The choice for voters in the 2nd Congressional District in the Nov. 3 election is stark: A Democrat seeking his 11th term in the U.S. House vs. a Republican who is making his first run for elected office; and two candidates who hold opposing views on the role of government in addressing a range of issues, notably regarding the public health and economic response to the coronavirus pandemic and the future of Boeing in Everett and Washington state.
Washington’s 2nd Congressional District comprises all of San Juan and Island counties and the cities and communities along the I-5 corridor in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties from Bellingham to Brier.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Democrat, first won election to the district in 2000. An Everett resident, Larsen was born and raised in Arlington, and worked previously for the Port of Everett and served on the Snohomish County Council.
Larsen’s challenger is Republican Timothy Hazelo, an Oak Harbor resident, retired from a 20-year career with the U.S. Navy who now works as an aircrew trainer at Naval Air Station Whidbey and has previously worked as an aviation instructor and test technician for Boeing.
Hazelo, in a joint interview with The Herald Editorial Board, insisted he takes the threat posed by Covid-19 seriously, but said he wonders if “the cure” represented in the response by state and federal government has been worse than “the cancer.” Hazelo said he opposes the economic package passed by House Democrats in May as “pork,” and believes efforts should focus on restarting the economy.
Larsen, in contrast, said the public health response is key to the economic response, and has been adamant about the relief outlined in both the Cares Act, which passed Congress, and its follow-up, the Heroes Act, which passed the House, but was ignored by Senate Republicans. Larsen has defended the accomplishments of the Paycheck Protection Program, grants that overwhelmingly went to small businesses, even as larger corporations took advantage of the program.
“No, the L.A. Lakers didn’t need a PPP loan, and they got one,” Larsen admitted but said 85 percent of the loans went to small businesses, including many in Snohomish County, and were for amounts less than $150,000, money that kept businesses open and aided the local economy.
While the economy has improved, its progress has stagnated, Larsen said, and it will take more than declaring the nation open for business, which points to the need for further investments — as the Heroes Act would provide — to fund an extensive system of testing and tracing, protective equipment and treatments and vaccines.
The pandemic’s economic impacts, especially those for commercial airline travel, have raised new concerns for Washington state and Everett, specifically, as the Boeing Co. has seen demand drop for its jets. The result has been consideration by Boeing officials of consolidation of its 787 production lines, potentially moving all work to South Carolina.
Hazelo was skeptical of efforts to keep the 787 line in Everett. Critical of some of the tax breaks Boeing has received in the past, he maintains “government isn’t the answer for everything.”
“If I were Boeing and I was looking at the 787 line, I would question the viability of the Everett plant as well,” Hazelo said. He said the region can continue to count on other Boeing lines, such as the 737 and the 767 military tanker jets.
But the effort, now undertaken by Larsen and other officials, called the “Better with Boeing” campaign seems more about persuasion than corporate hand-outs. Larsen said he has made the point to Boeing officials that when commercial aviation does recover — perhaps in three to three and a half years — Boeing will need both lines and it could be less costly to keep both running rather than restarting a second line later. Adding strength to the argument is the presence here of a trained and experienced workforce, he said.
Larsen said he has cosponsored legislation — the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Act — that would use money already allocated in the Cares Act that could be used to keep aviation workers employed, as airliner workers were initially. Larsen also thinks there are opportunities to encourage commercial aviation by instituting a rapid-testing program for passengers and investing in improvements to disinfect jetliner cabins.
At the same time Larsen with others has pursued a House investigation of Boeing and Federal Aviation Administration oversight following the crashes of two 737 Max planes, that have grounded the airliner since 2019.
Larsen — who is a member of the House’s Armed Services and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, as well as a subcommittee on aviation for which he is chairman — has focused most of his sponsored legislation on the military and veterans and transportation issues. The BUILD Up Act, for example, could be vital to transportation projects in Snohomish County, requiring that 30 percent of funds from an earlier federal transportation program be allocated to communities of between 10,000 and 75,000 residents.
Larsen has been a advocate for the district’s two Navy bases — in Oak Harbor and Everett — but also for those communities. Larsen has worked to find resolution between Whidbey residents and the Navy regarding an increase in the number of EA-18G Growler jets based at NAS Whidbey. Larsen has also worked to encourage the U.S. Navy and the Trump administration to return an aircraft carrier to Naval Station Everett, further diversifying the county’s economy. The effort continues, even as the Navy has announced the homeporting of additional ships to the station.
Larsen’s outreach in his district also deserves recognition. Along with frequent visits to businesses, organizations, schools and more when not in Washington, D.C., Larsen has a record of responsive constituent services, particularly those for veterans.
With work ahead next year to rebuild the economy in the district, the state and the nation and make investments in transportation and other infrastructure, Larsen’s experience and acumen will be needed in both Washingtons.