VANCOUVER — Republican congressional candidate Earl Bowerman is campaigning as the cure for what he calls “swamp disease.”
The affliction, he says, sets in after spending six or more years as an elected representative in Washington, D.C., and the symptoms of the ailment are “content-free statements and speaking in platitudes.”
As one might assume by his choice of words, Bowerman, a retired university professor who holds a doctorate in plant histology from Rutgers among his academic degrees, voted for President Donald Trump.
That fact makes him unique among the five people currently vying for election as the representative of the 3rd Congressional District, a job currently held by Republican Battle Ground resident Jaime Herrera Beutler.
Since becoming the latest candidate to join the race — which includes Democrats Dorothy Gasque, Carolyn Long and David McDevitt — Bowerman has made a habit out of expressing his support of the president and drawing lines of separation between himself and Herrera Beutler, who did not support Trump in the 2016 presidential election.He uses Oregon’s plans to potentially add tolls to bridges over the Columbia River as one example for why someone who supports Trump should be representing the people of Southwest Washington.
He says he would be in a better position to approach Trump and and the federal Department of Transportation, which ultimately has control over the roads. That, he said, is in spite of his lack of political experience or standing in congress should he be elected.
“No. 1, I voted for Donald Trump. No. 2 our incumbent did not,” Bowerman said in an interview this week with ClarkCountyToday.com. “Now, can you imagine her going in to see Donald Trump and saying, ‘I’m a congresswoman from Southwest Washington. I’d like to talk about tolling.’ And he would say, ‘Well I understand that you opposed me and announced it publicly that you would not vote for me.”
Herrera Beutler waited until the final weeks of the tumultuous 2016 presidential election before announcing she would not be voting for Trump, instead writing in the name of House Speaker Paul Ryan. That decision came after a recording of lewd comments made by Trump prior to an Access Hollywood appearance in 2005 were released in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
Asked if he’s ever felt uncomfortable with statements or actions by Trump prior to his candidacy or since he’s been president, Bowerman said while he doesn’t condone some of what the president has said and done personally, that’s not the point of his candidacy.
“What Donald Trump did is not new,” Bowerman said. “I remember Bill Clinton. I even remember John Kennedy. The Bushes had issues. President Eisenhower had issues. So I’m looking at someone to be a presidential leader. Since Trump has been in office, he’s cut taxes, he’s building a strong military, the stock market has gone way up if you’ve checked your 401k to see how it’s doing … In israel, he’s moving the embassy. I have a real hard time criticizing most any policy decision that he’s made.”
Bowerman said he doesn’t consider the president to be his spiritual leader.
“If I were voting for pope, he probably wouldn’t be on my list,” he quipped.
Bowerman said he’s driven in part by data that shows constituents to be overwhelmingly displeased with Republicans in Congress. A recent poll, he noted, found that 67 percent of voting Republicans are not happy with their Republican representatives in D.C.
That’s where his theory on “swamp disease” comes in.
He said he thinks representatives slowly lose touch with their constituency the longer they’re in Congress, with the whims, concerns and desires of lobbyists, special interests and the establishment slowly replacing those of residents of their congressional districts.
In Herrera Beutler’s case, and that of others, that has manifested itself in fewer opportunities for residents to have face-to-face time with those elected to represent them, he said.
That often results in fewer town hall events where voters have traditionally been afforded the opportunity to bend the ear of their representatives, he noted.
“They’re more in tune with people who are big donors, who are part of the establishment,” Bowerman said. “(They) probably interact more with the leadership in Congress than they do their constituents, and there’s no cure for swamp disease except to leave Washington.”
That, he says, is why he supports term limits for members of Congress.
He said the legislative arm of the federal government would be better served by the fresh perspectives and ideas that come from new leadership.
The founders, he said, never intended on having a Congress filled with career politicians who absorb large salaries, pensions and health care costs all while becoming less beholden to the men and women who gave them their positions.
For Herrera Beutler, Bowerman says that has meant fewer town halls and more paid events.
“The people who get to meet with her at her gatherings, I think the last one I read about was 100 dollars per person,” he said. “My town halls are free.”
Bowerman also says he supports giving line-item veto power to the president, citing the most recent spending bill as a situation where Trump could have trimmed off unnecessary costs while keeping the provisions that ultimately led him to sign the bill into law.
