Marie Gluesenkamp Perez versus Joe Kent: September 27th debate
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez versus Joe Kent: September 27th debate

Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gres­sion­al hope­ful Marie Glue­senkamp Perez and her ultra MAGA Repub­li­can rival Joe Kent kicked off the final phase of a hard-fought midterm elec­tion cycle this evening, spar­ring for about nine­ty min­utes over immi­gra­tion, cost of liv­ing, eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty, health­care, envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, for­eign pol­i­cy, and fit­ness for office at a livestreamed debate host­ed by RV INN Style Resorts.

Seat­ed behind long tables on a stage with a bright­ly illu­mi­nat­ed floor, the can­di­dates dis­cussed their own lived expe­ri­ences and pitched their ideas for the coun­try when they weren’t harsh­ly crit­i­ciz­ing each other.

The debate was well mod­er­at­ed, with short and sim­ple ques­tions, rebut­tal time pru­dent­ly pre-allot­ted for every exchange, and time lim­its con­sis­tent­ly enforced.

Glue­senkamp Perez, a small busi­ness own­er, skill­ful­ly and effec­tive­ly used her expe­ri­ence as the own­er of an auto repair shop through­out the debate to relate to peo­ple in the audi­ence and invite them to relate to her, while Kent leaned hard into right wing pop­ulist rhetoric in an attempt to make his mil­i­tant, dan­ger­ous ultra MAGA beliefs sound as appeal­ing and main­stream as possible.

Ken­t’s extrem­ism and embrace of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries was on full dis­play dur­ing the seg­ment of the debate focus­ing on the Amer­i­ca’s response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. That was when he false­ly char­ac­ter­ized the COVID-19 vac­cines as “exper­i­men­tal gene ther­a­py” (the vac­cines are not a form of gene ther­a­py).

Kent did­n’t stop there.

“Antho­ny Fau­ci [the direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases and the Chief Med­ical Advi­sor to the Pres­i­dent] and a lot of his under­lings were run­ning amok as unelect­ed bureau­crats, fund­ing gain-of-func­tion research under the nose of our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” Kent fumed.

“They were fund­ing the very same peo­ple who cooked up the COVID-19 virus in the Wuhan Insti­tute and Fau­ci must be held account­able for that.”

“Does any­one else feel like they just spent a month on YouTube?” Glue­senkamp Perez retort­ed when it was her turn to speak. “And that’s what we’re sign­ing up for with Joe Kent. He thinks he can raise a lot of mon­ey say­ing stuff like this.”

“And maybe he can, but he’s doing noth­ing to heal our country.”

Glue­senkamp Perez neat­ly bal­anced rejoin­ders like that with sto­ries of try­ing to apply for a loan with the Small Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, try­ing to find health­care for her employ­ees, and replac­ing repeat­ed­ly bro­ken win­dows as she artic­u­lat­ed her pri­or­i­ties for the coun­try’s future and vision for South­west Washington.

Lat­er on in the debate, hav­ing seem­ing­ly grown exas­per­at­ed with debat­ing an oppo­nent who owns a small busi­ness and lives in a rur­al com­mu­ni­ty in the dis­trict, Kent incor­rect­ly described Glue­senkamp Perez’s busi­ness as an auto body shop. She slipped a delight­ful rejoin­der into her rebut­tal time, explain­ing she co-owns an “auto shop, not a body shop… we fix things, we don’t make ’em pretty.”

Even after being cor­rect­ed, Kent per­sist­ed in call­ing her busi­ness a body shop.

Kent repeat­ed­ly reached for Trump’s great­est hits play­book when asked for his own posi­tions on the issues. He engaged in round after round of hyper­bol­ic Biden and Pelosi bash­ing, declared Democ­rats to be in league with Wall Street (even though Repub­li­cans, dur­ing Don­ald Trump’s regime, were respon­si­ble for the big tax give­away to Wall Street and the ultra­wealthy five years ago), and tried to project his own extrem­ism onto Glue­senkamp Perez and her supporters.

Glue­senkamp Perez, mean­while, made sure to bring up Ken­t’s fright­en­ing posi­tion on repro­duc­tive rights even though the debate orga­niz­ers did not allo­cate time to dis­cuss the top­ic. In one of her strongest moments, she told the audience:

“Joe Kent sup­ports a nation­al ban on abor­tion with­out an excep­tion for rape, incest, [or] the life of the moth­er, despite the fact that peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton State have been very, very clear that we sup­port the right of women to choose… He has said he’s going to over­ride the will of the states and impose fed­er­al pol­i­cy on us — and women will die because of it. It is not your place, Joe, to tell women to car­ry a baby to term. It is a slap in the face. You are not in charge.”

She was also ready to respond after Kent fired off his we need law and order  bom­bast in response to a ques­tion about pub­lic safety.

“Joe Kent wants to defund the FBI,” Glue­senkamp Perez point­ed out.

