Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment of columnist Julie McDonald’s interview with Third Congressional District candidate Joe Kent. Parts one and two can be found at thereflector.com.
When we met in June, I asked Republican Joe Kent, who defeated fellow Republican Third District Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler in the 2022 primary, about the COVID-19 pandemic, incumbent Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, the crisis at our southern border and the future of Social Security.
With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kent, 43, stated that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lied to the public.
A friend with a medical background who accompanied me to the meeting responded, “Oh, I’m calling BS on that.”
“I like Fauci,” I told Kent.
Fauci started working for the National Institutes of Health in 1968 and, in 1984, became director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Fauci became an unexpected focal point of vitriol from people who opposed shutdowns, mask mandates and vaccines. In fact, he faced so many death threats he needed full-time security for his protection.
Kent noted that Fauci first told people they didn’t need to wear masks and then reversed himself.
I thought perhaps that was true because Fauci didn’t want a run on masks by the public that would endanger medical professionals who needed them more, so I did a bit of research. At factcheck.org, I found an Aug. 25, 2022, article headlined “Correcting Misinformation about Dr. Fauci.”
Just a week before the federal government declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Fauci described the risk to the public as low but noted that could change if the virus developed into a major outbreak. At that time, he didn’t oppose anyone wearing masks but warned it could lead to a shortage of masks for health care providers who needed them.
Then, as more people fell ill and died from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended face coverings for everyone because people without symptoms were spreading the disease. Changing his mind as new information unfolded isn’t a lie.
As for the vaccines, Fauci noted they needed to be investigated to make sure they were safe and would help rather than hurt people. After clinical trials, the vaccines were determined to be safe and effective, given emergency authorization and administered — although conspiracy theorists still contend they’re dangerous.
So many of Fauci’s statements in interviews were deliberately blown out of context to incite his opponents who often stated, “Fauci lied. People died.”
Fauci was a medical professional — an epidemiologist trained in infectious diseases — who did his best to protect people in this country during a once-in-a-century worldwide pandemic. The heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic were the health care workers who risked their lives to care for people who fell ill — including those who refused to take common sense precautions because they believed erroneous far-right viral posts and subsequently died. Many health care workers were physically sick and emotionally exhausted after caring for so many young, healthy people whose illnesses and deaths could have been prevented.
Just last week, I read about a Yale University study that showed politicization of COVID-19 vaccines may have led to higher death rates among Republicans in Ohio and Florida, according to The Hill. After vaccines became widely available in May 2021, the gap between deaths of Republicans and Democrats from the virus increased by 7.7 percent, “meaning the excess death rate among Republican voters was 43 percent higher than that among Democratic voters.”
As for his Democratic opponent in 2022, whom he may face again in 2024, Kent noted that Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez voted against the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which would require transparency in curriculum, so parents know what schools are teaching their kids. In March, House Republicans passed the measure 213-208 with all Democrats and five Republicans voting against it. It is expected to have little chance of passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
She also voted in January against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires life-saving care be given to babies born alive after botched abortions. The House passed the measure, which I support, with 219 Republicans voting in favor of it and all but two Democrats voting against it.
“If you look at her voting record, there’s very little daylight between her and Hakeem Jeffries and (Nancy) Pelosi,” Kent contended.
“She was supposed to be moderate,” I said.
Kent contends that Gluesenkamp Perez provides performance votes to appease the center but ultimately supports the Democrats’ agenda.
For example, he said, she received credit for supporting HR 1, the Lower Costs and Energy Act, to help the United States become more energy independent but then voted against it in the budget deal.
“When it was part of the budget that actually would have put it into action, she quietly voted against it,” Kent said. “So they gave her a little bit of leeway to vote there.”
He said the same thing happened in a June 14 vote on the REINS Act, a measure to reintroduce government accountability and restore congressional oversight of federal agencies’ regulatory actions.
“She voted against the REINS Act, which would have clawed back a ton of excessive government regulation, especially the timber industry, especially with the fishing industry,” Kent said. “She voted right in lockstep with corporate Democrats.”
With regard to our southern border, Kent said, “We have to get the military down there. We need to build an actual, physical wall.”
I told him my husband and I saw the fence during a visit to Arizona, and it’s short enough that even I could climb over it.
