Larsen talks shop with business leaders

In a visit to Whidbey Island last week, Congressman Rick Larsen spent a considerable amount of time meeting business leaders in all three communities.

He visited the downtowns of Langley and Coupeville and then spoke to a full house at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Larsen said he became a member of the Committee on Small Business in the House and wanted to meet with local business leaders to get a feel for the business climate in the area and the challenges local business owners face.

He also noted the differences between Coupeville and Langley. Coupeville has a focus on its downtown core and developing what is already there. While Langley is its own unique town, the area is also a bedroom community because of the number of people commuting off island.

The congressman met with Mary Alice Sterling on the sidewalk in front of the Penn Cove Gallery and learned about the Merchant’s Association and the group’s work to attract more boating traffic into Coupeville. He learned about the historic buildings that line Front Street through his visits with other merchants.

After spending about an hour in Coupeville Thursday morning, he headed up to the CPO Club in Oak Harbor to highlight some of the government’s accomplishments in front of Chamber of Commerce members.

He started with the 9/11 commission recommendations approved by Congress and which President Bush signed into law. Those measures improve screening of containers entering U.S. ports as well as air cargo, and increases funding to locate, secure and destroy nuclear materials.

Tougher ethics laws were recently approved that require better disclosure from lobbying firms.

He is working on legislation to fight the illicit methamphetamine trade. The proposed legislation provides additional tools at the federal level to fight the meth epidemic and educational resources to showcase the damage the drug does to the body.

He complimented the Navy, Island County and Oak Harbor for their work securing the Boyer property, located in the Navy’s accident potential zone, from development.

As for the Navy, he said the Growler program, which will replace the Prowlers, is on track and on budget. Also, he said there is $880 million set aside to develop the P8 Poseidon and he’s confident the new aircraft will end up at NAS Whidbey. The Poseidon will replace the P-3 Orion patrol craft.

“I’m hopeful it will be here along with all the people that come with it,” Larsen said.

He took questions from the crowd ranging from immigration reform to the Navy Hospital changing its emergency room to an urgent care clinic.

Larsen said legislation on immigration reform won’t take place during the upcoming session because it’s too close to the presidential election.

He would like to see immigration legislation made up of three elements — an enforcement mechanism, improved border security and a comprehensive solution for guest workers.

“There will be a price for those who are here illegally,” Larsen said, but emphasized that enforcement should not be done in a way to unhinge the economy.

Larsen said the new urgent care facility which replaces the emergency room at the Naval Hospital raises questions for the Navy to answer. He is concerned about how the change will affect Navy families and whether it will overwhelm emergency rooms in Coupeville and Anacortes. He encouraged people to give him questions he could ask when he meets with Navy officials.

He was also asked about his favorite candidate in the presidential campaign. However, he said he isn’t going to make an endorsement until April.

“I have plenty of time to get excited about a Democratic nominee,” Larsen, a Democrat from Arlington, said. “Let’s just be clear, I’m not avoiding the question, I’m just not answering the question.”

Larsen’s two-day visit to Whidbey and Fidalgo islands included a trip to Island Hospital in Anacortes to learn about the “farm to hospital” program where patients are served locally-grown food.

Then, later in the day, he visited Ebey’s Landing. He secured $500,000 in federal funding to help pay for a conservation easement to protect 35 acres of property around the 150-year-old Ferry House. Following his visit to Central Whidbey, he walked downtown Langley and visited with local business owners.

Then, after the Oak Harbor Chamber meeting, he headed back down to Langley where he went to the Island County Fair and served as an honorary herdsmanship judge.

Larsen joked that when you’re elected to Congress, you have access to classified material, you can oversee civil ceremonies and you’re automatically qualified to judge herds at a county fair.