LONG BEACH — The Elks Lodge was close to capacity on Oct. 20, as around 80 people turned up to watch candidates vying for county, state and national offices face tough questions on topics from economics to ecology.
The event was hosted by members of the American Association of University Women who collected questions from the audience and Natalie Hanson, a Long Beach city councilor, and AAUW member read them to candidates who were each given one minute to respond.
Present were incumbent Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and challenger Sue Kuehl Pederson; state representative candidates Teresa Purcell, Jim Walsh and James O’Hagan; Pacific County Commissioner incumbents Steve Rogers and Frank Wolfe and their challengers Lisa Olsen and Fred Hill; Public Utility District commissioner candidates Dick Anderson and Mike Lignoski; and candidates for Superior Court Judge, Doug Goelz and Michael Turner participated. Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, did not attend.
Lieutenant governor-hopeful Cyrus Habib and Jim Moeller, who is challenging Jaime Beutler Herrera for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District U.S. House seat, both made brief appearances, but did not participate in the Q&A.
Moeller kicked the forum off with a minute of remarks and was asked no follow-up questions before leaving.
Lieutenant governor hopeful Habib warmed the crowd with a bit of self-effacing humor and his plucky passion for Washington politics.
“You can wave a card, but I’ll just keep talking,” said Habib, who lost his eyesight at age 8 due to a rare cancer.
Habib credited access to quality education in his own life for giving him the opportunity “to go from braille to Yale.” He said he wants to see every Washington child be provided with access to a well-funded school. On mental health, Habib said he’d like the state do more, “instead of leaving it up to county governments.”
The state senate race was featured next and Takko was asked how Pacific County could make sure it’s getting a fair share of “transportation monies” for road and infrastructure projects. Takko said the idea that the county pays more than its fair share of gas taxes was a myth. “We rural counties actually get more than we spend,” he said. (In 2015, for example, Pacific County got back $2.18 for every dollar residents paid in taxes, the 7th best rate of return among the state’s 39 counties and about 20 percent more than it got back two years earlier.)
Pederson was asked what regulations she would remove to encourage investment and job creation. She recalled her own role as a regulator in her work as a habitat manager and said she believes the state is overreaching its authority.
“I’d like to see a lot of the regulations peeled away and let people be trusted to use their good sense and good hearts to take care of our environment,” Pederson said.
Takko replied that he is also frustrated by regulations, particularly those that stymie new building and development projects.
The two had differing ideas about how best to stimulate the local economy. While Takko said the state should spend more to promote local tourism, and support longer clam seasons, Pederson advocated for increasing hatchery production.
Next, Hanson asked O’Hagan, Walsh and Purcell if they support the state’s continued use of “document and recording fees” to fund programs for the homeless.
O’Hagan didn’t answer directly, speaking instead about “opportunities and optimism.” Purcell said she supports continuing the use of the fees to help people out of “the cycle of poverty.” Walsh said he thought the fees should be eliminated, adding that he thinks the private sector, rather than the government should address homelessness.
All three candidates said they did not support a state income tax.
Hanson read a pointed inquiry about Walsh’s politics — ”Your positions post-primary have changed dramatically. You’re no longer talking about the fact that you are Libertarian. How can you explain that?”
“I don’t think it’s true… I’ve come out of the Libertarian wing of the Republican party. I’m a Republican that’s a small ‘L’ libertarian, as they call it,” Walsh said, adding, “it doesn’t matter what you call yourself… it matters what your approach to solving problems is.”
The four commissioner candidates then fielded a diverse set of questions about topics including the county’s role in managing timberland, how to stabilize fiscally struggling county departments and the limits of commissioner power.
One inquiry asked the candidates whether commissioners have any input over how land is left after a timber cut. Wolfe said ‘no,’ but community input can impact policies set by the state committees that create the regulations. Hill said “not a lot.” Olsen called it a land use issue outside the commissioners’ control, and Rogers simply said “No,” then elaborated to put the harvests into context, saying when they take place close to town, it can be “pretty frustrating.”
“Clear cuts are ugly, but as a tree farmer it’s kind of like growing corn — it just takes a long time for it to come back,” Rogers said.
“I think we have to keep in mind that we are a timber county,” Wolfe added.
Hanson also asked the candidates, ”What is the number one issue in our county that needs attention?”
“Budgeting,” Rogers said. “We’ve become a ward of the state.” He called the way we fund county government, “not sustainable.” Hill agreed that an inadequate budget “is probably the biggest problem we have.” Olsen said lack of funding had put public safety and the DCD at “critical levels.” Wolfe said after wrestling with the county ledger for four years that “we do have a problem with the state taking away our money.” He said it often comes down to ”What are we going to cut this year to make the two ends meet.”
Those in attendance took a keen interest in the candidates for PUD commissioner position 3, Dick Anderson and Mike Lignoski, and it appeared that several PUD employees were in the audience.
Anderson said that if elected, he would immediately reassess the multi-million dollar Tokeland project, which he said had ballooned out of control financially. Lignoski said he had concerns about the Tokeland extension too, but that his first order of business would be to hire a wage audit team to look at “out of control” wage increases among managers. He said he would also like to eliminate the “green energy” surcharge.
Neither candidate was in favor of the I-732 carbon tax proposal.
Hanson also asked Anderson about the allegations that he violated campaign contribution rules by accepting donations beyond the $5,000 limit.
“I think that’s a false statement,” Anderson said. “I have not spent over $5,000 myself.” Lignoski countered that for a candidate running on a platform of transparency, Anderson would do well to “look in the mirror first.”
Both candidates for Superior Court judge were courteous to one another, and both chose their words carefully. Initially, neither seemed familiar with I-1491, an initiative that makes it easier for judges to order confiscations of firearms based on complaints of endangerment or abuse.
Goelz then said he had issued such orders maybe five times in 28 years, adding, “The law does not like decisions to be made in a vacuum where you only listen to one side.” Turner said he agreed with Goelz, in that such an order must be weighed carefully, but that he had never issued such an order as a judge.
Hanson asked each candidate to explain why he believed he was best qualified for the office. Turner noted education, experience and familiarity with the people of Pacific County. “I’m proven, and I’ve got the temperament,” Turner said. Goelz joked that he was older than Turner and therefore wiser. He explained that he often uses humor in the courtroom to put litigants at ease, but noted that there is”nothing funny” about the number of child-related issues going through Superior Court.
Goelz said the job demands more than experience and education, and that interpersonal skills are integral to working in a small community. “You have to be careful about how you handle people,” he said.