As she wraps up her second term in the House of Representatives, congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler says she’s proud of her work to create and protect jobs in Southwest Washington. If re-elected in November, the Camas Republican said, economic development will remain her primary focus.
“We’re still at about 8 percent unemployment in the district, and that’s way too high in my book,” she said.
Bob Dingethal, a Democrat who hopes to win Herrera Beutler’s 3rd District seat, said that’s not enough, criticizing her involvement — or her alleged lack thereof — in both the health care debate and a project to replace the Columbia River Crossing, an Interstate 5 bridge spanning the river between Washington and Oregon.
“Jaime Herrera Beutler has been nowhere to be found,” Dingethal said. “She takes no leadership and lost touch with her people.”
The 3rd District covers much of Southwest Washington, including the southern portion of Thurston County. The district’s boundary falls along U.S. Highway 12 from Rochester to Interstate 5, along Old Highway 99 from I-5 to Tenino and along state Route 507 between Tenino and Rainier. For those who live east of Rainier, the boundary falls along Vail Cut Off Road, Lawrence Road, Neat Road and Longmire Road.
Voters who live north of the boundary are part of the 10th District, while voters who live south are part of the 3rd District.
Those who are unsure of their district can go to house.gov/representatives/find.
For Dingethal, the decision to run is rooted in the 20 years he spent in the telecommunications business. Dingethal said he recalls talking to state lawmakers about a telecommunications bill in the mid-1990s. He was particularly impressed with then-Congressman Brian Baird, who held the 3rd District seat until he opted not to run in 2010.
“I started to think, ‘This is something I’d like to do one day,’ ” Dingethal said. “I met a lot of politicians from both sides of the aisle who were very good people who cared about their jobs.”
Dingethal eventually earned a master’s degree in public administration and got a job as U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s Southwest Washington outreach director.
In 2013, he announced plans to run against Herrera Beutler in the upcoming election. And earlier this year, he took a leave of absence from his position as executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect Gifford Pinchot National Forest, to campaign full time.
Herrera Beutler said she decided to run in 2010 to help her community recover from its economic problems, and has since focused on Washington’s timber industry. Earlier this year, Congress passed the farm bill with Herrera Beutler’s “Forest Roads Rule” attached. She said the measure will protect 107,000 forest jobs in Washington alone.
“We need to allow this management to take place,” Herrera Beutler said. “It will make our forests healthier, and it will increase the number of jobs.”
The candidates can agree on one thing: The Affordable Care Act isn’t working.
Herrera Beutler places the blame for the program’s shortfalls on the shoulders of her fellow Republicans, arguing that lawmakers had every opportunity to offer up a workable alternative.
“This is an area where Republicans really missed the boat,” Herrera Beutler said. “They had a chance to fix it, but they didn’t.”
Purchasing insurance independently is still too expensive for most families, she said, and affordable insurance doesn’t offer the coverage people need. Quality insurance could be more affordable if companies were able to negotiate costs across state lines and if there was more coordination between insurance providers, general practitioners and specialists, Herrera Beutler said.
But Dingethal argued that the congresswoman is part of the problem, as she voted down the measure without introducing an alternative.
“This isn’t a new problem; we’ve been trying to evolve this since Teddy Roosevelt,” Dingethal said. “She just hasn’t taken part in the discussion.”
She’s used the same strategy in discussions regarding the Columbia River Crossing, Dingethal argued. He said that if he’s elected, he’ll ensure that the project gets the funding it deserves.
Herrera Beutler argued that she has been active in the process as a member of the House Transportation Committee, helping to create the Projects of Regional and National Significance program that could be a funding source for the bridge once a design is finalized.
A suitable design, she said, should increase bridge capacity and shouldn’t include light rail.
“Once we get to a design that Southwest Washington residents both support and can afford, I will do everything possible to ensure the federal government pays its share of the project,” Herrera Beutler said.