Legislative candidates seeking to represent the state's 19th District answered questions from a panel made up of print and radio media members at a forum held at Aberdeen High School on Sept. 22. Questions ran the gamut of possible topics.
Washington's 19th Legislative District covers Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, as well as portions of Grays Harbor, Lewis, and Cowlitz counties.
Incumbent Sen. Dean Takko (D) told those in attendance that he believes fish hatchery production should be increased while predators, such as cormorants, need to be controlled. His challenger, Sue Kuehl Pederson, who is running as an independent Republican, agreed.
Pederson, who has a background in marine biology and power management, said hatcheries are not being utilized to the degree that they should be and that the genetic pool at state hatcheries has been mismanaged for decades. She said the popular notion that hatchery fish are distinct form wild fish is an artificial distinction.
"I would encourage more hatchery production, mixing in the wild fish to improve the gene pool at the hatcheries," she stated.
Republican Jim Walsh, who is seeking House Position 1, stated he is categorically opposed to the creation of a state income tax. Instead, he said revenue issues should be addressed by making property tax rates more equitable.
"Currently, property owners pay a different percentage of the assessed value of their property depending on where in the state they live, driven largely by the needs of the school districts in the area where they own property," he said.
Walsh further noted a portion of those property tax revenues go to Olympia before being distributed to school districts Walsh's opponent, Teresa Purcell (D), who edged out current Rep. J.D. Rosetti in the primary, also professed to not support a state income tax, despite what she said were her opponent's attempts to suggest otherwise. She said she thinks Walsh's ideas on property taxes are unlikely to be passed.
As to what incentives can be provided to bring industry to rural communities, Pederson stated that she thinks changes that include reduced taxes on small businesses and better internet availability are key. Takko, in turn, stated education and infrastructure are essential.
"You're not going to get a high-tech thing coming into Grays Harbor County, because you don't have the people that can do those high-tech jobs ... We've got to work on those programs," Takko said.
On the question of how rural areas can be better served with healthcare, Purcell mentioned the need to find a way to attract more healthcare providers and to work in partnership with local communities. She noted her involvement with the Lower Columbia School Gardens in Longview as an example.
"Because of the state, we have a Health Department grant to provide cooking lessons," Purcell said, "So we're making the best possible use of those assets in public-private partnership with volunteers, the school district, and the state Health Department to teach young people, kids, to go home and [say], hey let's have kale for dinner. And we're actually providing the food, the nutritious food. We're helping folks learn how to cook it. I think that's the kind of thing that government can do in public-private partnership within communities to help address some of our big problems."
Walsh scoffed at Purcell's assertion, however. He said that teaching how to cook kale should be the least of the state's priorities.
"What this area needs are jobs and not government jobs," Walsh stated. "It needs private-sector, family-wage jobs."
Asked for thoughts on the implementation of the legalization of recreational marijuana use, Jimi O'Hagan (R), who is seeking election to House Position 2 currently held by Rep. Brian Blake, said it's a complex question. He said that while the drug is beneficial for some, it may contribute to depression in children.
"I think it has to be regulated and watched very carefully," he said.
Blake, the incumbent, in turn stated that he thinks the state's implementation of marijuana legalization could have been better administered, but that compressing several related taxes into one 37 percent tax at retail has had a beneficial streamlining effect.
In regard to a Washington State Supreme Court determination that the Legislature must develop more dependable education funding, Takko said that local levies will probably have to be eliminated and statewide funding instituted. He stated that one issue he foresees is that, without local levies, teacher salaries could end up being bargained for on a statewide level.
In answer to the same question, Pederson stated that the numbers have to be analyzed carefully but it's her sense that taxes don't have to be raised in order to equitably fund schools.
On the topic of the Aberdeen Gateway, Walsh said he's in support of the economic development project but that the question is how to pay for it. He suggested tenants should contribute significantly.
"I'm concerned that if the project becomes funded exclusively or primarily through government money, it will end up getting caught in a sort of never-ending cycle of partial funding and enough money for another study and a survey and kind of get stuck in limbo," he said.
Purcell disagreed, opining that the private sector can't be relied upon by itself.
"We need the public-private partnerships to actually make those things happen," she said, "because I've been waiting for a very long time for our economy to be diversified and to wait for those private sector businesses to come save the day, and they are not. We actually have to be very proactive and very strategic and intentional about what we're going to do and how the state Legislature can help us do it."
In regard to the minimum wage, Blake said that while he voted to ramp it up to $12 over time, he struggles with some of the higher numbers discussed. A current ballot initiative is in the hands of voters and up to them to decide, he said.
His challenger, O'Hagan, in turn said that he thinks the current minimum wage initiative needs work, based on his discussions with union representatives.
On new Department of Ecology rules and carbon tax Initiative 732, Pederson stated that, while she favors protecting the environment, she wants to encourage voluntary action on the matter. She said she thinks that both of the aforementioned constitute government overreach. Takko, too, said he doesn't support either, calling I-732 poorly written and not revenue neutral.
"Until we have something that's across the board, across all states, let's say, it's tough to support," Takko said, enumerating a number of local industries he said I-732 would affect.
As to how to help to ensure growth of small business, Purcell stated she thinks rural impact statements should be completed before laws are enacted that may affect rural communities. Walsh, in turn, says he favors automatic sunset dates for all administrative agency rules, unless codified by the legislature, and further limitations on the B&O tax.
In regard to whether the Legislature should get involved in concerns over the limitation of access to timberlands by timber companies, O'Hagan stated he believes that tax breaks for timber companies are sufficient compensation and that timberlands should generally be open to the public, as they once were.
"The families that most need to hunt for food, they can't afford that access," O'Hagan stated, adding that he believes younger generations are being divorced from opportunities to understand and appreciate woodlands.
"All the gates when I grew up were open," he added.
Blake stated that he, too, is categorically opposed to paid access programs to timberlands. Though he said he's a strong proponent of property rights, Blake indicated he doesn't think that's what the issue is about.
As to what can be done to improve mental health treatment, Walsh said he believes the problem is actually a matter of several interrelated issues, including homelessness. Walsh said he thinks existing programs deserve better funding, though it's beyond the ability and scope of government to entirely solve all the issues involved.
Purcell, in turn, said that mental health treatment is one of the kind of issues government is meant to help address. She said the issue needs to be considered more holistically in partnership with communities and government, with special attention paid to the circumstances of rural areas.
On what can be done by coastal colleges to train workers, Blake said it's a matter of tailoring programs, working with colleges on proposals, and facilitating training partnerships with private employers through the state budget.
In answer to the same question O'Hagan stated his general concern with what is being taught in academia, apparently suggesting that higher education needs to be reevaluated on a fundamental level.
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