Candidates for the two 19th District State Representative positions up for election in November squared off in a virtual debate Wednesday, hosted by Wahkiakum County Republicans and Democrats.
The candidates for Position 1 — incumbent Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and challenger Marianna Everson, D-Montesano — and Position 2 — incumbent Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and challenger Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet — fielded questions during the two-hour debate. Here are some highlights.
One big goal
Each candidate was asked what their “one big goal to accomplish” this session would be.
“Just to continue to see that our hatcheries are fully funded and achieve full production in our hatchery system,” said Blake. “I believe we can run our hatcheries at full throttle and still restore wild fish runs.” He said his plan includes “restoring habitat and access to that habitat.”
McEntire said he’d like to bring accountability into the Department of Ecology. He thinks the Legislature should have more control over how Ecology is run and how its regulations are managed.
Walsh said he intends to work with Northwest Innovation Works to help them through the SEPA regulation permitting review process for its proposed ethanol plan in Kalama. Projects like this would show “business can be done and big projects can happen here, show that we’re open for business.”
Everson said she would address the “immoral for-profit heath insurance industry that profits off sickness rather than providing for the needs we have as human beings. We can have a not-for-profit (health system) that covers everyone for treatments and medication so no one goes without and no one dies bankrupt like my dad did.”
COVID-19 small business recovery
McEntire said, “I think keeping taxes low and keeping us competitive is going to be the best mix for helping small businesses any time, whether we’re coming out of a pandemic or not.”
“The first thing we’ve got to do is get them back open and get the economy started,” said Blake. “Beyond that we have to be diligent in overseeing some of these regulatory approaches,” saying he’s been “hearing a lot from the child care industry that the newest regulations are hurting them in a way that many of them are going to drop out of the business.”
Everson said she would “cut their taxes by taxing people who can afford it, like Walmart, who pays little in taxes and pays employees so little they need social services that we all pay for. I would give small business owners a tax break so they can get back into their businesses because they have closed or have had a massive amount of change in their profit margin.”
Walsh said he and Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, have drafted legislation for a bill proposal to waive the B&O tax on all businesses in Washington for 12 months. “We’ve shown that by doing that as a jump start to economic recovery in the midst of the governor’s overreach in response to COVID is the single best thing we can do to get businesses up and running.”
Comprehensive sex education
The Comprehensive Sexual Health Education bill that passed the Legislature last session had mixed reactions, prompting a referendum to reject it. Candidates were asked whether they supported its implementation or not.
Blake said, “I have great confidence in districts to choose age-appropriate curriculum that meets the needs of their community.” He said teaching young children how to react when somebody is touching them inappropriately, in the bill’s curriculum, is important. “We have a problem with child molestation in this state and nation and we need to start arresting and prosecuting child molesters.”
“I believe in parental and local control, and the local school district to decide these things at the most local and personal level possible,” said McEntire. “A larger overarching mandate from the state is not a proper way to bring sex education to our students.” He said the bill has nothing to do with catching child molesters. “It’s not about predation or molestation, it’s about social engineering,” and the curriculum is “about normalizing the LGBTQ agenda.” McEntire said it should be up to parents and individuals to have the choice, and not have to answer to the state for the approval.
“The real problem I have with the underlying legislation is it moves control from elected school boards to bureaucrats at the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” said Walsh, who opposed the legislation from the start. He added, “We all want to enforce the law, we all want to prosecute sex offenders and put them in jail and on a list, but this doesn’t help do that.”
Everson said she approves of the curriculum and “parents can opt out if they feel it’s too much information for their kids. They can look at the curriculum, inform themselves and know what the kids are up against. It’s all about choice.”
“What we have is a poverty issue,” said Everson. “There’s not enough good paying jobs and the housing we have is more expensive than ever. Someone on a fixed income cannot afford a place to live in our district. We need affordable housing, good paying high wage jobs for the people who can work so they can make it in this world.”
“I don’t think we have a homeless crisis right now, what we have primarily is an addiction problem and a mental health problem,” said Walsh. He said state policy has “normalized addiction with really misbegotten public health programs that give addicts the tools they need to kill themselves.” He said giving syringes to addicts is akin to giving alcoholics a bottle.
