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Koster says his time has come

Snohomish County Councilman John Koster speaks with Barney Beeksma before the Republican Women’s Club meeting at El Cazador. “He’s a tough competitor,” Beeksma said during the meeting. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Snohomish County Councilman John Koster speaks with Barney Beeksma before the Republican Women’s Club meeting at El Cazador. “He’s a tough competitor,” Beeksma said during the meeting.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

At a speech in Oak Harbor Thursday, Republican Snohomish County Councilman John Koster wasn’t afraid to aim a couple of barbs at his opponent for the Second Congressional District seat.

“Rick’s voting record aligns with Pelosi and Reid 98 percent of the time,” said Koster. “He’s not who we voted for 10 years ago.”

Koster, who served three terms in the state House, officially set up a rematch with Rep. Rick Larsen in January. Larsen has represented the district since defeating Koster 50 percent to 46 percent in the 2000 election.

About 60 GOP supporters listened as the dairy farmer-turned-state legislator gave insight to his new campaign during a Republican Women’s Club meeting. The event also drew Tea Party members, a movement focused on fiscal conservatism, to the El Cazador restaurant.

“I am extremely concerned about the direction of the country. People say I picked the right year but the year picked me,” Koster said.

Koster largely echos his party’s line on major issues. He supports limited federal government, favors tax cuts and opposes the new health care law. If his campaign is successful, he vowed to try to repeal the legislation.

Koster’s conservative stance on the issues is gaining traction with many Oak Harbor Republicans, organizer Robyn Kolaitis said, who look to him as a serious challenger to Rep. Larsen this fall.

“He has strong conservative values and that’s what this group wants,” Kolaitis said.

Koster also hinted at an election comeback for Republicans, citing “this is a swing district.” The 2nd District, which takes in part of Snohomish and King counties and all of Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties, leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly. Before Larsen won the seat, his predecessor was Republican Jack Metcalf of Langley, who stepped down to honor a self-imposed, six-year term limit.

“Metcalf served a long time,” Koster said.

Between now and his 2000 match against Larsen, Koster said the issues have shifted. The two originally sparred on local issues, such as gas pipeline safety, as well as abortion and the national budget.

“Ten years ago we were debating about the projected federal surplus. Today, we are 12 and a half trillion dollars in debt. That’s just one difference,” said Koster.

Health care will be another hot topic this election, and Koster slammed Larsen on his Web site for making what could be a “career ending vote.” Larsen contends that the health care law will lower medical costs and hold insurance companies accountable, while Koster said it will lead to higher debt and a broken economy. He favors replacing the law with free market principles.

“The plan is phased in. We won’t be able to repeal it outright but piece by piece,” Koster said in response to a question by social studies teacher Jim Crouch.

In January, Larsen’s political director Brooke Davis released a statement saying he was more focused on the economy than the election but added, “Rick Larsen welcomes the opportunity to defeat John Koster a second time.”

Koster has since fired back with statements attacking Larsen’s “socialist agenda.”

The councilman told the crowd the campaign will cost about $2 million to run and he’s already found good support. Koster said he faced a small setback last month when someone broke into his congressional campaign office and stole two computers. A computer printer was thrown through the window.

Though it isn’t known if it was vandalism or politically motivated, Koster says, “They aren’t slowing us down.”

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