Rep. Rick Larsen, six-term congressman from the 2nd district, was in Bellingham this past Tuesday meeting with downtown business leaders and doorbelling with a group of supporters. In between all that, he managed to squeeze in a few minutes to sit down for a few questions while plowing through a soup and salad at Caffe Adagio.
Mayor Linville and Rep. Larsen at Greenhouse
I asked him about the downtown business tour he had just finished. "It was good, I've done several of these over the years and it is great to get another chance to see what has changed." He said it was a pleasure spending time with Mayor Linville, who accompanied him on the tour, "It is clear she really enjoys being mayor."
Starting off, why are you running for Congress? "I was born and raised in the district, my family has been in the area for over 115 years, and my sons were born just two blocks outside the new district at Stevens hospital. I'm committed to this district, and I'm running to support the values of commitment and hard work that I learned growing up here. Getting the economy turned around, creating jobs and protecting medicare, ensuring that young adults have access to the training and best available jobs, these issues are important to me. That is why I am running."
You have been a congressman for six terms, what do you consider your proudest achievement? "It is hard to isolate one achievement, but when I look at the work I did with Sen Patty Murray on the Wild Skies Wilderness area which took five years from introduction to being signed by a Republican president, it really shows how persistent you have to be to get something done. We worked with a Republican administration so it was bipartisan, and it was the first wilderness area in Washington to be added in twenty years. It was a good addition to preserving lands for future generations.
The other accomplishment I would mention would be helping Boeing land the tanker contract for the U.S. Air Force. That is a multi-million dollar investment in the Pacific Northwest, it creates thousands of high-paying jobs, and I think it is the right choice. It is interesting, we almost had this done in 2001, and Sen. John McCain killed it. We had to work for the next several years to make it happen again. It is funny, I got recognition from both the Machinists Union and the management at Boeing. These things don't just happen by accident, you have got to fight for these jobs." He pauses to gather his thoughts and take another bite of his salad. "I also find it interesting that a Republican killed it and it took the Democrats and Republicans from other parts of the country to get it back. I knew that with a fair and transparent process Boeing would win."
Before doing this interview, I asked for some good questions via my facebook page and several of my readers asked about regulating the financial markets. So I put a question to the congressman, in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Would you be willing to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act or something similar?
Rep. Rick Larsen
"I'm not in support of reinstating the Glass-Steagall wall, but that doesn't mean there are different ways to get the same result. The Volcker Rule in its heart is designed to force banks to separate commercial and corporate banking. Once implemented it will cause the same result. We should be not risking commercial depositers' money, which is federally backed, with private investments. They should find their own private money to fund their investment decisions. We don't need to reinstate the Glass-Steagall wall to do that. That said, it is important to keep moving forward on regulating the financial markets in response to the crash. Republicans consistently oppose giving the administration the dollars they need to be the referee and watchdog to appropriately regulate the trading of futures and dirivitives. The Republicans are the ones standing in the way of ensuring that taxpayers don't foot the bill for the next crash if it comes."
Over the last couple of elections, your relationship with the local party has been a bit rocky. Has it improved with the redistricting? "I wouldn't characterize it as rocky. The Democratic party is broad and varied, and draws from a lot of great traditions; the desire to make sure that people are working and to expand freedom and rights, and if people aren't in a position to exercise the same rights that others have, that's not really freedom. Democrats take that obligation seriously. Everyone needs to have the same opportunities, what they do with them is their business, but they need to have those opportunities. This is what binds us together.
Also, this year I didn't get the endorsement from the Whatcom Democrats but I did get 63% of the votes, which is higher than I have ever gotten before." The Whatcom Democrats require a two-thirds majority to endorse, but since Larsen is the only remaining Democrat on the ballot for the 2nd, he will most likely collect their endorsement in September.
What about I-502: the initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana? How do you feel about the measure? Rep. Larsen takes a thoughtful pause. "I haven't yet come to support, I still might. I think that the argument that we should legalize and regulate and tax marijuana and it will generate millions is one of the worst arguments for it. We need to either commit to a general progressive system of taxation in order to fund general government functions or not. Let's not turn to the easy money of marijuana taxes in order to do that. I think the argument that the states are moving toward legalization in contravention of federal law is creating a situation that the federal government and states need to reconcile, whether or not this initiative passes.
So, I've haven't yet come to support this, but in the past I wouldn't have supported it." He did acknowledge that it is a state, not federal issue, so he doesn't have to deal with it very often.
Alright, time to get the campaign hat on. What is the most important reason for the Democrats to take back the House this November? "The most important reason is to stop Republicans from ending Medicare as we know it. They have nominated the architect of the "End-Medicare-as-we-know-it' plan as their vice-presidential candidate, so they can no longer hide behind not knowing what is in the plan."
Like a boulder picking up steam, Rep. Larsen rolls forward. "They just can't hide any longer behind not knowing what it is the budget, I have voted for Democratic budgets that take a balanced approach to a sustainable federal budget, with entitlement reform, a balanced budget and reducing the deficit. My opponent is still stuck in generalities and the election's almost here."
