. I think parents should be teaching that, not the schools,” French said.
The most lively portion of the night came during the final minutes of the conclusions given by the candidates. Kent mentioned his endorsement from Trump, noting early on in the race, St. John said she would support whomever the former president supported, as Kent did.
He said the lack of backing for whomever Trump supported would ultimately undermine the wide race of Republican challengers to Herrera Beutler’s re-election.
“If we didn’t pick that means to consolidate, we were only doing the establishment the favor. We were playing to exactly what they think is supposed to happen,” Kent said.
Kent said whoever wins in the primary needs that level of support.
“If it’s anybody else here, if it’s Heidi, if it’s Vicki, if it’s Leslie, I will do everything I can to get them across the finish line,” Kent said, adding he would ask the other candidates to make a second commitment.
St. John said her reneging on her pledge to support Trump’s chosen candidate had to do with Kent’s past record of supporting some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ more populist ideas and his registration as a Democrat in the past. Kent said that registration was strategic in order to make a Republican victory more possible.
“You were 10 years a Democrat in Portland and you brought your Bernie Sanders ideas over here,” St. John said. “I am running to give the citizens of Southwest Washington a true conservative voice in this race.”