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Larsen makes first visit to Whidbey as Congressman
"Congressman Rick Larsen, with Clover Patch owner Neil Colburn in the foreground, meets the customers Thursday morning. At the table are Julie Lambert of Clinton (foreground) and Alicia Berggren of Langley.Jim Larsen / staff photoFrom the cafe to the prairie, Congressman Rick Larsen made his first tour of Whidbey Island Thursday since taking office in January.Meeting constituents isn't always laughter and handshakes. Larsen came across some serious concerns, particularly at the Clover Patch Cafe in Bayview, owned by longtime South Whidbey Democratic activist Neil Colburn.Many regular customers were there for breakfast, as were a few tables filled by Democratic faithful. Many of the latter don't frequent the Clover Patch, especially those from the green wing of the party. Colburn caters to the working class crowd, allows customers to smoke to their heart's content, and serves up such tasty, artery-plugging staples as ham and eggs and chicken fried steak.Some of them come here every eight years, laughed Colburn at the party faithful. Eight years ago they would have met Al Swift, the last Democrat to serve the Second Congressional District. The seat was filled for the last six years by Langley Republican Jack Metcalf.Larsen first met oldtimer Art Burke, who didn't have much to offer but pleasantries. But he ran into trouble at table two, where he interrupted the dining experience of Julie Lambert and Alicia Berggren. Lambert launched into an impassioned plea to bring prescription drug prices down for senior citizens.All the seniors need it, not just me, said the animated Lambert. She said she spends $100 a month on one medication alone, and she told Larsen she was glad her house was paid for, otherwise she couldn't afford her medicine.Lambert had another complaint, regarding the government requiring utilities to sell electricity to Californians. She said that drives up prices in the Northwest.Larsen expressed sympathy on both counts. He said the Medicare program should take on drug benefits, and that California shouldn't get special treatment in the power market. We've asked the (Bush) administration to stop the 'must sell' orders, he said. The Clinton Administration initiated the orders.Moving on to table three, the congressman encountered Jo Gagnon, who was dining alone. A Clinton resident, Gagnon said she complained to Larsen about the Exxon station being built in Freeland. It's a wetland! she said. The congressman made no promises, she said after he left the table. Of course not. He's a politician.Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman made an appearance to express concerns to Larsen about federal transportation funding, which he wants sustained at present levels. There's some uncertainty in Congress, Furman said.After leaving the restaurant, Larsen went north to tour Ebey's Prairie and learn from residents about the monetary and other needs of the National Historic Preserve.Larsen said federal money is needed there to help pay off a loan from the Nature Conservancy which preserved additional farmland last year. And farmers such as Ron Muzzall and Karen and Wilbur Bishop urged him to help preserve farming, not just farm land. He is hopeful that when the Farm Bill is renewed next year he can include additional help for Ebey's Prairie.Before leaving the island, Larsen said he is also working to help implement a moderate tax cut that pays down the debt, provides marriage penalty relief and reforms the estate tax, among other changes. But like most Democrats, he opposes the sweeping tax cut proposed by President Bush. The president is banking on what Larsen calls a phantom surplus.Formerly a member of the Snohomish County Council, Larsen, 33, said he is adjusting to life in Washington, D.C. His wife Tiia and their two sons, Robert, 4, and Per, 1, will join him there in March, although they will also retain their home in Snohomish County. It's important to keep the family together, he said.Larsen said he can help this area from his position on the House Transportation Committee, where he serves on a subcommittee for highways and transit systems. He's heard plenty of talk about gridlock and high ferry fares on his visit home.Of particular interest to North Whidbey residents, Larsen belongs to what he described as the electronic warfare group in Congress. My interest is the Prowler, he said, referring to the backbone of NAS Whidbey. I sponsored Prowler Day in D.C. and 80 people came. "