Your district was recently redistricted so that you no longer represent Blaine, Lynden and Sumas. How do you feel about losing our border cities? "Well interestingly, I'm keeping some of the border, it just happens to be the water border. This goes for all the communities that I lost, it has been a great privilage to serve the border communities and I'm going to continue to pay attention to those issues because the issues at the border don't stop at the border, but I'm also committed that the person who wins in the first district is up to speed as best as they can be on all the issues that impact the new first district that was the old second."
The new 2nd Congressional District
How do you feel about Suzan Delbene"s chances in November? "Suzan Delbene will win because she brings the right mix of progressive values and a pragmatic approach to governing, as well as real life business experience to Congress. Her opponent was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool. Suzan Delbene will have the double burden this year of not just explaining her positions on the issues, but also explaining his positions on the issues. Koster will spend most of his time hiding his issues. It's not a game that you can afford to play."
In the wake of Akin-gate (yeah, I'm bumping it up to "gate" status), do you find it difficult to work with people who's views are so diametrically opposed to your own, or reality for that matter? He chuckles, but comes right back to the bipartisan message.
"So long as you don't spend a lot of time talking about certain issues with folks with those sort of views and just focus on the issues where you agree. You have to commit to working with Democrats and Republicans when you take this job. But coming back to Todd Akins, what he said was not just scientifically inaccurate, it was morally reprehensible. The view of some of the folks in the Republican party on women and the role in society, is just as reprehensible. While I was arguing for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on the floor of the House, my opponent Dan Matthews posted on his website this." Rep. Larsen drew out a piece of paper and read me a quote that I have reproduced here. It is from Matthews website although he has since pulled it down, it is still reproduced online on a "Men's Rights" blog here.
The VAWA offers women both a "tactical advantage' and a "powerful weapon' when they want to "get back' at a man, have regrets the next morning, or want out of a marriage for any reason at all. Allegations of abuse can cause men to lose their homes, jobs, children, and reputations in the community. Once they've been thrown in jail because of mandatory arrests and have been assumed guilty, where do they go to get their reputations and their jobs back when the accusations are proven false?
Larsen hammered the point home. "Those are Dan Matthews' words. The sad thing is that even though there are people like that who get elected to Congress, you have to find something in common, you have to choke down your thoughts on their beliefs, but it is it part of the job."
I thanked Rep. Larsen for his vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2009. He was proud of the effect on the lives of his constituents.
"Seniors who have Medicare-base prescription drugs will see their out-of-pocket costs decrease as we start closing the donut hole. Young adults who are not eligible for insurance, will now be eligible up to age 27. Hospitals and other health care systems will have a chance to do pilot projects to provide services more efficiently and productively, all of this exists because of the Affordable Care Act." He name-checked a constituent in Stanwood who will avoid bankruptcy because his intensely ill daughter is no longer staring down the barrel of a lifetime limit on health care costs. He polishes off the last of his soup before taking another swing at his opposition.
"In contrast, my opponent has at least two different positions on the health care act; originally he wants to repeal the whole thing, then just two days ago on his website, he wants to repeal the bad parts and keep the good parts. Farther down, he reiterates his position on his website to repeal. Now is not a time to have candidates whose positions' are like nailing jello to a wall.
Because any politician visiting Bellingham is contractually obligated to get a question about Cherry Point, I asked him if Whatcom County is too worked up over this issue. "Do you think that this community is getting too worked up on this issue, the answer is, no. I continue to be as strong a proponent of people in the community getting access to an open, transparent and aggressive environmental impact statement, so they can get their views considered if and when it goes forward." He had some tough talk for SSA Marine as well.
"We need to hold the operator accountable for all the taxes they need to pay, and mitigation of this project. It creates hundreds of jobs, and I support the project when we are losing thousands of jobs, when the average wage in Whatcom is less than the statewide average. As a Democrat I think I need to be supportive of job creation, now can we do that while ensuring an open, transparent and aggressive process? I believe so." He also added that, "at least as of today, my opponent and I have the same opinion on this issue."
In closing, he talked about his goals of creating more jobs, protecting Medicare and getting the economy rolling again. But right before we wrapped up, he said something very poignant about being a congressman. "I have had the privilege of serving. It is not MY job, it belongs to the people of the district to give and take away, I only get it if they provide it. I don't forget that any day that I am serving." A very noble thought that I wish other incumbents had taken to heart.
Riley's closing thought
So what was my impression of Rep. Rick Larsen? He is definitely a congressman of contradictions; supporting the Cherry Point Terminal while working tirelessly on the Wild Skies Wilderness program, and receiving the Sierra Club endorsement. Sending out emails toting his opposition to Citizen's United and support for marriage equality, while staying safely out of the legalize marijuana debate. In short, a cautious congressman who has been serving for over a decade and has a steady record to both cite and defend. With the redistricting, his race got a great deal easier than 2010, but it is clear that he is taking nothing for granted and is working for every vote. I was delighted to have an opportunity to interview him and am glad he made the time for my tiny little corner of cyberspace.