“I’m a fighter”: Southwest Washington’s new Republican congressional candidate

For the past few weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives has been facing significant challenges in carrying out its functions due to the ongoing partisan disputes both within and outside the Republican party. Despite efforts to address the issue, the House has been finding it difficult to operate smoothly.

Despite any potential obstacles, Leslie Lewallen, a Republican from Camas and a hopeful candidate for the 2024 Third District Congressional election, remains undaunted. As a mother of four, she is no stranger to navigating challenging situations and engaging in debates.

During a recent interview with The Chronicle, Lewallen shared her thoughts on family disagreements and the importance of compromise. She acknowledged that she doesn’t always agree with every family member, including her husband, but emphasized that it’s crucial to focus on areas of agreement rather than disagreement. According to Lewallen, even if you only agree with someone 60 or 70% of the time, it’s still important to find common ground and work towards compromise. In her opinion, compromise should never be seen as a negative thing.

In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Jaime Herrera Beutler, a longtime Republican congresswoman from Southwest Washington, made the bold decision to vote in favor of impeaching then-President Donald Trump. While her vote was met with opposition from some members of her own party, including a Republican candidate from Yacolt who would later enter the race against her, Joe Kent, it earned her the respect of many Americans who were outraged by the events that took place that day. Despite Kent receiving an endorsement from Trump himself for the 2022 race, Herrera Beutler remains a prominent figure in the primary.

As an attorney and Camas city councilor, Lewallen believes that the divide between Kent and Herrera Beutler voters during the August 2022 primary highlights the current predicament facing the GOP.

Lewallen made a rhetorical statement that was indeed accurate, according to certified primary results. He questioned if there was only a half percentage point difference between her and Joe Kent in the end.

In a September 2022 interview with The Chronicle, Kent was questioned about his strategy for winning the support of Herrera Beutler backers who were uncertain about his candidacy following the primary.

Kent emphasized the need for people to take a clear stance, stating, “They have to decide which side they’re going to be on. Because there’s no middle. You can’t be a wishy-washy person now.” His message highlights the importance of being decisive and taking action in times of uncertainty.

According to Lewallen, some Republicans were dissuaded from submitting their ballots due to a split vote and certain party members’ fixation on allegations of election fraud during the 2020 presidential election. She also noted that some individuals could not support Kent, who prided himself on deviating from what he deemed “establishment Republicans.”

The effects of internal disagreements within political parties are still being felt on a local level. The Conservative Coalition of Lewis County was established by dissatisfied Republicans who believed that the county party’s conduct lacked civility, as reported previously by The Chronicle. On July 24, they welcomed Lewallen at a picnic hosted by them.

As for Lewallen, she faced opposition from the Clark County Republican Party, who refused to acknowledge her as a legitimate GOP candidate. Surprisingly, this actually worked in Lewallen’s favor, as it garnered support from moderate voters who saw her as a more reasonable choice.

Lewallen, a Republican, emphasized the importance of embracing a mindset of addition rather than subtraction in order to achieve success. He stated on Tuesday that it’s crucial for the party to recognize that they can only win by adding more people to their cause, rather than pushing others away.

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat from Washougal, was elected in November based on her promise to represent the middle-class population of Southwest Washington.

A seat at the table

Lewallen is a Republican by all other definitions, if not in the eyes of the Clark County party. She has always been, according to Lewallen. She attended law school at Seattle University and has published three law review articles on what she considers to be “core” Republican values: “limited government, property rights, and legislative intent,” according to Lewallen.

She is patriotic as well. Lewallen sat at her dining table in Camas, draped in an American flag scarf. A second flag, flown over the United States Capitol, was framed and hung on her wall.

Lewallen, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, has spent her entire tenure on the periphery of politics. Both of her grandfathers were Olympia residents. One was the municipal manager, and the other was the owner of a dry-cleaning company. One of her relatives was the prosecuting attorney for Mason County, and another was the superintendent of public education.

“Public service runs in the family,” Lewallen said. “Obviously, holidays are fun with so many attorneys and our family debates.”

Brian, her spouse, is also an attorney.

In the early 2000s, Lewallen served as a page in the Washington State Legislature, was a member of the Federalist Society in law school, and clerked for Chief Justice Gary Alexander of the Washington State Supreme Court. When Rob McKenna, R-Seattle, was a member of the King County Council, she worked for him.

Throughout the 2000s, Lewallen and her spouse relocated for employment, eventually returning to Camas, where they currently reside.

Living with her children during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, according to her, propelled Lewallen to action.

“I said, ‘Enough. I want to be invited. I want a seat at the table,’” Lewallen recalled.

Later, she added, “I’m a fighter. My battlefield was in the home.”

‘Clear path for victory’

She stated that Lewallen was elected to the Camas City Council in November 2021 after “personally” rapping on 5,000 doors in the roughly 25,000-person city. She was most concerned about the consequences of COVID-19 and the perceived lack of parental input. Her term will expire in 2025.

“I am the greatest advocate for my children,” Lewallen said, adding, “We have 60,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools. There has been a 20% increase in enrollment in private schools. There has been a 40% increase in enrollment in homeschooling. These are facts that cannot be denied.”

She also serves on the transportation committee of the city council, focusing on the Interstate 5 bridge to Portland.

She stated that, if elected in November 2024, she would also introduce homelessness, crime, and a desire to secure the United States’ border with Mexico to Congress.

Though some of Lewallen’s concerns involve the federal government, she has little faith in Republican candidates for state office.

Lewallen is confident in his chances against the incumbent freshman Gluesenkamp Perez.

“I don’t get into anything unless I know I can win. I don’t,” she said. “I sat down and I crunched all the numbers and I did a budget. A detailed budget. And there is a clear path for victory, for me. … (Gluesenkamp) Perez wants her challenger to be Kent because he is easy to pick off. I would be a lot harder of an opponent.”

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MBS Staff
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