“He wants to excuse away vio­lent peo­ple at the Capi­tol who attacked the Capi­tol and attacked the police who were defend­ing the Capi­tol. He does­n’t think they should be pros­e­cut­ed. He calls them polit­i­cal prisoners.”

“She thinks I’m an extrem­ist,” Kent observed a few min­utes later.

In an attempt to make anoth­er of his extrem­ist posi­tions defen­si­ble, Kent offered a curi­ous ratio­nale for reject­ing any and all gun safe­ty laws, warning:

“You need to have that check on any kind of crazy author­i­tar­i­an, which is what you guys [Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers, Glue­senkamp Perez sup­port­ers] think we [the ultra MAGA fac­tion] are. Any kind of author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies that we have, we have to have the abil­i­ty to have our gov­ern­ment have a healthy fear of us, or we’re gonna end up like the Cana­di­ans or like the Australians.”

Cana­da and Aus­tralia, of course, are advanced, pros­per­ous democ­ra­cies with far few­er gun deaths than the Unit­ed States. Mass shoot­ings are com­mon here but not there, because they have sen­si­ble gun safe­ty laws and we don’t.

In anoth­er mem­o­rable moment, Kent spoke favor­ably of U.S. Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont and expressed a desire to see the pop­ulist left grow stronger.

“There used to be some bipar­ti­san con­sen­sus with the pop­ulist left that we did­n’t need to be in end­less for­eign inter­ven­tions, that we need­ed to bring back our man­u­fac­tur­ing lines, that we need­ed to have a tight labor mar­ket,” Kent said, reply­ing to a ques­tion about work­ing across the aisle.

“Bernie Sanders used to talk about this stuff all the time,” Kent continued.

“The prob­lem is the pop­ulist left was con­sumed by Wall Street Democ­rats who now con­trol their entire par­ty. So I would love to rekin­dle the pop­ulist left so we could have some con­sen­sus on not get­ting involved in end­less for­eign wars, secur­ing our bor­ders and bring­ing back our manufacturing.”

Sen­a­tor Sanders, of course, is one of the most con­sis­tent and prin­ci­pled mem­bers of Con­gress. As any­one who fol­lows his work is aware, Sanders has not stopped talk­ing about the themes that he ran on in either 2016 or 2020. And the move­ment that orga­nized around his can­di­da­cy is hard­ly inac­tive. Peo­ple in pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics are work­ing every day to defend Amer­i­can democracy.

Oth­er well known Democ­rats, mean­while, are among the most dis­liked mem­bers of Con­gress on Wall Street, espe­cial­ly Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren, whose 2020 cam­paign for Pres­i­dent spooked many Streeters. Their active lead­er­ship in Con­gress belies the false notion that Wall Street con­trols the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

The War­ren wing’s influ­ence can be seen in the par­ty’s recent leg­isla­tive and pol­i­cy wins. For exam­ple, the recent­ly enact­ed Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act — which Kent assailed as bad pol­i­cy dur­ing the debate — raised tax­es on the coun­try’s biggest cor­po­ra­tions, not some­thing Wall Street want­ed and not some­thing that any Repub­li­can Con­gress going back decades has been will­ing to do.

The Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion’s empow­er­ing stu­dent debt relief plan, which will help mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, would not have hap­pened with­out the pas­sion­ate advo­ca­cy of Sen­a­tor War­ren and the War­ren wing either.

And, with respect to avoid­ing end­less for­eign wars, it must be not­ed that a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pres­i­dent made the deci­sion to with­draw from Afghanistan and take the heat for the inevitable fall­out. When talk­ing about Afghanistan, Kent likes to blast Biden for how the with­draw­al was imple­ment­ed with­out giv­ing Biden any cred­it what­so­ev­er for hav­ing got­ten it done, some­thing his idol Don­ald Trump did not man­age to do dur­ing his time in the Oval Office.

The debate end­ed with two very dif­fer­ent clos­ing statements.

Glue­senkamp Perez told those watch­ing she wants to be a prob­lem solver, reject­ing extrem­ism and divi­sive­ness. “We do not have enough peo­ple in Con­gress who believe in fix­ing things, who believe in work­ing across the aisle,” she said.

“I am not your typ­i­cal can­di­date for Con­gress. I am def­i­nite­ly not a typ­i­cal Demo­c­ra­t­ic [can­di­date], and I am so grate­ful to have the sup­port of so many inde­pen­dents and Repub­li­cans who are putting patri­o­tism above par­ti­san­ship because that is the only way we are gonna get out of this mess.”

“We can’t have two more years of just anoth­er vote for Nan­cy Pelosi and for Joe Biden,” Kent said when it was his turn. (He name checked Pelosi and Biden more than once.) “I’m going there to pro­vide a check and a bal­ance on that agenda.”

The duel­ing can­di­dates briefly greet­ed each oth­er onstage before going their sep­a­rate ways. They are slat­ed to debate again next month.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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