Kim Schrier debates Matt Larkin at Central Washington University
United States Representative Kim Schrier debates Matt Larkin at Central Washington University in Ellensburg before an in-person audience at McConnell Hall (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er, D‑Washington, an Issaquah pedi­a­tri­cian before going to Con­gress, took along a physician’s reas­sur­ing bed­side man­ner to her first and only debate with Repub­li­can chal­lenger Matt Larkin.

The debate, at Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in Ellens­burg, saw Schri­er stress bipar­ti­san work in a polar­ized Wash­ing­ton, D.C., themes designed to appeal in a “swing” Eighth Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. Larkin pound­ed at themes of omnipresent tele­vi­sion spots being run by Repub­li­cans’ House lead­er­ship, that Schri­er votes with House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi and Pres­i­dent Joe Biden almost all the time.

Cit­ing ris­ing rates of crime and drug abuse, Larkin vot­ed to “roll up my sleeves on day one and get things under con­trol” if elect­ed. Schri­er coun­tered: “He is not rolling up his sleeves to work togeth­er. He is rolling up his sleeves to do battle.”

The debate took place hours after an inva­sion at the House Speaker’s San Fran­cis­co home by an intrud­er who assault­ed her spouse Paul Pelosi with a ham­mer. He was look­ing for the Speak­er. “This (assault) is emblem­at­ic at what is wrong with this coun­try, so much hate, so much vit­ri­ol,” said Schrier.

Larkin offered his “hearts and prayers” for the Pelosi family.

He agreed on the country’s harsh polit­i­cal cli­mate, but sought to spread the blame, echo­ing almost word for word com­ments that Schri­er had just made moments before: “Look, I think we need to tone down the vol­ume right now.”

Larkin added: “We have rhetoric out of con­trol and both par­ties are to blame.”

But Schri­er argued there is one cen­tral source of blame. Don­ald Trump “has the biggest mega­phone in the coun­try,” she said, and is using it for “tug­ging at the under­pin­nings of democ­ra­cy (which risks) democ­ra­cy falling apart.”

U.S. Representative Kim Schrier, D-Washington
Demo­c­ra­t­ic Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er at the 2022 U.S. House debate in Ellens­burg (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The Eighth District’s res­i­dents dri­ve long dis­tances – Stevens, Blewett and Sno­qualmie Pass­es are in the dis­trict – and the can­di­dates were asked to dis­cuss gas prices.

Larkin blamed the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion for alleged­ly dis­cour­ag­ing new oil explo­ration and pipeline construction.

Schri­er argued that gas and oil com­pa­nies (like Shell) are mak­ing record prof­its and it is Con­gress’ job to “crack down” on price gouging.

“Price goug­ing is not the issue when it comes to ener­gy,” retort­ed Larkin.

Larkin strug­gled on sev­er­al fronts. He told The Her­ald of Everett this week that the state’s min­i­mum wage, set to go to $15.74 in Jan­u­ary, should be clos­er to the $7.25 an hour fed­er­al min­i­mum wage, which Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., refuse to raise. Should we heed Larkin’s coun­sel, asked Schri­er, “at a time when Amer­i­cans are hav­ing trou­ble afford­ing everything.”

Asked how he would cut the bud­get, Larkin said he would be “look­ing at every­thing, line by line.” He tried to put dis­tance from the spec­u­la­tion that Repub­li­cans, if they run Con­gress next year, will hold the bud­get hostage for cuts in social pro­grams.  “I’m not going to cut vet­er­ans ben­e­fits, peri­od,” said Larkin.  “I am not going to cut Medicare, Med­ic­aid and Social Security.”

Schri­er is the only pedi­a­tri­cian in the House. She is dia­bet­ic and has made drug prices a major item of con­cern. Con­gress and the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion have deliv­ered. The recent­ly passed Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act put a $35 cap on seniors’ month­ly insulin bills – Repub­li­cans blocked a cap for all Amer­i­cans – and gave Medicare author­i­ty to nego­ti­ate drug prices with Big Pharma.

Larkin said Amer­i­ca has devel­oped the best med­i­cines in the world and cit­ed the case of a fam­i­ly mem­ber brought back from severe illness.

