Commentary: My conversation with congressional candidate Joe Kent, part two


At the request of a writer friend, I met with Third District congressional candidate Republican Joe Kent last month and asked him questions about his political beliefs. He answered with confidence, although I didn’t always agree with his perspective.

So who is Kent supporting in the 2024 presidential election? 

Donald Trump, or whoever the Republican nominee is.

Why support Trump?

“Past performance,” said Kent, 43, of Yacolt. “I mean, really, especially with foreign policy, not getting us into any new conflicts, using the full scope of American power, especially our strong economy, energy independence, to not just put our country first but also to use that as a tool of foreign policy as opposed to just relying on the military.

“He really took away from Putin’s bottom line and his ability to conduct an operation into Ukraine. And he was trying to get us out of the Middle East, and that’s why I became a Trump supporter, because Trump went after the Bush neoconservative ideology. Had he not come along, I don’t think we would have had this revolution in the way we think about foreign policy on the Republican side.”

Polls put Trump ahead of all the other Republican contenders, which means if he is nominated, I may have to vote for the Democrat again — just to keep a dangerous man out of office. However, I’d likely vote for a different Republican candidate simply because my political views align more closely with conservatives.

After Kent graciously addressed each of my questions, a friend who accompanied me noted that he’s extremely confident, cute as a button and dead wrong on many issues.

I asked him about extremist groups like QAnon (“I didn’t know what QAnon was until after Jan. 6, to be honest”) and the Proud Boys (“I don’t even know what the Proud Boys are”), whether he truly believes the COVID-19 vaccine was “experimental gene therapy” (he does), and whether his election for Congress last year was stolen.

“I conceded,” he said. 

After a recount, I noted. Democrat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez defeated him in the November 2022 election by 2,629 votes. I told him people I know who have worked in county elections offices —  like Lewis County Auditor Larry Grove — have integrity and don’t deserve to be maligned simply because a candidate loses an election.

Kent mentioned issues in Clark County with voter signature verification and complaints about the lack of an election audit and premature disposal of ballots. “I think Republicans have a lot of work to do with ballot harvesting,” he said. “I think we messed up as a party by urging people just to vote on Election Day. I think we should work on capitalizing on the full voting period.”

I asked what he thought of former 3rd District U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican whom I admired for her dedication to the district and especially for her gutsy vote to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riots, despite the political risks to her position.

Kent said she did all right for the district but added, “I think where she kind of messed up is not coming back. She went six years without doing an in-person town hall and being accessible to people.”

“I think the only reason you beat her is because she voted to impeach Trump,” I said.

“That’s the only reason she was in play,” he responded. “I think that’s the only reason she was primaried.” 

But Kent noted that 4th District U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, also voted to impeach the former president yet won re-election. 

“I’ve been doing Republican events with Dan Newhouse where Dan Newhouse stands on stage and answers questions, right? Even hard questions. You’ve got to show up, and you’ve got to engage with people.”

I remember criticism lobbied against former 3rd District U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat, when he refused to do in-person town hall meetings in the summer of 2009 because of what he described as a “lynch-mob mentality.” He had held 305 in-person town halls during the previous 11 years as the district’s representative. But then he opted for town halls on the phone, which Herrera Beutler also used.

Baird’s concerns about protests reaching a “dangerous” hostile new level of political discourse were  proven correct. In January 2011, Arizona’s 8th District U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat first elected in 2007, was shot in the head during a public event for constituents to meet their representative. The attempted assassination took place outside a Safeway in a Tucson suburb, where a 22-year-old man armed with a 9mm pistol shot 19 people, killing six, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Herrera Beutler took office five days before the attack on Giffords, which may in part explain why she relied on tele-town halls instead of in-person events. I participated in those occasionally; my writer friend Republican Kyle Pratt of Napavine, although invited, said he never did engage.

Kent promised direct access to voters if elected to represent the 3rd District.

I’d read that Kent didn’t believe in bringing home “pork” to the district, but why would we elect a representative to Washington, D.C., who won’t advocate for federal funding of our projects?

“I criticized Jaime and others for omnibus spending,” Kent said. “I think we need to put a stop to that.”

Omnibus spending puts funding for many pet projects into one bill, so congressional representatives must approve the entire large package to receive funding for their districts.

“That’s why when Nancy Pelosi said you have to vote for it to see what’s in it, she wasn’t lying because they dropped the 5,000-page bill on her desk,” Kent said. “I’m 100% against that. We just simply cannot do that anymore.”

The Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver needs to be retrofitted for resilience in an earthquake, and during the campaign, Kent promoted construction of a third bridge over the Columbia River west of I-5 to reach Portland’s western suburbs like Beaverton, Tigard and Hillsboro. 

“I believe that should be a standalone bill, and the federal government should be picking up the entire thing,” he said. “It’s a bridge that connects two states.”

That makes sense to me.

Gluesenkamp Perez supported replacing the existing bridge and adding light rail, but Kent noted Clark County voters have previously rejected ballot referendums on light rail. 

“That would take downtown Portland and it would put it right in Vancouver, and who wants that?” Kent said. “And it wouldn’t stop there. They would keep that light rail going until it connected to Olympia and Seattle, so it’d be like downtown Chicago.”

Gluesenkamp Perez said tolls on the bridge are inevitable to pay for its construction; Kent opposed such tolls.

I asked what he thought of Gluesenkamp Perez’s performance as representative so far.

