Contributed Photo | Town Hall Meeting at the Eastsound Firehall

Contributed Photo | Town Hall Meeting at the Eastsound Firehall

Rick Larsen: Dad Joke King

A wide range of topics were covered by U.S. Rep Rick Larsen (WA-02) during his most recent community town hall meeting on Orcas Island.

Most notably, the Congressman alluded to the fact that contacting State Representatives regarding issues that matter to you and your community actually works to influence voting decisions.

Larsen is visiting his home state for a little over a week from Washington DC for a district work period.

Over the course of two hours, he addressed topics ranging from campaign financing to his stance on the breaching of the Lower River Snake Dams to legislative response to the Boeing 747 MAX crashes to the urgency of the devastating proposed Pebble Mine to how he hopes to help the environment – without the Green New Deal. He started off the discussion detailing the work his office has tackled over the last year and concluded the day with a visit to the Olga Store with new nonprofit owners Friends of the Olga Store.

According to Larsen, over the last year 400 pieces of legislation have passed through the House of Representatives of which 300 failed to move in the Senate. A few highlights of legislation that have passed include strengthening voting rights, comprehensive gun reform, lower prices for prescription drugs both in Medicare and in the private sector, infrastructure repair, and strengthening the Affordable Care Act.

Repeatedly during the meeting, Larsen directed attendees to his voting record to synthesize his stance on key issues. Most recently, he said, he voted to eliminate the deadline for states to validate and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, Larsen expressed that contrary to popular belief, he voted for the sixth time to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force approved 18 years ago which is still being used for sending troops to Iran.

Locally, Larsen supported the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019,” which he says will benefit “630,000 people in my district.” In particular, he said, it is a win for diabetics and the insulin monopoly. The bill requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate prices for certain drugs. Since 2003, the law prohibited the CMS from doing so.

These were just a few touchstones of Larsen’s last year at work and travel. A full briefing of Larsen’s introductory year-in-review at the Orcas Island Firehall on Feb. 17 can be read here. Over the next hour and forty-five minutes, he fielded questions from constituents, starting with a reminder that he has not been in support of the removal of the Lower Snake River Dams.

“There are alternative solutions that are probably cheaper than breaching the dams and will probably take less time,” he said. “Based on the Elwha dam removal project in our state, it looks like you’re talking at least a decade and a half to get rid of dams. At that point, you’ve already lost the race to save the salmon.”

He’s referring to the growing state and national case for the removal of four dams along Columbia River’s longest tributary, the Snake River. One person in the crowd reminded Larsen that OPALCO, who was originally against the dam removal, has reversed their decision. Larsen cited his work to “save the Orcas,” saying habitat restoration for Chinook salmon is paramount, but that because there are looming complexities and cost he doesn’t believe it’s the most urgent response tactic to the issue.

Postulating what the orcas think, Larsen said, “They live in my district, but they aren’t voters. I’m not sure how they would vote. Things are pretty black and white to those guys,” and the audience laughed.

Campaign Financing

Two different people at the meeting pressed Larsen on how campaign funds of large amounts influence his voting decisions, to which he responded they don’t, saying it’s a farce when his opponents say they refuse to accept any PAC money. He added the bigger challenge at present is the anti-transparency Citizens United decision, which allows undisclosed, unlimited amounts of money in campaigns.

Larsen said he gathers information from different sources to make a decision on how to vote much the same way you would make gumbo. In other words, he sources all he can and hopes his voting decision is a good one.

“There are rare circumstances where there is a prevailing sentiment on an issue in my district. For instance, if I get 150 to 200 letters, emails or calls to my office on one issue, that’s a lot. I represent 750,000 people. So hearing from 200 people on any one issue is actually relatively a lot of people to hear from, he said, later adding, “I certainly look at what people are saying. I look at non-partisan resources like the Congressional Research Service through the Library of Congress. I try to get a technical review of an issue. I receive information from County officials who bring issues to my table. There are small companies and big companies that are run by people who live in my district who might have an issue to discuss. Boeing isn’t in my district, but 20,000 women and men who work there do.”

Boeing 747 MAX Crashes

In response to what regulatory and legislative fixes can be done to prevent airplane crashes in the future, Larsen said he believes after five committee hearings that a fairly thorough investigation has been conducted.

Two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max that killed 346 people led to an indefinite grounding of the aircraft and the subsequent firing of Boeing’s CEO. Larsen said that while the conclusion on what to do in response remains unclear, the Federal Aviation Administration will certainly have heightened delegation authority over their industry partners, not limited to Boeing. He believes, additionally, updated safety culture is necessary as aircraft move from machinery to automation.

“We’re looking at ideas. One idea is that early on, taxpayers fund the FAA to oversee safety and design standards and have intermittent interventions throughout the design process,” he said. “The second idea would be to put into law a requirement that the FAA assess every MAX before it flies.”

Pebble Mine Proposal

One of the biggest concerns was raised by Andrew Nason and Brendan Flynn, two fishermen from Lopez Island regarding the Alaskan Pebble Mine Proposal. Nason and Flynn, who is part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, presented concerns regarding the current administration’s green-lighting of this project that would desecrate “the last great place in the world for salmon” as climate change continues to push ocean productivity north.

A multi-national mining corporation headquartered in Canada has proposed over the last decade to dig an earthen dam and mine at a mineral deposit site just upriver from Bristol Bay in Dillingham, Alaska. Bristol Bay sockeye fishery is the largest and arguably most sustainable and final sockeye fishery in the world, producing 40 to 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon. Because of the geography and environment in the area and because it’s a long-term, sustainable fishery that puts people to work, Larsen said it “needs to be preserved.”

“I will assure you that I will continue to do what I can,” Larsen said, adding the opposition to the proposal is currently being led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA). “A lot of people criticize me for being friends with Don Young, a Republican Rep. from Alaska, but someone’s got to go and talk to this guy. Don’t put those fish in danger. Don’t put those jobs in danger. It’s not worth it.”

This proposal affects hundreds of people in Larsen’s district, including friends he went to high school with he said.