The field running for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District position in the U.S. House of Representatives grew to four last month with a White Salmon man’s declaration of candidacy.
Rudy Atencio (pictured below) filed July 22 as a Democrat in Washington’s 2020 Top Two Primary Election. Atencio is the third Democrat to announce a bid to unseat incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler, who’s now seven months into her fifth 2-year term in Congress. The other Democrats in the race are Vancouver residents Carolyn Long, the college political science professor who lost the 2018 General Election to Herrera Beutler, and Peter Khalil, a legal mediator and arbitrator making his first run for the House.
The 42-year-old Atencio, who was born in Texas but grew up in Venezuela, has lived in the 3rd Congressional District for a short time. This is his first run for elective office.
Atencio, who was born in Texas and grew up in Venezuela, said he came to the Colum-bia Gorge for the outdoors but was drawn into a run for Congress after spending time talking to fellow residents about the issues that are most important to this community and feeling compelled to act on his instincts.
“I discovered a call and a need for action through engagement,” Atencio said, and noted his campaign has been labeled a longshot.
“My candidacy has been called unorthodox,” Atencio said. He’s OK with the description. “I’ve found there’s an energy that comes with being an outsider.”
He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of science degree in natural resources from the University of Alaska (Juneau), where he served as the first president of the Inter-national Honor Society chapter he helped found. He later received a graduate certificate from Creighton University (Omaha, Neb.) in international negotiations and conflict resolution. He did his graduate practi-cum with Mayor David Poucher of White Salmon. Moreover, Atencio has worked in the recording industry and in international sales, and currently is the president of a renewable energy company he founded in 2018, CornFirm, LLC, that makes eco-fuel products for home heating, camping, and fireplaces.
Atencio’s aim is to think big and act boldly on policy issues such as improving the standard of living for Americans by raising the minimum wage and creating access to affordable health care. He says he supports Medicare-for-All as a needs-based system under which only patients who need the coverage would get it.
For a national hourly minimum wage, Atencio said he doesn’t want to propose a figure, such as $15, to the problem just yet. He said the Congress has to be careful because any hike in the hourly minimum wage is going to be influenced by the risk of higher inflation (interest rates) and cost-of-living expenses (prices).
“This is something Congress has to brainstorm over,” Atencio said. “There has to be an equilibrium between wages and interest rates to ensure everyone is benefitting from the increase [in the minimum wage].”
On health care, Atencio favors a modified Medicare-for-All approach that is needs based. Under this design, needs are based on characteristics of regions and its residents, including age, gender, socio-economic status, and health status.
“One of the things I’ve discovered from talking to people here is that it’s an older community whose elders are concerned about their health care and the future for their families and their communities,” Atencio said. “They have little care for politics.”
He went on, “We are at a tilting point where, if we don’t address health care through a low-cost, needs-based approach, we could see catastrophic results throughout our economy. It’s like when we committed the ultimate sin of kicking people off unemployment benefits during the last recession. They lost the ability to support themselves and still contribute to the economy. The same thing could happen to our older population. It is our responsibility to make sure they are cared for.”
A “signature piece” of Atencio’s platform is a response to the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border and the partisan rhetoric that prevents Congress from addressing the situation full on. He calls it the “Dream Big America” project, an alternative to President Donald J. Trump’s desire to build a wall along the border.
“”Right now we’re sending to the world a message of sectarianism and division that’s not reflective of our values,” Atencio said. “We need to have the audacity and nerve to come up with something that’s not a wall.”
Atencio said he would propose building a canal along the border, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, to open up a new passage for trade and a multitude of opportunities for economic cooperation on the border.
The ambitious idea would be a monumental task for a country that’s seemingly forgotten how to think big and act boldly, but Atencio says it would be worth the cost in both short- and long-term jobs created and strategic independence from the one-and-only Panama Canal.
“This would send the message to the world that we are building bridges, not walls,” Atencio said, “that the U.S. builds structures that are intelligent solutions to its problems. It’s possible; we can do this.”
He added, “It’s a progressive idea not in that we’re pushing for systemic change but because it advances our national interests.”