Meyer, Smith vie to go against Larsen in November

Two candidates with distinctly different backgrounds but some shared philosophies are battling for the Republican nomination to run for Congress against incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen.

Herb Meyer and Norma Smith both appeared at a candidates’ forum Wednesday night sponsored by the Oak Harbor Senior Center and Whidbey Island League of Women Voters. More than 100 audience members tested the capacity of the meeting room.

Meyer, an East Coast native, has a background in Ronald Reagan’s Central Intelligence Agency, but in recent years has lived in the San Juan Islands where he is a businessman and author of several books on such diverse topics as business management, writing, and politics.

Smith, a Clinton resident, spent six years as an aide to former Congressman Jack Metcalf, R-Langley. Before that she served on the South Whidbey School Board. In 2000 she ran for the State Senate but was defeated by incumbent Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen. Since then, she has been director of operations for a small export firm in Arlington.

In addressing the Oak Harbor audience, Meyer focused on the reason he decided to run for Congress. “We’re at war,” he said. “And the economy’s in trouble.” In an earlier interview, Meyer said he never seriously considered running for office until Sept. 11.

Meyer described the war and the economy as the “front burner issues,” and stated they will be his priorities, “No games, no baloney. I’ll do my very best to get the job done so we can clear the deck and deal with those other issues we really want to deal with.” That statement drew strong applause from the audience. At one point, Meyer predicted that the U.S. will be at war in Iraq by Thanksgiving. “Other issues” to Meyer include such things as health care and the environment.

Smith’s mild manner contrasts with Meyer’s more pedantic style, but her words were also tough on terrorism. “We need to win the war on terror,” she said. She frequently expressed her support for President Bush, and said that if he attacks Iraq he will first make a strong case to the American people.

While Meyer gives the terrorism acts of Sept. 11 as his reason for seeking office, Smith simply stated, “I want to serve the people.” She stressed her six years of experience working on Metcalf’s staff, when she was his liaison with NAS Whidbey, Naval Base Everett, and the military at large. She promised to “stand by our veterans,” and mentioned her work on legislation regarding the anthrax vaccine and its possible link to the Gulf War Syndrome.

The two candidates answered differently to questions about the Patriot Act, which Congress passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Meyer agrees with those who say it went too far in restricting individual liberty. “You’re absolutely right,” he told an audience member who expressed concern about the act. Meyer said “the far left and the far right” agree that the act went too far. “I like the Bush administration,” he added, “but they’re stumbling over some lines they shouldn’t be stumbling over. When you lose them (rights) you can’t get’em back.”

Smith too warned about the dangers of letting “freedoms be taken one small step at a time,” but later she said she would have voted for the Patriot Act in light of 9-11. “I’ll be continually vigilant, but we were attacked,” she said. “We have to be able to respond.”

Meyer said he would not have supported the act as written. He blamed it on the tendency in Washington D.C. to “get stampeded,” due to the “political implications” involved with emotional issues. “I won’t get stampeded,” he pledged.

On the issue of possible war with Iraq, Meyer stated that President Bush first needs the approval of Congress. “Congress declares war,” he said, citing the Constitution.

Smith was less direct, but again expressed confidence that Bush will get the public on his side before going to war. “Our president is acting cautiously and I’m grateful,” she said. “He’s looking at a number of options. He’ll present his case and get support.”

Smith spent more of her limited time on domestic issues, particularly health care reform and the need to reduce taxes and regulations on small and medium sized businesses.

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