Voters will choose between Tim Hazelo, a political newcomer from Oak Harbor, and Rick Larsen, a longtime politician seeking his 11th term, to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District.
Hazelo, a Republican, said he wants to reopen the economy sooner rather than later, criticizes pandemic relief spending, and supports repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Larsen, a Democrat first elected to Congress in 2000, said the country is not ready to reopen the economy yet. He supports another round of COVID-19 stimulus relief and expansion of the Affordable Care Act.
Both candidates spoke on a number of topics during a congressional forum hosted by the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the North Whidbey Fire and Rescue last Thursday.
Hazelo repeatedly criticized economic aid legislation as being “pork-riddled,” pointing to the HEROES Act, a proposed $3 trillion stimulus package to follow the CARES Act passed earlier this year for COVID-19 relief.
“Beneath it you’ll find 1,800 pages, almost $3 trillion, of a lot of fluff. We can be a lot more precise with that stuff,” Hazelo said.
He also claimed that the country needs to “change the narrative” surrounding the virus, and that people should get back to their normal lives.
“We all know, as adults, that living is much better than not living, and living has risks,” he said.
In contrast, Larsen said he supported the stimulus and repeatedly said that there are no “shortcuts” to a post-pandemic economic recovery.
“The public health response has to lead the economic recovery response. There are no shortcuts,” Larsen said. “Every reputable scientist in the United States will tell you that we are not through the pandemic and it is not time to freely open the economy.”
The incumbent also said he thought investment in the nation’s infrastructure should lead in the economic recovery response, claiming that it would create jobs.
Hazelo’s plan is to reopen — now, preferably. Larsen said he wants to listen to scientists and public health professionals.
“We can open up, we should open up tomorrow — we should open up this morning,” Hazelo said.
He continued, saying that people can wear a mask and choose where they want to go when the economy is open again.
“By doing so, you can give people the choice about how they want to live their life. This thing is not going away, people. It’s here forever,” Hazelo said.
“We have to learn to live with it.”
On the other hand, Larsen said reopening should be guided by science, and expressed concern about his opponent’s views.
“I’m continually shocked by my opponent’s insensitivity to the over 2,000 people who have died in Washington state of COVID-19,” Larsen said, adding he’s also concerned about the long-term effects of the virus in survivors.
He encouraged wearing masks and social distancing, highlighted vaccine development and said the public health response should lead the economic recovery.
“I’m going to turn to the scientists, the public health professionals for the best advice. I’m not taking Tim’s advice; I’m not taking my advice on how to open up the economy.
“I’m going to turn to public health professionals,” he said.
The men stood at opposite ends of the healthcare debate. Hazelo criticized the Affordable Care Act and argued that it should be repealed and replaced.
Hazelo said he supported opening insurance companies across state lines, giving people the ability to shop for prescription drugs, and generally wanted there to be more choices in healthcare.
“We’re Americans for God’s sake. We were brought up and we believe in freedom and choice,” Hazelo said.
On the other hand, Larsen said he supported the legislation and wanted it to expand.
“The ACA was working as it was being implemented, as we passed it, until the current administration came in and began to undermine it,” Larsen claimed, adding that healthcare costs grew after the 2016 election.
Larsen said he wants several features to be reinstated: the introduction of a public option to create more choice in the healthcare exchanges and for Medicare to have the ability to negotiate prices on drugs that do not have competitors, like insulin.
Hazelo challenged Larsen on his claim that the ACA started having issues after Trump came into office, saying that his own healthcare had gotten more expensive. He encouraged the audience to consider their own experience.
“Think to yourself, use your common sense, don’t use some statistical numbers that some congressman comes up with somewhere. Figure it out for yourself,” Hazelo said.
“Rick just wants to keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he added.
In his response, Larsen wondered what Hazelo’s healthcare plan was, noting that Tricare (healthcare for military members and retirees) is not subject to some of the ACA’s rules. Hazelo served in the Navy for 20 years and continues to work at NAS Whidbey.
Larsen reiterated his point that the ACA began to struggle during the Trump administration.
“I have found, since I am in a plan through the ACA, that my experience and the experience I’ve heard from many other people is exactly as I’ve explained it,” Larsen said.
“That the real challenges to ACA came after the Trump administration.”
Candidates grill each other
The candidates were also given the opportunity to ask their opponent one question.
Hazelo asked if Larsen would condemn violence against law enforcement, “Antifa” and violent protests.
In response, Larsen said he had already condemned the violence and said he “was sorry” Hazelo hadn’t heard it before.
“I’ve already condemned them in the past, I’ll condemn them today and I’ll condemn them in the future,” Larsen said. “But I won’t condemn the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place.”
Larsen asked Hazelo what he would do differently than him to support NAS Whidbey Island. Hazelo said he would do “everything within a congressman’s ability to support NAS Whidbey Island,” and other bases around the state, district, West Coast and country.
“You will not find, I guarantee, you will not find a more patriotic, military-respecting, -loving man than myself on the face of this earth,” Hazelo said.
Larsen challenged Hazelo and asked the question again.
“I would be here,” Hazelo said.
“I would be on the base with these folks, and I would listen to what they have to say, not just the suits and birds — what the enlisted guy has to say on the ground.”
A recording of the forum has been posted on the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube channel.