Recap: 5 key takeaways from the 9th Congressional District debate

Democratic incumbent Rep. Adam Smith faced off against Republican challenger Doug Basler to discuss climate, crime and government spending. Watch the recording here.

Adam Smith and Doug Basler

Democratic incumbent Adam Smith and Republican candidate Doug Basler will debate live today at 2 p.m.  (Courtesy of the candidates) 

Incumbent Rep. Adam Smith defended Democrats’ management of the economy, police reform, efforts to tamp down inflation and the war in Ukraine in a debate on Tuesday, Oct. 25 with Republican challenger Doug Basler. 

Basler expressed skepticism about election security and climate change while attacking Democrats over crime, gas prices, and “out-of-control spending,” which he blamed for inflation, in the debate, which was presented by the Washington State Debate Coalition and moderated by KOMO News anchor Mary Nam.

Since 1997, Smith has represented Washington’s 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Kent and Tacoma. The 57-year-old Democrat is a former Seattle prosecutor and Washington state Senator, and now chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

Doug Basler has run against Smith four times previously, and lost by wide margins each time. He runs a digital advertising agency and was formerly the senior vice-chair of the King County Republican Party.Smith is heavily favored to win re-election. In the August primary, he won 55% of the vote to Basler’s 20.6%. The debate showed the candidates’ often starkly different views on issues in the 9th Congressional District and beyond.

1. Policing and prosecuting crime in King County [13th minute]

In his opening statement, Basler said he was running because of increased crime in Seattle, and blamed public safety issues on efforts to “defund the police.”

“I used to go down to Westlake, you can’t go down there anymore,” Basler said. “You see plywood everywhere, broken windows, crime, you step over needles…”

Basler also criticized police accountability laws passed in Washington state that limit high-speed pursuits and raised the legal standard for use-of-force, saying they interfere with officers’ ability to fight crime. These were decisions in the state Legislature, not Congress.

Related reading on the 9th Congressional District race: 

Democrats raising more than Republicans in WA congressional races

Washington candidates spin contrasting economic narratives

Data gaps make relief payments to WA officials hard to trace

Smith said he never supported reducing police funding, but believes concerns about excessive force are valid, citing his involvement in the De-escalate Washington campaign in support of Initiative I-940. Voters approved I-940 in 2018, requiring de-escalation and mental health training for police officers and independent investigations into police killings. It also removed the unique requirement that prosecutors prove officers acted with “evil intent” to charge them for using deadly force.

“Reforming [policing] doesn’t mean eliminating it or even cutting it, it means changing the way we do it,” Smith said.

Both candidates said they endorsed Jim Ferrell, a candidate for King County Prosecutor who has presented himself as being tough on crime.

2. They disagree about the state of elections and voting rights [7th minute]

Basler said he has “questions about the integrity of our voting system, particularly in King County,” and touted his involvement in several lawsuits to “have a look at what’s going on,” but did not directly dispute the results of the 2020 election. He advocated doing away with mail-in voting and switching to in-person voting, citing stories he’d heard about mailed-in ballots that were never counted. 

Smith said that elections are already secure, and that they’re “checked and double-checked.” He said he is “alarmed” by many state legislatures’ efforts to restrict voting access, and called voters’ five-to-six-hour waits at the polls in some in-person voting states “an abomination.”

Decisions about voting systems are made at the state and local level, not in Congress.

3. Addressing climate change (or not) [21st minute]

Smith said that the government should continue to provide tax incentives for clean-energy production in the United States, which he said will bring down fuel costs by forcing oil companies to compete in a free market.

“The oil industry controls us,” Smith said. “As long as we are dependent upon oil to run our cars, we will be at the mercy of how they throw up and down those prices -- we need to develop alternatives to that.”

Basler cited bringing down fuel prices as one of his top priorities if elected to Congress. He attempted to pin high gas prices on Democrats and accused them of “forcing people out of their cars,” quoting a recent Real Change article in which Smith said he supported a carbon tax. Basler said he wants to drill for more U.S. oil and finish the Keystone XL pipeline.

Basler also questioned whether climate change was an important issue to Washington voters and called environmental issues a “red herring” compared to issues like crime and inflation. He pivoted away from the topic when pressed about whether he believed that concerns about climate change were illegitimate.

Voter Guide Washington State 2022

4. Did government spending cause inflation, or did COVID-19 supply chain disruptions? [42nd minute]

Smith cited Russia’s war in Ukraine, pandemic supply chain disruptions and price gouging by oil companies. Basler instead blamed high levels of federal relief spending and, conversely, claimed that supply chains were “not drastically interrupted” during the pandemic.

“The overreaction to this pandemic was absolutely a national disaster,” Basler said, adding that schools and businesses should never have been forced to close. He called for a balanced budget and said he wants to see the dollar strengthened.

Smith defended the government’s response.

“The out-of-control spending that Doug talks about is what kept so many businesses from going under, what kept so many people from being cast out of their homes, being unable to afford food during the pandemic,” he said. “I want to hear Doug say that he didn’t want to help those people.”

On economic issues, Smith also touted Democratic legislation to increase the production of semiconductors domestically, which he said will make the country less dependent on technology imported from China.

“Getting the supply chain back growing is the No. 1 most important thing,” Smith said.

5. U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine [49th minute]

The candidates also differed on how the U.S. should respond to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Basler questioned the effectiveness of continuing to send arms, suggesting that costly weaponry could be lost. He also suggested that the U.S. didn’t do enough to avoid the war, such as dissuading Ukraine from seeking NATO membership.

“But we didn’t do that,” Basler said.

Smith called that claim “absolutely ridiculous,” and said he supports the current efforts to help Ukrainians defend themselves without putting American soldiers on the ground or getting into a war with Russia.

“Putin is not going to stop until he has to stop,” Smith said.

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About the Authors & Contributors

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Brandon Block

Brandon Block is an investigative reporter at Cascade PBS, focused on following the federal recovery money flowing into Washington state.