Herrera Beutler, Long spar on climate change, health care in rare debate

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Vancouver, Wash. Oct. 10, 2020 1:12 a.m.

For Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, the debate was a high-profile moment for a high-profile rematch.

In what could be their only formal debate this election, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Democratic challenger Carolyn Long spent an hour Friday trying to expose each other’s policy weaknesses on everything from health care to law enforcement to climate change.


Across the issues, the candidates for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District also accused each other of lying and misrepresenting each other’s platforms. Long painted Herrera Beutler as too closely aligned with corporations and President Donald Trump, while Herrera Beutler did the same with Long and policy proposals like cutting funding to police departments.

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Herrera Beutler, who is seeking a sixth term, trumpeted her platform as the most beneficial for the region’s economy. She pointed to her votes passing $2.2 trillion in federal stimulus that included the Paycheck Protection Program. She acknowledged climate change, but drew the line at supporting policies that would increase taxes.

Long, a political science professor at Washington State University, championed more health care access, re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement and expanding unemployment benefits in the wake of COVID-19. And, on several occasions, she repeated a line that Herrera Beutler was distorting her platform.

“Remember when I said my opponent would mislead you and try to divert attention from records?” Long said several times.

The debate was a high-profile moment in a high-profile rematch for the district, which touches eight counties between the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Ocean. It is the only Republican-held district on the Western Seaboard and has been closely watched nationally.

Herrera Beutler, elected in 2010, is only the second Republican to represent the district in 60 years. Until Long, she regularly defeated opponents by double digits at the polls. Long emerged in 2018′s “blue wave” midterm elections and lost by just five points.

In Friday’s debate, the two clashed on the climate in a year that has seen devastating wildfires along the West Coast. Herrera Beutler accused Long of supporting expensive environmental policies, touting her own as better for the region’s industries that rely on natural resources. She said she supported forest thinning to mitigate wildfires and pointed to legislation she backed that allows sea lions, that poach salmon runs, to be killed.

“I’ll continue to fight for the working families of Southwest Washington and protect our environment at the same time — they’re not mutually exclusive goals,” Herrera Beulter said.

Long countered that Herrera Beutler doesn’t do enough to reverse the existential threats of climate change, like ocean acidification. She said Herrera Beutler has supported the Trump administration rolling back environmental regulations. She tied the congresswoman’s votes to the oil and gas industry.

“We have to look at the fact that my opponent does allow this executive branch to roll back a lot of protections, and has taken $170,000 from the oil and gas industry,” Long said. “That is affecting the way she votes on climate policy.”

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At one point, Herrera Beutler pressed Long if she would support a carbon tax to be paid for by individuals. Long, who earlier in the debate denied the claim, retorted the incumbent should stop taking corporate tax money and stand up to the president.

The back-and-forth prompted the moderator, KXL’s Steve Leader, to say, “That was lively!”

Health care carried similar themes. Long said she supported preserving the Affordable Care Act and a public option. She called Herrera Beutler “beholden to special interests,” unwilling to support expanded health care because corporations oppose it.

Herrera Beutler repeatedly stated Long would push for “radical” single-payer health care at a cost to constituents. Herrera Beutler said she would protect health care for people with pre-existing conditions and cut prescription drug prices.

“I crossed party lines and joined with a bill that would bring down the cost of prescription drugs that Big Pharma was so enraged over, they ran attack ads against me,” she said. “I’m not in their pocket. I’m not afraid to stand up to anybody.”

On talks to replace the Interstate 5 bridge, Long said she’d push for as many federal dollars as possible. She laid blame for the long-delayed project at Herrera Beutler’s feet, arguing the congresswoman has had a decade in Washington, D.C., to advocate for it.

Herrera Beutler said she has continued to fight for transportation in the region, including securing $5 million to replace the bridge between White Salmon and Hood River. She also said she’d push back against Oregon lawmakers who would “pick the pockets of southwest Washington commuters.”

Related: Lawmakers take stock of past attempts to replace I-5 bridge

Perhaps the marquee social issue of the debate involved systemic racism and social justice. Both candidates condemned white supremacy, systemic racism and the federal government’s tactics in Portland. Yet they sparred over the nuances of the summer’s nationwide protests.

Herrera Beutler tried to portray Long as a proponent of defunding the police, which Long also disputed. Long retorted Herrera Beutler doesn’t stand up to Trump’s rhetoric stoking white supremacy and attacking the press.

Herrera Beutler, who has said she will vote for Trump this year, responded by saying the district voted for him in 2016.

“I think she should show a little bit more respect for the fact that people may differ in opinion,” Herrera Beutler said.

With a month to go before Election Day, it’s unlikely the two will meet in a head-to-head debate again. Long has publicly challenged Herrera Beutler to at least two more debates.

When OPB asked Friday if Herrera Beutler’s campaign is considering any more debates, campaign manager Parker Truax wrote, “This was the last scheduled debate.”

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