“Mr. Larkin, even the best med­ica­tions out there won’t help you if you can’t afford them,” Schri­er countered.

Larkin is in lock step with themes pushed nation­al­ly by Repub­li­cans, notably out-of-con­trol migra­tion at the South­ern bor­der and fen­tanyl flow­ing across that bor­der and killing Amer­i­cans. “These are scary times,” he said. “We need to enforce the laws on the books and put peo­ples’ feet to the fire.”

Schri­er has crit­i­cized the admin­is­tra­tion, say­ing again dur­ing the debate that the influx at the bor­der is “total­ly unacceptable.”

She argued that the admin­is­tra­tion should put in place a “humane sys­tem of immi­gra­tion” in which asy­lum seek­ers get a quick deci­sion, but the real answer will only come when com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform pass­es Con­gress. A Sen­ate-passed bill was blocked by House Repub­li­cans in 2013.

Larkin resort­ed to gen­er­al­i­ties on sev­er­al fronts, on gas prices – “We need to do some­thing about it” – on crime – “Peo­ple are scared to go into their com­mu­ni­ties, their parks” – and even on abortion.

“I am not going back to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to push an abor­tion ban,” he said.

Larkin voiced strong anti-abor­tion views in pre-August debates, tak­ing a no-exemp­tions posi­tion that does not sup­port ter­mi­nat­ing preg­nan­cies even in cas­es of rape and incest. He has fudged the issue in the gen­er­al elec­tion, and said last night: “Noth­ing is chang­ing in Wash­ing­ton State,” despite the Supreme Court’s Dobbs deci­sion that over­ruled Roe v. Wade and opened the door to a nation­wide abor­tion ban as well as the prospect of a ban on contraception.

Schri­er brought up leg­is­la­tion, intro­duced recent­ly by Sen­a­tor Lind­say Gra­ham, R‑South Car­oli­na, that would insti­tute a nation­wide ban after fif­teen weeks of preg­nan­cy. “Such a ban would affect us here in Wash­ing­ton state,” Schri­er point­ed out. “A nation­al ban would over­ride the pro­tec­tions in this state.”

Republican congressional candidate Matt Larkin
Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al can­di­date Matt Larkin at the 2022 U.S. House debate in Ellens­burg (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Larkin tried to argue that Schrier’s posi­tion is “extreme,” that she sup­ports late term abor­tion for any rea­son. “Gen­der selec­tion could be a rea­son,” sug­gest­ing a cou­ple want­i­ng to ter­mi­nate a preg­nan­cy at the verge of birth when they dis­cov­er it’s a girl. His com­ments pro­voked laugh­ter from the audience.

“Mr. Larkin is mak­ing things up and talk­ing about some­thing no woman and physi­cian would do,” said Schrier.

Look­ing at the evening, Schri­er suc­ceed­ed in defin­ing her­self as an inde­pen­dent thinker, a House mem­ber who works dis­trict issues and is “find­ing part­ners in both par­ties” to solve prob­lems. She is engag­ing, and a vet­er­an of nine­ty-eight town meet­ings dur­ing four years in Congress.

Larkin ran a law-and-order cam­paign against Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son in 2020. He took 43.67% of the vote, but nar­row­ly car­ried the Eighth Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict (as did guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Loren Culp). Larkin is fix­at­ed on the same theme this year, unveil­ing on Fox the slo­gan: “Make Crime Ille­gal Again.”

He is sup­port­ed to a mas­sive extent by nation­al Repub­li­can mon­ey, while the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has boost­ed Schri­er with spots defin­ing Larkin as an ogre and link­ing him to extrem­ist Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene, who holds a House seat from one of the red­dest parts of Georgia.

Larkin is genial and pleas­ant, a far cry from the stri­dent Greene. He evinces a gen­uine love for the state, even while claim­ing he no longer rec­og­nizes it.

He has, how­ev­er, failed to think through issues he will be fac­ing if elect­ed to rep­re­sent the one U.S. House dis­trict that cross­es the “Cas­cade Curtain.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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