Southwest Washington Congressional candidates Kent and Gluesenkamp Perez face off in Vancouver debate

After being represented by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for the last 12 years, the two candidates vying to replace her in Congress squared off in a debate in Vancouver Saturday afternoon leading into the final weeks of their campaign.

Herrera Beutler finished third in the August primary behind two newcomers to the national political stage: Republican and US Army Special Forces veteran Joe Kent of Yacolt, and Democrat small business owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Skamania.

Kent and Perez met in the Vancouver Community Library for the debate, in which The Daily News was one of five publications that provided questions. Candidates tried to convince the audience they would remain more locally-focused and accountable than a stereotypical member of Congress.

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Both also talked about supporting the everyday citizen. Kent said the “ruling class” — including Democrats US President Joe Biden and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — are destroying America. He said that Democrat’s economic policies were more of a threat to democracy than the Jan. 6 attack or the widespread conspiracies about election fraud.

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“It is our job to respect those people and say you’re not an election denier, you’re not a threat to democracy. Let’s adjudicate this,” Kent said.

Gluesenkamp Perez repeated that as a worker in the trades and a moderate politician, voters wanted to see more people like her in Congress.

“My proudest endorsements are from Republicans who see I have the district’s best interests at heart,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

Economy, environment and immigration

Kent aims to bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas so the US can create more jobs, but also regulate pollutants US officials can’t control in other countries. In addition to cracking down on illegal immigration, Kent said he would end worker visa programs for immigrants to protect American jobs.

“My opponent will say I’m a racist for saying so, but I want to provide good jobs to our people,” he said.

Kent said he wants to “build the wall,” and “make it clear there is no way to citizenship” if immigrants come to the US illegally. He said “fentanyl is pumped into this district from open southern borders” and criticized Gluesenkamp Perez for not mentioning crime issues in the debate.

“I want to put American workers first,” Kent said.

Joe Kent, Republican

Occupation: Project manager for a small technology company

Notable endorsements: Former US President Donald Trump, Former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn

Gluesenkamp Perez, whose father immigrated from Mexico, said Kent’s immigration plan is “economic suicide,” and she backs Newhouses’ Farm Workforce Modernization Act to help immigrants work legally US agricultural jobs, especially during the current labor shortage.

“Our immigration system is so broken right now that we are missing out and losing opportunities to bring in qualified, talented people that want to work hard and contribute to our country,” she said in an October interview with The Daily News.

During that interview, Gluesenkamp Perez said local housing stock could also increase if there were more workers to build homes. Perez said supporting trades job, like her own at an auto repair shop in Portland, will create green jobs including at paper and cardboard mills in Southwest Washington.

“The need for people who know how to make and fix things is never going away, and those are jobs that can never be offshored. Nobody in China is going to fix your plumbing for you,” she said.

One reason why there is a labor shortage, she added during the debate, is because working families can’t afford childcare. She suggested expanding the policy that eliminates student loan debt when people work in public service.

Local funding

In an October interview with The Daily News, Gluesenkamp Perez said she wanted to secure funding to expand broadband internet access in rural communities. Her home in Skamania County had inconsistent internet service by a radio tower.

“It feels very clear to me that if more members of Congress, like so many rural Americans, did not have internet access at home, we would have addressed this problem a long time ago,” she said.

Current inflation is partly caused by the Biden Administration’s overspending, Kent said, including trillion-dollar packages like the American Rescue Plan Act. He said he doesn’t support large bills where lawmakers can hide project funding, and wants to see more transparent, single-issue bills.

When it came to federal funding in the district, Kent told The Daily News this week that his priorities are to help law enforcement recruit new officers and improve interstate highways.

Voters can drop off ballots at one of eight county locations or mail ballots without needing a postage.

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Both candidates said they would accept the results of November’s general election, and both agree with Biden’s recent pardon of thousands of people convicted of simple possession of marijuana.

Both candidates agree in eliminating corporate or PAC support for their campaigns and have promised to not take PAC money, claims which will be quickly checked in their upcoming campaign finance filings.

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Democrat

Occupation: Dean’s Car Care co-owner

Notable endorsements: Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington State Labor Council, Washington State Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz

“We have been and always will be a grassroots campaign, and we’ve done over 250 town hall events and are doing them almost daily for the remainder of the campaign,” Kent said Friday in an email to The Daily News.