Candidates for Washington's 24th Legislative District appeared at Hoquiam High School on Sept. 27, where they answered questions from a panel of media representatives. The state's 24th Legislative District includes an area encompassing all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and most of Grays Harbor County.
Vying for the Senate seat are Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D), who has represented the 24th District in the House since 2007, and Danille Turissini, a former journalist running as an independent Republican.
On the question posed by media panelists of what the state can do to improve health outcomes in rural communities, Van De Wege said he thinks the best option is to take a combined approach to the various issues involved.
"The state has moved in the direction of treating chemical dependency and mental health together," he said. "That was a wise move, and I think it's something that saves tax dollars and also gives patients better treatment. I think we should take that platform the state's already started to work off of and heighten it here in Grays Harbor County."
Van De Wege added that he wants to see more health services brought to Grays Harbor County, so patients don't have to travel elsewhere. In answer to the healthcare question, Turissini suggested that special interests in Olympia are working to prevent people from getting the help they need and from the best solutions from being implemented.
Turrissini stated she is against a proposed crude oil export terminal in Hoquiam.
"I think the state should take into consideration what the people in the district want and not try to impose things upon it," she stated. "I'm not against oil, but I'm against this project. The more I talk to people the more I see this community doesn't want it. There are a lot of other things we can do in this community to create jobs."
Van De Wege also stated his opposition to the crude oil project.
"It seems to me the easiest solution for this problem has always been for the state to help finish rail lines to the refineries so that the crude can go directly to those refineries," he said.
On how to create more equitable educational funding across the state, Van De Wege said he thinks closing tax exemptions for large businesses that are no longer beneficial to the public would be one approach, while capital gains taxes for non-retirement stock and bond profits should also be considered.
As to how to the state can promote tourism, Turrissini said she thinks the creation of local tourism centers is one option. Van De Wege, in turn, said he wants to find ways to bring the wealthy into the 24th District and get them to spend money in the area.
On how the state can state help students pursue a college education while avoiding lifelong debt, Van De Wege mentioned a number of public and private programs and scholarship opportunities he believes are working, as well as this biennium's reduction in tuition. Turrissini answered that the cost of textbooks is one area that needs to be addressed and that the reduction in tuition was a good move and should be extended to other areas.
House Position 1
Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman (D) if facing retired fire chief George Vrable (R) for House Position 1.
Chapman said a state income tax is worth considering, though it's not something he is necessarily in support of.
"It's not up to us to ever put a state income tax in place. It has to be ratified by the voters," he said. "I think in this state we should just continue to have the conversation as to how we are to fund government."
Chapman added that fixed-income retirees and low-income workers face high property and sales taxes, while small business owners pay a B&O tax.
For his part, Vrable (R) said that though he understands the state faces a challenge as to how to fully fund education, he would be reluctant to support an income tax.
"I think a more aggressive equalization of the state K-12 levy portion of the property taxes ... should create enough additional funds to meet that requirement," Vrable stated.
On the question of a current initiative (I-1491) that aims to take guns out of the hands of dangerous persons, Vrable said he can't support it.
"I like the idea of dangerous people having their guns taken away, but how far could something like that get carried away ... I see a lot of possibility for abuse of that," he said.
Chapman, a former law enforcement officer, said he's a strong supporter of the initiative.
"You've got to go before a judge, and a judge is not going to rule lightly on these issues. This is an opportunity to remove weapons from people who may not be in a position mentally, emotionally, where they should have access to those weapons," stated Chapman.
As for how to ensure small business growth, Chapman said he thinks taxing those in upper income brackets and investing the money in infrastructure used by small business, such as roads and sewers, is one option. Vrabel, on the other hand, said he is generally opposed to both taxes on small business and income taxes.
"Another part of this is fiscal responsibility," Vrable stated. "It just seems like politicians take money and spend money and the more they can tax the more they can spend. I see California deep in debt with income taxes [while] spending money ... Spend less."
On whether incentives should be given to promote the use of cross-laminated timber, Vrable said it sounds good to him while admitting he's not knowledgeable on the subject. Chapman, in turn, said that CLT is a win for both the timber industry and the environment.
As to what can be done about drug dependency issues, Chapman touted the efforts of Clallam County on the matter and the efficacy of drug courts in rehabilitating drug abusers. Vrable tended to agree, saying he thinks incarceration is inappropriate for most non-violent drug users and other options should be looked at.
House Position 2:
Rep. Steve Tharinger (D), currently in his third term, faces independent Republican John Alger, a retiree from the Air Force, for House Position 2.
On the Timberworks flood management project, Tharinger said he thinks it's of immense importance but that it can't be paid for entirely by the state.
"I think it will have to be a partnership," he said. "If I'm correct, I think it's about a $50 million price tag. That's not doable as full funding from the state, but to partner with the cities to move this forward in a phased way, I think is very important ... I think the state does have an obligation to move this project forward."
In answer to the same question Alger said he's agrees that the project needs to be paid for jointly and that he hopes that can include federal funding as well.
As to how the state should respond to climate change, Alger said Initiative 732 is problematic because it will result in a massive loss in state sales tax revenues. I-732's penalty for carbon emissions will also increase prices across the board, he said.
Tharinger stated that all should agree that the debate on the human impact on climate change is over, but feels I-732 is too complex to effectively address the issue.
On the minimum wage, Tharinger said he supports the current initiative to ramp it up to $13.50 over four years, while Alger said he thinks the issue needs to be decided on a local level, as appropriate to the area involved. Alger noted the different costs of living across the state and likewise the differences in what employers in different areas can afford to pay.
As for mental health matters, Alger said Governor Inslee bares ultimate responsibility for the failures at Western State Hospital and needs to be held accountable by the Legislature.
"Our people, our friends, our family are not being treated the way they ought to be in the institutions you're responsible for running," Alger said of his message to the Governor.
Tharinger, in turn, said he thinks Alger's view is shortsighted and partisan and that the issue is a multifaceted one requiring an integrated approach.
On transportation and infrastructure, Tharinger said that he feels that the state is not taking advantage of low interest rates to make necessary investments in infrastructure. Alger answered that he is eager to serve on the Transportation Committee and work with the WSDOT to get necessary infrastructure fixes done immediately.
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