Guns and schools
Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Bowerman said he was contacted by a group of students in Vancouver who wanted to speak to him about the issue of gun control.
Like many conservatives, he doesn’t believe there is a connection between the Second Amendment and violence at schools.
“I think this group needs to expand what they consider to be a safe environment in schools,” Bowerman said. “I think taking guns away is not going to change the environment, the safety environment at schools. I would highly recommend perimeter fences, perimeter cameras, perimeter alarms, any type of warning system. I think that probably their needs to be some self defense items around, maybe guns in locked vaults that can be opened with a fingerprint or something like that … I believe we need to have security to keep people out rather than have a soft target where people can come in with guns and shoot the students.”
Bowerman said he doesn’t see a “cause and effect” between trying to regulate firearms and stopping the people who would use them to commit crimes on a school campus.
“It’s a people issue,” he said.
Support for Second Amendment rights is one area of governance where Bowerman said he’s on the same page as Herrera Beutler.
On the topic of border security, Bowerman is, like in many areas, in step with the recommendations of President Trump, who has long proclaimed his desire to build a wall along the distance of the southern border of Mexico.
More recently, he’s ordered the National Guard to dedicate troops to the border.
“I think border security is analogous to national security,” Bowerman said. “Without strong borders, we can’t have strong national security. It’s a pathway for all types of drugs that come across, it’s a pathway for terrorists to come across and it’s a pathway for people to be in this country illegally.”
Use of the American military
When answering a question about his opinion of Trump’s use of the military in Syria, Bowerman begins with a disclaimer.
He obviously doesn’t know what the president knows, he said. However, as an overarching opinion, he believes the American military should not be used unless it directly benefits this interests of the United States.
That doesn’t appear to be the case in Syria, he said.
“If we don’t have a clear objective, then why go?” Bowerman asked.
Bowerman takes issue with Herrera Beutler and her stated support of the massive tax relief bill passed out of Congress behind Republican support earlier this year.
He says she’s can’t cherry-pick what items on the president’s agenda will benefit her politically when she doesn’t support him at the ballot box.
Bowerman said it’s disingenuous for her to use her vote in favor of the tax cuts when campaigning considering her vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — which he’d still like to see wiped off the books in full — and her decision to publicly announce she would not vote for Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.
“If more Republicans had been influenced by what the congress lady from Southwest Washington said, Hillary Clinton would be president,” he said, adding that if that had happened there would have almost certainly been no tax cuts at all.
Tolling and the debate over Columbia River bridges
Here in Southwest Washington, Bowerman said constituents need a representative who will advocate for them both to Trump and to the federal Department of Transportation.
Whatever occurs — whether it’s replacement of current bridges or the creation of new ones — should be included as part of Trump’s overall infrastructure plan for the country. Again, he said Herrera Beutler’s decision not to vote for the president would make that outcome less likely.
Bowerman’s opinion is that a new bridge should be built as a corridor to the west of the Interstate 5 bridge, which he thinks should receive maintenance and remain open to motorists rather than be replaced.
Likewise, he has no interest in discussing the elimination of the Interstate 5 bridge.
“Then we would have three major bridges going across the Columbia River,” he said, “one on the west, one on the east and then the I-5.”
As for tolling, he says whatever ends up happening will take a great deal of time, despite the immediate concerns of Southwest Washington motorists who fear they will soon be charged more than they already are in other taxes for access to jobs in Oregon.
“In the meantime, I think that somebody needs to go to the Department of Transportation, because these are federal highways and this is where the decision on tolling is going to be made, and make a case for the people in Southwest Washington,” he said.
Bowerman, 76, is originally from Arkansas.
He attended the university of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Rutgers University, where he received a doctorate. He met his wife Karen, who also serves as his campaign manager, after joining the faculty at Texas A&M. They recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, according to his campaign website. They both joined the faculty at California State University, Fresno, where the Bowermans eventually retired before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
He and his wife live in Camas.
Bowerman is holding a town hall event from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. Tue., April 24, at the Clark College Columbia Tech Center, 18700 SE Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.
Learn more about his candidacy at earlbowerman.com.
ClarkCountyToday.com will seek to feature all of the candidates for representative in the 3rd Congressional District prior to the primary election.