“Marie’s voted to keep our troops in Syria,” he said. “She’s voted for continuing to send billions of dollars to Ukraine.”

Kent contends she has no idea how to understand the trillion-dollar-plus National Defense Authorization Act. “We send billions of dollars, but then we’re scraping and competing and arguing over table scraps here for our own people,” he said.

“Do you oppose any support for Ukraine?” I asked.

“We need to put every effort into getting people to the negotiating table and stopping the killing,” Kent said.

I pointed out that Russia started the killing by invading Ukraine.

“But we didn’t look at the root causes. Why did Putin do that? Because we continue to expand NATO up onto Russia’s borders, and we’ve been doing that ever since the end of the Cold War. That’s a provocation against Russia.”

Then Putin’s invasion of Ukraine backfired, I said. Both Finland and Sweden, which had refrained from joining NATO, have now done so. Ukraine didn’t join NATO to avoid irritating Russia, and it did that country no good.

“We’ve had this very aggressive posture toward Russia,” Kent said.

“So is Putin wrong for going into Ukraine?”

“Of course he is,” Kent said. “You shouldn’t start killing.”

But, he added, it’s important to bring people to the negotiating table.

“It’s simply not going well for Ukraine,” Kent said. “I mean, all you have to do is look at a map. Ukraine is small, Russia’s big. This is an existential threat to Russia, so Russia will, in some way, shape or form, win. Ukraine’s only play right now is to get us and NATO involved in this conflict. And for what? What’s the purpose of us getting involved in European conflicts?”

“So you’re kind of just basically writing off Ukraine, giving it to Russia?”

“No, I’m saying get to the negotiating table,” Kent said. “What those two Slavic cousins work out about their own border, that’s not for us to decide. When we formed America, we got out of the business of drawing lines in the sand in other people’s countries. That’s what our Founding Fathers were really key on.”

He expressed frustration with both Republicans and Democrats for urging the United States to take on Putin. 

“We’re talking regime change nonsense once more,” Kent said. “That has never worked out for anybody, especially the people in the country (where regime change takes place), but it hasn’t worked out for us either. So get to the negotiating table. Every day that this goes on we lose leverage. 

“When Trump was in office, we still had leverage. We’ve given away a lot of our leverage, especially with the package of sanctions that we threw at the Russians.”

Those sanctions united Russia and China against us, he said, and since we’re reliant on OPEC for energy, “this is going to have major ramifications for our entire economy.”

At the negotiating table, he said, the United States should make assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO. “I think that’s basically all that Putin wants to hear,” Kent said.

“He wants to own Ukraine’s land,” I responded.

“We make that unacceptable,” Kent countered. “Russia is not going to be fully happy. Ukraine is not going be fully happy.” He noted that, geographically, Ukraine has always been a buffer state between Russia and Europe. He described neutrality there as a pragmatic approach to stop the killing and freeze the conflict.

“Right when this thing started, there was a lot of bravado from people who’ve never heard a shot fired in their life or been to war,” Kent said.

Kent has heard shots fired, and I respect him for his 20-year career in the military.

“If you say one thing about a ceasefire, you’re a Putin supporter,” Kent said. 

In 2001, though, the United States was attacked. 

“I know,” said Kent, who had joined the military just before the attack. But, he added, “Going into Iraq, that was nonsense, and we were lied to about why we should stay in Afghanistan. The foreign policy establishment wanted nation building. We should have followed bin Laden and Zawahiri into Pakistan and kept our scope limited, taking out the terrorists who attacked us.”I tend to agree with him, but what about weapons of mass destruction?

“The only weapons of mass destruction Saddam (Hussein) had is the crap that we gave him in the 1980s when we were funding both Iran and Iraq to kill each other,” he said. 

But veterans returned home with harmful health effects — muscle aches, joint paint, dizziness, memory lapses, headaches, fatigue and insomnia — known as Gulf War Syndrome from exposure to something.

They likely were exposed to chemical warfare, Kent said, which the United States provided to Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. But Saddam Hussein never had nuclear weapons, which he described as “fake intelligence.”

But isn’t chemical warfare mass destruction? 

“But if we give it to them, isn’t that kind of entrapment?” Kent responded. 

When Trump was president, Kent said, at least he was engaging with Putin. 

“We’re getting close to potentially making a nuclear conflict with Russia,” he said. “Right now, we’re closer than we’ve ever been since the Bay of Pigs, since the Cuban Missile Crisis.” 

And that’s President Biden’s fault?

“Absolutely,” Kent said. “The way that we’ve escalated this war in Ukraine, Biden is the commander in chief, so he is the one calling the shots. Republicans are guilty of this as well, the way that we’ve been extremely aggressive and hawkish with this.”

While he may not like Trump’s words, Kent said, “We weren’t close to a nuclear war, and that’s peace through strength. And that’s the America First agenda. Some people don’t like the way he did it. If you look at the results, where we were then and where we are now, the world was a much safer place.”

I agreed that Trump and Putin were pals.

“I’ve had to negotiate with people that were trying to kill me and killed some of my friends before,” Kent said, noting that you go into those negotiations with a conciliatory attitude even if you’re dealing with a horrible, bloodthirsty terrorist. “I think with Trump’s background in business, he was much more comfortable in that environment than I think a lot of traditional politicians.”

I’ll share a final installment of our discussion next week.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at