McEntire said “the states and cities controlled by folks like Marianna and Brian and their side are in the absolute worst shape” when it comes to homelessness and addiction “because they invite it and subsidize it” with programs that do little to deal with the root causes of substance abuse and do little to treat the addiction.
“With the obvious substance abuse and mental health issues out there we have to go upstream and look at what’s causing people to make those choices,” said Blake. He added, “I’m a strong proponent of the Public Housing Fund and working with builders to lower costs of building housing and bills for micro housing. I’ll keep fighting hard for builders to build ore and cheaper housing.”
Bringing back salmon fisheries
“The biggest piece is hatchery production,” said Walsh. He said “a strange mix of stakeholders has pushed back to reduce our production in our hatcheries and we’ve got to get that back up.” He said representatives of the region, “whose constituents are more directly invested in having a viable commercial charter and sport fishery operating than the weekend fishermen from other parts of the state,” need to unite to bring fisheries back.
Everson said the region can address habitat improvements, which could help build salmon runs, and create jobs for young people, through programs similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps in Depression-era America in the 30s, to do some of the work to restore natural resources through fish-enhancing projects like culvert replacement and others.
“There’s a group of folks out there working to throttle down hatchery production and I’ve got them on the run,” said Blake. “We are building a coalition with the tribes and sport and commercial fishermen and we are getting traction with a Fish and Wildlife Commission that is starting to get it, and we’re going to get our fishing back.”
McEntire said his opponent has had 20 years in office to make a difference in fisheries with not much to show for it. “We need someone who has more dedication, energy and devotion to get things done. If I say I’m going to work on a fish issue I’m going to bring something back to the people that is tangible.” In rebuttal, Blake said, “I haven’t been standing still while in office. I brought the first significant investment to our hatchery system in years. This arena is difficult to work in.”
Getting back to school
The question was asked, if there is a COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the school year in 2021, should schools return to full time even if not all have been vaccinated?
“Our kids deserve to have an excellent education and the best way to learn is when they are learning together so they get the symbiosis of everyone working together, and that is the goal, to get them back together and learning and being social,” said Everson. “If a vaccine is effective and more have taken it than have not, and the science bears it out, I would support a bill to keep kids in school.”
“I think kids should get back to school regardless of whether or not there is a vaccine,” said Walsh. “Would I require a vaccine? No, I would not. That decision should be left up to each family and the parents of each kid, whether or not the kid receives a vaccine.”
McEntire said, “Viruses have always been here and I don’t think they’re going away any time soon. Whether we go through legislation or not, the schools should be open,” and the parents allowed to decide whether their kids would return or not.
“I’m a strong proponent of getting kids back to school,” said Blake. “I’m a strong proponent of vaccines, but also very strongly opposed to forcing parents and students to be vaccinated. I strongly feel that should be the parents’ choice.”
Law enforcement reform
McEntire said he’s open to discussions about specific law enforcement reforms, but is tired of the rhetoric. “There are cops who make bad choices, always have been, always will be, but I’m not hearing any proposals,” he said. “Just slander and hate and ‘defund the police’.” Proposals regarding specific training and procedures, he said, he’s always open to hearing.
“I want to hear (what law enforcement professionals are saying) and debate their proposals,” said Blake. He said the police academy system is strong and consistent, but he’s open to proposals to make it even stronger. As for the people shouting to defund the police, “I don’t support that.”
Everson said, “We need to continue to listen to people in our community who have been disproportionately affected by police brutality and support them to continue to find ways to reduce their deaths and make it more fair for everyone.” Funds no longer needed for law enforcement could increase the number of social workers and mental health counselors, “people who can help people get out of poverty so they are not committing crime in the first place.”
“The best thing we can do to fund law enforcement is to put state dollars back into rural drug task forces,” said Walsh. These task forces exist in statute but were stripped of funding about five years ago. “When I talk to sheriffs they say that is the thing they would like and need most to improve their effectiveness.”