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Congressional candidates weigh in on OLF
Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen said Thursday that he continues his support for use of Outlying Field Coupeville by the EA-18G Growlers based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
“I support keeping it open and I support the Growlers,” said Larsen, in a phone interview.
“I’ve been a strong supporter of the Navy and it’s been a huge economic driver for North Whidbey.”
Larsen is facing two challengers in the primary election which ends Aug. 5. Island County residents can vote online now and paper ballots are expected to go out Wednesday.
Larsen has been criticized for this position, even by some of his previous supporters, because they believe the Growlers pose series health risks.
“I understand where people are coming from, which is why me and my staff has spent a lot of time getting the Navy to listen to people and their concerns and try to be responsive as an elected official,” Larsen said. “Opponents will conclude from this that I’m not listening. Just because I disagree doesn’t mean I’m not listening. From my outreach, I believe there is strong local support to close OLF but it’s not the majority.”
Independent challenger and Occupy organizer Mike Lapointe said Larsen has not been responsive enough to the those concerned about the Growlers.
Lapointe, who grew up near Westfield-Barnes Airport in Massachusetts, said he has experienced similar jet noise. Coupeville-based group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve sued the Navy last year, demanding an environmental study on the Growlers. COER appears to be throwing their support behind Lapointe on their blog.
“I can relate to their problem,” said Lapointe in a Wednesday phone interview. “I don’t understand how this can be mitigated. The Navy has been non-responsive… only after the lawsuit. We shouldn’t have to be suing our own government to get some response.”
Larsen’s Republican opponent former aerospace engineer BJ Guillot said closure of OLF and rebasing of the Growlers would hurt North Whidbey.
“I think it would be devastating to the local economy if the Growlers aren’t able to fly,” Guillot said. “I’m not in favor of closing the OLF.”
That said, Guillot said he’d be willing to listen to COER and other concerned residents.
Larsen conceded that the last budget cycle, which was marked with party politics and delays, “politically didn’t go well for anyone.”
However, he said he hopes the response from constituents and the legislators frustration with the process has created a “self-enforcement mechanism” that will improve things moving forward.
Larsen said he’s aware that the threat of sequestration is frustrating for the federal employees in Oak Harbor.
“We need to do everything we can to avoid that,” Larsen said. “We still have structural budget problems and we need a balanced deficit reduction plan but not at the cost of the things we need.”
Lapointe called the last budget cycle “pathetic.”
“It’s an obvious symptom of what happens when the government has been taken over by corporate interests,” Lapointe said.
Lapointe said he will “raise holy hell” to make sure the people have a place at the table.
“There’s something wrong that is happening when elected officials can’t do what is wanted by 85 percent of their constituents.”
Guillot said that while he supports a balanced budget amendment, he believes that Congress needs to “come together and compromise” in order to do their jobs.
Larsen said Congress needs to find a long-term, sustainable solution for the recent shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund. Larsen said transportation funding also helps the economy and creates jobs.
“There is a federal role in transportation,” Larsen said. “Island County cannot meet all their transportation needs and we need to support that.”
Lapointe said he’s noticed an upsetting decline in funding for transportation in recent years.
“Now bridges are falling into the water and no one is doing anything about it,” Lapointe said.
Lapointe said he would make concessions when necessary to ensure that the country’s priorities like transportation are funded.
Guillot said the country needs to look at how to fund transportation projects, but will not support any type of gas tax because gas is already too expensive.
“We do have a crumbling infrastructure and we need to come up with a way to fix these things,” Guillot said.
Larsen said he continues to support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and that adjustments can be made “as we go along.”
While the measure has increased access to healthcare and reduced the cost of prescriptions for seniors, additional changes can and should be made, Larsen said.
Lapointe said the act is “ridiculous,” although it “obviously does some good things.”
“What it does not do is get the insurance companies out of the equation,” Lapointe said.
Lapointe said he’d favor a “Medicaid for all” type plan nationwide.
The act should be repealed, according to Guillot, although he said there are a few things he’d like to retain. Guillot supports children staying on parental insurance until the age of the 26 and not preventing insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Larsen said it’s a “tragedy” that the GOP has refused to look at immigration reform this year.
“There are people in our communities who live in the shadows,” Larsen said. “We need to have a pathway to an earned citizenship.”
Lapointe said he’s in favor of granting amnesty to existing illegal immigrants and simplifying the path to citizenship in the future.
“We’re all immigrants,” Lapointe said. “Immigrants add to our economy and help build it.”
Guillot, whose wife is a legal immigrant, said he believes it’s important to enforce the existing laws for the sake of those who have gone to the trouble of becoming legal.
That said, the existing process is inefficient and “should be sped up a bit,” Guillot said.