Rick Larsen: The crosscurrents of our 'Salish Sea district' in Congress

Oct 17, 2016 Issues: Fighting for Workers, Climate Change, Energy, Jobs Labor and the Economy

Seattle PI: Rick Larsen: The crosscurrents of our 'Salish Sea district' in Congress
By Joel Connelly

BELLINGHAM -- Rick Larsen opposes building more nuclear weapons, advocates shifting oil and gas subsidies to renewable energy, and talks of Democrats' House floor sit-in protest when they were denied a vote on banning firearms sales to those on the federal no-fly list.

Larsen is a progressive congressman in Washington, D.C., yet has endured consistent opposition from far left activists of his own Democratic Party in his northwest Washington district.

He was booed by an anti-war crowd at the Whatcom County Courthouse less than a week before voting "no" on the Iraq War authorization. Three Democratic district organizations and the San Juan County Democrats endorsed Larsen's opponent Mike Lapointe in this year's August primary.

Outside a Saturday debate here, Occupy Bellingham activists carried a banner reading "TPP is Treason" and passed out leaflets reading "Stop the Corporate Death Star." Larsen has yet to commit himself for or against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Larsen has needed to show the patience of Job, a job made easier by his sense of humor. A decade ago, he used it to fend off a demand by party folk in Island County that House Democrats use their newly won House majority to impeach President Bush.

Everett coffee show owner Lapointe ran as a candidate of "the 99 percent" in the August primary. He barely topped 9 percent, garnering only 14,697 votes to more than 71,000 for Larsen.

Larsen is facing off in November against Republican Marc Hennemann, a former teacher and Camano Island resident. The 2nd District used to be a swing constituency, but was swung toward the Democrats in the last redistricting.

It's a "Salish Sea district." The 2nd hugs the coast from Bellingham to Edmonds, and takes in the San Juan Islands as well as Whidbey, Camano and Fidalgo Islands.

Hennemann is a challenger of sharp opinions, not polished by any political consultant.

He described the Democrats' House floor sit-in as "treating the floor of the House like it was a 1960's college dean's office." He denounces the new Department of Ecology rules that would make the state's major polluters cut their carbon emissions.

"This is nothing but Gov. Inslee trying to go around the Legislature: To me, this is a banana republic in Washington State," he told the forum here.

Hennemann takes one stand sure to please Larsen's critics on the left.  He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a "job killer."

Opponents have challenged members of Congress to read the TPP. Larsen is taking flak for doing just that.  So far, he pronounces its environmental and labor safeguards "very strong." He is having problems with its dispute settlement mechanisms."

Given his district, Larsen needs to be on his toes. In 2009, he faced an Everett stadium filled with Tea Party backers on the right, and liberal/labor folk on the left. The congressman eased tension by having everybody stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

If reelected, Larsen will have an interesting time of it in his ninth term.

The 2nd District is home to four northern Puget Sound refineries, source of more than 1,100 family wage union jobs. Whatcom County unions and businesses wanted the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, killed by opposition from the Lummi Indians.

At the same time, Larsen's district is filled with greens, who are demanding a transition away from the carbon economy. They have fought against oil trains and coal ports, and anything to do with burning or exporting fossil fuels.

Larsen campaigned to get President Obama to designate a San Juan Islands National Monument, kayaking around Iceberg Point on Lopez Island during celebrations after Obama came through.

And Larsen is doing his usual defusing, working for rules that would limit explosive vapors in oil train cars.

Not enough, he will hear at town meetings. After all, a predecessor in the 2nd District, Rep. Al Swift, once quipped: "My district contains every problem known to humankind, with the possible exception of wheat rust."