“We need a big one that’s like 30-feet plus,” Kent said. “We need an actual wall.”
“That would cost a lot of money,” I said.
“Well, let’s stop sending it all overseas,” Kent responded. “With at least $130 billion we can account for that was sent to Ukraine in the last year, how many walls could we have built? We could have stopped the flow of fentanyl coming into the country. The No. 1 killer in America right now is fentanyl, and we’re doing nothing about it, but we hemorrhage money overseas to get us involved in more and more wars. Give me the budget for Syria, Somalia, all these stupid conflicts we should have been out of 20-plus years ago. We could build that wall.”
He noted that the United States is NATO’s biggest funder. (However, funding is based on a minimum 2 percent of each nation’s gross domestic product, and the United States has by far the largest GDP.)
“It’s a joke,” he said. “Why can the Europeans afford to give their people such great social services? We pay for their security.”
“Would you pull us out of NATO?”
“I wouldn’t pull us out of NATO. I would do what Trump did; I would say, you guys need to pay up. I would seriously scale back a lot of our military commitment as an enforcing function and say, hey, this has got to be a two-way street.”
“And if they don’t, would you pull us out?” I asked.
“If they don’t, I would start removing a lot of our troops from security areas,” Kent said. “Like right now, we have a crisis on our southern border, and we have fentanyl killing American citizens. In good conscience, how can we have troops in Germany providing security for Europe?”
We also need to quit granting blanket amnesty to people who enter the country illegally, he said, and roll back regulations that have killed our culture of work.
“I want to make sure that we’re not importing people,” he said. “That takes away jobs from American citizens.”
Kent, who used to work in the tech industry, said the visa system allows tech companies to bring in people from Pakistan, India and other nations to work at lower rates than they would pay college kids who took out loans to learn to code but now can’t find jobs.
“If the purpose of our government isn’t to provide the best outcomes for our people as far as security goes, and as far as opportunity goes, then we’re really just an open border,” Kent said. “This is the best thing for the economy, so to heck with the Americans.”
We also discussed homelessness, and again he mentioned keeping our money in the United States to address problems here rather than sending it overseas. He noted that the homeless industrial complex receives money based on the number of people served, so it’s not in their interest to resolve the problem.
“We need to start incentivizing people getting clean and sober and put back into housing,” Kent said, adding that enforcement of vagrancy and drug violations needs to take place.
“Let’s get rid of the free money and put more requirements on people that are receiving social welfare,” he said. “If you’re a mom with a bunch of kids, obviously, you can’t do it. But I mean, we’re talking about able-bodied people. There are guys that are my age and younger on welfare and unemployment.”
What about the future of Social Security?
“It’s going to be insolvent in less than 10 years,” he said. “If we keep the status quo, then we’re heading for a disaster for our parents.”
People approaching retirement should be guaranteed Social Security, he said, but the system is broken.
“Unfortunately, this is going to have to be someplace where we have a ceasefire between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. Otherwise, the first person who offers a solution is accused of trying to starve Grandma.
“I use myself as an example. I’d say like if you’re in your mid-40s, then we need to start looking at a new social contract as in some form of potentially a high interest, tax-free savings account that you manage,” Kent said. “It’s actually part of a stock portfolio. You can pay into it, as opposed to paying into like a centralized government system.”
I’ve set the bar for my vote as a decent human being. Trump isn’t, but Kent seems like he is, even though we often judge people by whom they associate with.
“Well, Joe Kent associated with you, and I still support him,” my friend Kyle Pratt, of Napavine, who set up my meeting with Kent, interjected with a chuckle.
“You’re funny,” I said.
Although I couldn’t persuade my husband to join us, or even bribe my daughter and her fiancée with free meals, I appreciated the time Kent spent answering my questions.
He’s friendly, engaging and confident, and I agreed with him on some issues, such as the need to wean ourselves off dependence on foreign oil and curtail foreign aid to focus on solving the border crisis and homelessness.
However, his support of the unfounded “stolen election” mantra and vitriol lobbed at Fauci lead me to believe he relies only on far-right sources for his information. Yet he is willing to meet with anyone who asks, especially supporters of Herrera Beutler who cast ballots for Democrat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d love to sit down with Gluesenkamp Perez and ask her tough questions — and I’ve invited my conservative friend, Pratt, to join me if I do.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at email@example.com.