By Dick Clever
Special to the News-Times
It wasn’t even a close call for U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen. He’s in favor of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in Bellingham for one reason — jobs.
“Jobs are the driving force behind my whole campaign,” says the 2nd Congressional District Democrat who is seeking a seventh term in the House.
Thanks to the redrawn boundaries of the 2nd District, Larsen now has a district that colors more deeply blue than the old 2nd. Still, he has an energetic challenger for reelection in retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Matthews, who has vigorously attacked Larsen’s record.
In the August primary race between Larsen and five Republicans, the Democrat took just over 57 percent of the vote — a reflection of the Democratic strength of the new 2nd District. In most of Larsen’s previous races his margin of victory has been just a few percentage points.
Matthews received the most votes among the Republican contenders, putting him on the November ballot opposite Larsen. Matthews, outgunned in campaign finances, acknowledges that he has an uphill battle.
Larsen has raised about $1 million and still has a little over half of that on hand. Of the $225,000 raised by Matthews, $200,000 came in a loan to the campaign from himself.
Still, Matthews soldiers on, throwing sharp verbal jabs that Larsen says are way off the mark. Matthews accuses Larsen of becoming a “beltway millionaire” who moved his family to the “other” Washington shortly after winning the seat in 2000.
Larsen says that both he and his wife Carol were surprised to learn of their millionaire status. Larsen said he moved his family to the Washington, D.C. area so they could still function as a family with young children and wonders how anybody could find fault in that.
Also, he’s hardly a “millionaire.”
The Center for Responsive Politics, which reports on the personal finances of all members of Congress, estimates Larsen’s net worth to be between $155,000 and $626,000, which include two mortgages, placing him at a modest 290th among House members.
Larsen also points out that he and his wife still own a house in the district.
“In fact, I slept there last night,” he said in an interview on Friday, Oct. 5.
He said that when he returns to the district to meet with constituents, he’s always working and would have little time to spend with his family.
On a recent Dave Ross program on KUOW, Matthews was pressed to support his claim that Larsen has grown out of touch with the district.
He singled out the Boeing tanker contract, which he said Larsen, like others in the state’s congressional delegation “dropped the ball” when the Air Force awarded the contract to European airplane manufacturer Airbus. But he didn’t explain just how the delegation failed in that process.
One key factor in forcing the rebid of the contract and the award to Boeing, as reported in The Seattle Times, was Rep. Norm Dicks’ effort to get the House to change the 25-year life of the tanker aircraft to 40 years. That tilted the decision more in favor of Boeing because of the 767’s lower operational costs.
Larsen had been hit by Matthews’ criticism of his role in the tanker contract before and came to the KUOW program prepared. He read a letter from Boeing CEO James McNerney thanking him for his work to help the company secure the contract after the rebidding process.
Cherry Point explained
In backing the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal, Larsen said he was moved by his meetings with unemployed workers in Bellingham.
“I could see in their faces how desperate they are for jobs,” he said in a recent interview.
He said he could understand the environmental concerns surrounding the proposal but believes that the environmental review process can mitigate many of those issues.
A veteran of the Vietnam and Desert Storm conflicts, Matthews piloted large transport planes during his 22 years in the Air Force and became a commercial pilot when he retired from the service.
He lists his membership in a few conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, and is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. He also notes that he is the founder of a patriotic program called “Celebrate America.”
Matthews and family are members of an Assembly of God church and he touts being a “signatory” to the Manhattan Declaration, a conservative Christian document that calls for civil disobedience against laws allowing abortions, embryonic research, assisted suicide and euthanasia.