Congressional candidates face off in Burlington

BURLINGTON — Immigration, transportation and health care were some of the topics Monday at a congressional candidates debate at the Burlington City Chambers.

Candidates from Skagit County’s two congressional districts met, and while they had similar views on some topics there were differences between them as well.

Rep. Rick Larsen and B.J. Guillot, the Republican challenger for Larsen’s District 2 seat, agreed immigration was an important topic in the region, but they varied on how to address it.

In agricultural areas such as Skagit County, farmers get bogged down by immigration laws, Larsen said. If Congress can reform immigration, it would mean less stress on employers and employees, he said.

“It means jobs and it means the strength of our local economy,” Larsen said.

Larsen said making sure there is a path to citizenship is important, but Guillot said such a path already exists.

“We need to follow the laws that are on the books,” Guillot said. “The path to citizenship is the laws that are already on the book.”

For the candidates vying for the Congressional District 1 seat, Social Security was a hot topic.

“I think it’s very important we protect Social Security,” Rep. Suzan DelBene said. “There is only one person at this table that wants to protect Social Security.”

The challenger for DelBene’s position, Pedro Celis, said the Social Security system as it now stands is one that is “determined” to fail. The important thing, Celis said, is to fix it.

Infrastructure and transportation were important issues for all of the candidates.

“Investments in our infrastructure give us a great return,” DelBene said.

With the topic of infrastructure comes the conversation of the potential additional coal and oil trains coming through the area.

“I think the one thing that continues to come up … is what we need to do about the coal and oil trains,” Guillot said.

With the additional rail traffic comes additional concerns about safety and preparedness.

“It’s not a question of whether there should be safety. It’s important,” Celis said. “But it should not be used to stop the movement of goods and services.”

While some of the candidates pointed to pipelines as being the preferred method for transportation of oil, that is not a possibility in this area, Larsen said. But transportation, he said, could be a boost for the local economy.

“In the Pacific Northwest, transportation means jobs,” Larsen said.

Another theme throughout the evening was “teamwork.”

“The number one question I get is, ‘Why can’t you guys in Congress get along,’” Larsen said.

The candidates agreed that the only way to get things done in Congress is to work across party lines.

While both incumbents — Larsen and DelBene — pointed to some of their bipartisan legislation, Larsen acknowledged there is more work to be done.

“I do not want to make a claim tonight that bipartisanship is busting out all over the House of Representatives,” Larsen said. “(But) you don’t pass legislation unless you’re working together.”

Celis varied only slightly, saying teamwork is important, but so is leadership within a party.

“You solve problems not just by saying ‘I’m going to walk across party lines.’ You solve problems by walking through your own party and saying ‘I’m going to get things done,’” Celis said. “You need people who have that passion, that compassion, that anger to get things done.”

The candidates also discussed foreign affairs and how the United States should address issues in Syria and Iraq, and the Affordable Health Care Act.

While the incumbents lean on their experience going into this election, the challengers point to their relative inexperience as a strong point, saying it is time for change.

“If you like the direction this country is going, you should continue to vote for Suzan DelBene,” Celis said. “I’m not running for Congress because I want to be a member of Congress. I do it because I believe in this country and I believe that I have, for better or worse, the ability to get things going.”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,

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