Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House subcommittee on aviation, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, in May 2019, on the status of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House subcommittee on aviation, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, in May 2019, on the status of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Editorial: Larsen best choice for large, diverse 2nd District

U.S. Rep. Larsen’s two decades of service have informed and prepared him to serve a changing district.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The voters’ choice for the 2nd Congressional District can count on putting on a lot more vehicle miles during visits to the geographically expanded district, starting next year.

This year’s change in district boundaries saw significant shifts for the 2nd Congressional Distinct. For Snohomish County, the district keeps Mukilteo, Everett, Tulalip, Lakewood, Stanwood and Camano Island, and gains the rest of Edmonds, but loses much of the communities in Marysville, Lake Stevens and Arlington. It also keeps Whidbey Island and the San Juans, but is now joined by the rest of Skagit and Whatcom counties, areas that it hasn’t represented since the redistricting that followed the 2010 census. The district’s population now includes more than 760,000 residents.

The district has been represented by Rep. Rick Larsen, an Everett Democrat, since 2001. Larsen is seeking his 12th term in office. Previous to his election to the U.S. House, Larsen served on the Snohomish County Council. Larsen has a master’s degree in public administration.

He is challenged by Dan Matthews, a Republican from Mukilteo. Matthews previously ran for Congress against Larsen in 2012 and ran for a state Senate seat in the 21st Legislative District in 2014, losing to state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett. Matthews previously served on the Shoreline School Board and the county’s charter review commission.

Matthews and Larsen, because of schedules, were interviewed separately by the editorial board.

Matthews, a U.S. Air Force veteran who flew in the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, worked as a commercial airline pilot for 31 years and has worked as a contract and training consultant for Boeing, and also participated in the Federal Aviation Administration’s recertification process for Boeing’s 737 Max, following its grounding after two crashes in 2018 and 2019. Matthews has a master’s in public administration.

Matthews said he has great interest in serving on the House Transportation Committee, specifically its aviation subcommittee and — noting the difficulties that the FAA had in allowing Boeing greater oversight over the certification process for its aircraft — suggests that a third-party panel of experts assist the FAA in that process because of the technical complexity involved.

Matthews’ main concerns for the county include inflation, a looming economic recession and the flow of illegal immigration and drugs over the nation’s southern border. Yet, the problem that concerns him most, he said said, is the nation’s political division. On abortion, Matthews calls himself pro-life, but believes abortion will remain available in many states and wants to instead look to encouragement of adoption, including more federal support of that option to make abortions less frequent.

Matthews said he hopes to bring civility and statesmanship to Washington, D.C. Notably, Matthews is not among those Republicans running for state or national office who deny or question the legitimacy of the 2020 election and Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Matthews’ callback to the state’s more moderate Republicans is welcome, as would be his experience regarding aviation issues in a district where Boeing and aerospace remain significant to the region’s employment and the economy. But Larsen’s experience, knowledge and leadership in those areas and several others are ample grounds for his reelection.

With the advantage of a Democratic majority in the House since 2019 and in the Senate since 2021, recent years have been productive for Larsen and fellow Democrats, in particular the last two with passage of a major transportation and infrastructure package; the Inflation Reduction Act and its provisions for climate efforts and medical costs; and the American Rescue Plan, which included Larsen’s Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Act, which helped keep Boeing and other aviation workers employed as that sector continues to emerge from the covid downturn, protecting 30,000 jobs nationwide and 3,100 in Washington state.

Even so, just passing laws isn’t enough, Larsen said, and now they need to be implemented. Larsen, who, depending on party control of the House, hopes to serve either as chairman of the aviation subcommittee or as its ranking member.

In either capacity, Larsen expects to follow up on an FAA recertification reform bill that passed in 2020. More recently, the FAA issued its final rule and policy on changes to how the FAA delegates authority to manufacturers, including Boeing, on oversight of aircraft certification. The new rule brings back more oversight to FAA that had been shifted to manufacturers.

Long an advocate for transportation and a member of that committee, Larsen was a primary author of the transportation and infrastructure bill’s provisions regarding electric transit buses and ferries and now has work ahead to facilitate grants for both in his district and the rest of the state.

If Democrats revert to the minority in the House, Larsen said, the work of implementation of the infrastructure package may be more defensive for Democrats to protect those parts of the funding package that involve climate efforts and equity concerns, including projects that seek to reconnect minority communities that were literally divided decades ago by interstate highway projects.

Larsen also is a member of the Armed Services Committee, and will be working on implementation of the Pact Act, passed earlier this year, to assure health care services for veterans who contract cancer and other diseases related to burn pits and other toxic chemical exposure.

A supporter and advocate of his district’s military bases, specifically Naval Station Everett and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Larsen also has worked closely with the communities that host those bases and has sought to broker agreement between the Navy and citizen and environmental groups on Whidbey Island with concerns about an increase in the number and flights of the EA-18G Growler aircraft and their noise impacts.

Affordable housing ranks as another concern for Larsen, who wants to again put forward proposals from President Biden’s Build Back Better package that didn’t make it into the Inflation Reduction Act, including an expansion of current programs to aid housing efforts, looking, with a district now with large areas of rural communities, programs specifically intended for farm workers and rural communities.

Larsen supports access to abortion and will push for passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify the protections lost when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Larsen said he would take the lead from Washington state officials as to what the state will need to meet an expected influx of patients seeking abortion and related women’s heath care from states were access has been banned or limited.

The coming change for the district’s boundaries, will require a greater emphasis on the border with Canada for the district. While there’s much attention on the border with Mexico, Larsen noted that the northern border has its own issues with drugs, guns and human trafficking. Yet its a major trade corridor that needs attention after it was shut down during the pandemic. Larsen has been working with Amtrak and federal and Canadian officials to restore Amtrak service to Vancouver, B.C.

Despite polls that predict otherwise, Larsen isn’t conceding Democratic control of the House — “It keeps moving our way,” he said — but having served in the minority and the majority over his tenure, Larsen isn’t anticipating significant changes to how he operates; there are ways to get work done regardless. And that ebb and flow of control, Larsen said, is why he has worked to build relationships across the aisle.

One aspect of that relationship building, Larsen was primary sponsor for 16 pieces of legislation in the current term, eight of which have co-sponsors from both parties.

Larsen’s two decades in the House have allowed him to foster those relationships. As well, Larsen has used that tenure to develop a deep knowledge of government programs and how those can help his district’s constituents and communities get access to services for transportation, community development, disaster aid and preparedness and more. He and has staff already have been making plans on how best to serve a much larger district with new communities and constituencies to represent.

Regardless of changes to the district or to Congress, Larsen is best suited to the work ahead.

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