WAHKIAKUM COUNTY — The candidates for the 19th Legislative District’s seat in the state Senate gave their pitches as to why they’d best represent the voters of the district in a laid-back but substantive virtual forum on July 15.

The one-hour forum was jointly hosted by the Wahkiakum County Republican and Democratic parties, and moderated by Stephanie Leitz, principal of Wahkiakum High School. The candidates included each of three people running for the seat in the upcoming Aug. 4 primary election; incumbent state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and Republican challengers Jeff Wilson and Wes Cormier.

Takko, a Longview resident and member of the Washington State Senate since 2015 after serving in the state House, stressed his moderate credentials and said he has a record of bringing state-funded transportation and capital projects to 19th District communities. He pointed to his opposition to proposed carbon, capital gains and other taxes in previous legislative sessions as ways he’s bucked the party line in Olympia.

Wilson, a Longview resident and Port of Longview commissioner since 2015, said he believes he’s the only candidate who still owns a business, and understands being both a private sector employee and a business owner. That experience, he said, gives him a view into the problems that everyone faces in the legislature and the challenges it takes to be successful living in a rural district.

Cormier, an Elma resident and Grays Harbor County Commissioner since 2012, said he’s not a career politician and self-identified as a conservative Libertarian who believes in less government, taxes and regulations. He said he’s accomplished his goal of instituting his principles in his eight years as a commissioner, and is proud to be running on his record as he seeks a seat in the legislature’s upper chamber.

Top priorities

Cormier said his No. 1 priority, if elected, would be to propose term limits legislation every year he is in office. Term limits at the state level, he said, would end the state’s “career politician system that we have.”

“Among my platform of property rights, transparency and fiscal responsibility, I think really the top thing I’m going to propose is term limits. I think that will go a long way with — like I’ve said — getting rid of career politicians,” Cormier said.

Wilson said his top priority is more of a process — to restore the voice and trust of the voters, which he believes has been removed by elected officials. Transparency, he said, is something people should never take for granted, and said “ghost title” or “title-only” bills are disrespectful to voters.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from Olympia that they’re not listening. They’re not listening because of a carbon tax, because of this sex ed comprehensive bill, because of the $30 car tabs,” said Wilson, although recently proposed carbon taxes have not passed the legislature, which Takko later pointed out. “This list is very voluminous, and I suspect we need to get back to gathering the respect and trust of the voters again.”

Takko said an obvious priority when the legislature convenes in January will be to balance the state budget. Along with addressing the budget, Takko, in his role as chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, said he wants to continue working with cities and counties to exempt them from mandates.

“I’m working with the counties and the cities right now to look at taking away some of the mandates they have to use — when they have either state or local monies to be spent, that they have to be spent in a specific place — and give them some flexibility to try and get through this pandemic financial situation that we’re in,” Takko said.

Addressing budget shortfall

Looking ahead to the looming budget negotiations in January, Takko reminded that funding for K-12 education, which makes up a large portion of the state budget, cannot be touched due to the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision, along with federal Medicaid dollars that also can’t be touched. Of the roughly other half of the budget, Takko said he would fight to protect healthcare workers, vulnerable seniors and early childhood learning.

“I’ve been a great supporter of Head Start and [the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program] for years. It’s been shown that the dollars you spend there really do save incredible amounts of money in education, incarceration and medication in the future. It really, really has a high payoff to put money into early childhood,” Takko said.

As a current county commissioner, Cormier said he’s already dealing with coronavirus-related budget issues in Grays Harbor County, such as revenue shortfalls. Their budget, he said, is prioritized on what’s constitutionally mandated and what’s most important, like law and justice, and said the legislature needs to identify what its top budget priorities are in 2021. Cormier added that he would vote against any tax increases if elected.

“At the end of the day, you have to make cuts because the government’s not operating. The governor shut down many businesses through covid, and we have to deal with the facts that we have in front of us, and I don’t think right now businesses can take or incur more taxes on their backs because they’re suffering bad right now,” Cormier said.

Wilson said there are two types of programs he’s willing to fight for; the constitutionally mandated programs, like public education, and programs that provide a return on investment. Wilson denounced “Seattle-style” politics that he said are overbearing and hurt 19th District businesses and residents.

“The programs [I will fight for] are going to range from survival programs to incentive programs, so the 19th District has a chance to recover and separate itself from the overbearing, Seattle-style politics that I will not support,” said Wilson. “And that will include such greatest hits as: no income tax, no capital gains tax. So it’s more than just the programs I’m willing to fight for, it’s the damage-control that I’m willing to lay down in front of on behalf of the citizens of the 19th Legislative District.”

To watch the entirety of the July 15 forum, visit: https://bit.ly/3eJ90no.

On Wednesday, July 22, the Wahkiakum County parties will host another virtual forum with the five candidates running in the two 19th District state representative races: incumbent state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and Democratic challengers Clint Bryson and Marianna Everson for Position No. 1, and incumbent Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Republican challenger Joel McEntire for Position No. 2. The forum is slated to begin at 7 p.m.

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