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OLF key issue in congressional race
The Navy’s use of Outlying Field Coupeville to train the EA-18G Growlers is a critical topic for this year’s congressional primary, which ends Aug. 5.
Coupeville-based group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, has been openly critical of sitting Congressman Rick Larsen and his support of the Navy. COER maintains the flight training in Coupeville poses health risks. Larsen’s two challengers take opposite stands on the issue.
Larsen, a Democrat, said he’ll continue to support use of OLF by the Growlers stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
“I support keeping it open and I support the Growlers,” Larsen said. “I’ve been a strong supporter of the Navy and it’s been a huge economic driver for North Whidbey.”
COER, however, maintains that the noise from the Growlers pose health risks.
“I understand where people are coming from, which is why me and my staff spent a lot of time getting the Navy to listen to people and their concerns and try to be responsive as an elected official,” Larsen said. “Opponents will conclude from this that I’m not listening.
“Just because I disagree doesn’t mean I’m not listening. From my outreach, I believe there is strong local support to close OLF, but it’s not the majority.”
Independent challenger and Occupy organizer Mike Lapointe said Larsen has not been responsive enough to those concerned about the Growlers.
Lapointe, who grew up near Westfield-Barnes Airport in Massachusetts, said he experienced similar jet noise.
COER sued the Navy last year, demanding an environmental study on the Growlers. COER members appear to be throwing their support behind Lapointe on their blog.
“I can relate to their problem,” said Lapointe in a phone interview.
“I don’t understand how this can be mitigated. The Navy has been non-responsive. … We shouldn’t have to be suing our own government to get some response.”
Larsen’s Republican opponent, computer programmer BJ Guillot, said closure of OLF and rebasing of the Growlers would hurt North Whidbey.
“I think it would be devastating to the local economy if the Growlers aren’t able to fly,” Guillot said. “I’m not in favor of closing the OLF.”
Guillot said, though, he’d be willing to listen to COER and other concerned residents.
Larsen conceded that the last federal budget cycle, marked with party politics and delays, “politically didn’t go well for anyone.”
However, he said he hopes the response from constituents and the legislator frustration with the process has created a “self-enforcement mechanism” that will improve things moving forward.
Larsen said he’s aware that the threat of sequestration is frustrating for the federal employees in Oak Harbor.
“We need to do everything we can to avoid that,” Larsen said. “We still have structural budget problems and we need a balanced deficit reduction plan but not at the cost of the things we need.”
Lapointe calls the last budget cycle “pathetic.”
“It’s an obvious symptom of what happens when the government has been taken over by corporate interests,” he said.
Lapointe said he will “raise holy hell” to make sure the people have a place at the table.
“There’s something wrong ... when elected officials can’t do what is wanted by 85 percent of their constituents.”
Guillot said that while he supports a balanced budget amendment, he believes that Congress needs to “come together and compromise.”
“The two sides are polar opposites,” Guillot said. “We need to come up with some compromised decisions.”
Larsen said Congress needs to find a long-term, sustainable solution for the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. He said transportation funding also helps the economy and creates jobs.
“There is a federal role in transportation,” Larsen said. “Island County cannot meet all their transportation needs and we need to support that.”
Lapointe said he’s noticed an upsetting decline in funding for transportation in recent years.
“Now bridges are falling into the water and no one is doing anything about it,” he said.
Lapointe said he would make concessions when necessary to ensure that the country’s priorities like transportation are funded.
Guillot said the country needs to look at how to fund transportation projects but will not support any type of gas tax because gas is already too expensive.
“We do have a crumbling infrastructure and we need to come up with a way to fix these things,” Guillot said.
Larsen said he continues to support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and that adjustments can be made “as we go along.”
While the measure has increased access to healthcare and reduced the cost of prescriptions for seniors, additional changes can and should be made, Larsen said.
Lapointe said Obamacare is “ridiculous,” although it “obviously does some good things.”
“What it does not do is get the insurance companies out of the equation,” Lapointe said.
Lapointe said he’d favor a “Medicaid for all” type plan nationwide.
Obamacare should be repealed, according to Guillot, although he said there are a few things within it he’d like to retain. Guillot supports children staying on parental insurance until the age of the 26 and not preventing insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Larsen said it’s a “tragedy” that the GOP has recently refused to look at immigration reform this year.
“There are people in our communities who live in the shadows,” Larsen said. “We need to have a pathway to an earned citizenship.”
Lapointe said he’s in favor of granting amnesty to existing illegal immigrants and simplifying the path to citizenship in the future.
“We’re all immigrants,” Lapointe said. “Immigrants add to our economy and help build it.”
Guillot, whose wife is a legal immigrant, said he believes its important to enforce the existing laws for the sake of those who have gone to the trouble of becoming legal.
That said, the existing process is inefficient and “should be sped up a bit,” Guillot said.