The 24th Legislative District includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties on the northern Olympic Peninsula and much of Grays Harbor county. For the first time in more than 30 years, State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is not on the ballot.
Hargrove’s decision to retire at the end of his term this year has left the state Senate seat open this election, and the two state House seats for the district also are up for grabs, with three newcomers to state politics along with one incumbent in the races.
All of the candidates are from areas other than Grays Harbor County. Here is a breakdown of the races and the candidates, with some of their key statements on local and state issues:
The state Senate race features Sequim Democrat Kevin Van De Wege facing Port Ludlow Republican Danille Turissini.
Van De Wege is completing his fifth term representing the 24th District in the House. For the last six years, he served as Majority Whip. He’s also a firefighter and paramedic in Sequim.
“Creating jobs and funding our schools are the two biggest issues that I am working on and also have a dramatic effect on the district,” Van De Wege says. “I am proud to work with Rep. Brian Blake to ensure designated timber is cut as it is intended on our state lands and to make sure Department of Natural Resources has the resources they need to make that happen and also to permit private timber harvests. This helps create jobs and keeps our mills running. I have worked with my seatmate Rep. Steve Tharinger to help invigorate a cross laminated timber market in this state. This has solid potential of creating real manufacturing jobs in Grays Harbor.
“School funding is critical. Our children deserve a solid education that will give them the tools for success. But many legislators in Olympia feel that public schools cost too much. Fighting that is a challenge but I am up to the task of ensuring Grays Harbor schools continue to see success.”
Turissini has been active in public policy and grassroots networking for more than 32 years, 10 of which has been focused in Olympia. She is credited with developing a statewide grassroots citizen action network as a founding member of EDC Team Jefferson, the Jefferson County State designated Associate Development Organization (ADO).
“Our district needs a State Senator whose first priority is what’s in the best interest of the district, and not a political party or special interests; someone who understands the need for a comprehensive approach to problems because one-size-ﬁts-all solutions rarely work the same in an urban versus rural area,” Turissini says.
Turissini says she also knows Olympia, having worked there for 10 years, most recently “training citizens to navigate the process, the campus and the relationships there. I know the process well. I know how things work there. I know how things don’t.”
Democrat Van De Wege has nearly twice the contributions claimed by Republican Turissini, $116,622 to $65,844, yet the difference in spending, $68,188 and $59,514, is much smaller, according to financial disclosure records. The bulk of the funds raised by Turissini come from the Republican party and individual donors; Van De Wege’s come from area tribes, corporations like Rayonier and Pfizer, and organizations like the Northwest Sportfishing Industry PAC and Potato PAC to go with his own private party contributions.
Rep. Position 1
With Van De Wege running for the Senate seat, this House position features political newcomer George Vrable against four-term Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman.
Chapman, Democrat, Port Angeles, is a former U.S. Customs Inspector who earned the Exceptional Service Award for capturing the Millennial Bomber with US Customs in 1999. He’s also been active in youth programs as president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula among other youth sports organizations and has been the chair of the Peninsula Regional Transportation Planning Organization; chair, Clallam Transit; director, Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, director and chair, Clallam County Board of Health; founding director, two term president and board director of the William Shore Memorial Pool District.
“The top issues facing the 24th Legislative District are fully funding basic education with increased employment and income growth,” Chapman says. “We have a roughly $350-billion economy in our state and, as your Legislator, I will work hard to maintain a climate where good paying jobs with strong benefits and retirement security can flourish. I will work to promote the retention and creation of union jobs in our communities. When we fully fund our educational system we can begin to build an economy where everyone can achieve their full potential and find or create living wage jobs.”
Vrable, Republican, Port Ludlow, is a retired 35-year career firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, a former commercial fisherman and retired Air Force enlisted officer during the Vietnam War era. He also worked for a municipal fire department in San Diego and retired from the Puget Sound Federal Fire Department as a Battalion Chief.
“I have spent most of my life serving people in need. My instinct is to help and respond to emergencies,” Vrable says. “Today our state needs help. Our schools are failing, our traffic is snarled, our prisons release violent inmates before their sentences end, our veterans are homeless and our workers cannot find a job that will support a family.”
Vrable also says he will take on lobbyists if elected: “Right now, somewhere in Seattle a lobbyist, in an Armani suit, is looking out the window from a 40-story glass tower across the sound at the Olympic Peninsula. Sadly, that lobbyist has more influence on your future than you do. Together we can change that. I want to bring back our traditional resource based industries to provide living wage jobs.
While Chapman has suggested changes in what he calls the state’s regressive tax system, Vrable said he would be opposed to a state income tax.
Chapman also said he was a “strong supporter” of Initiative-1491, which would “temporarily prevent individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order.” The initiative is intended to prevent a person with violent tendencies from buying a gun or keeping a gun.
“This is an opportunity to remove weapons from people who may not be in a position mentally or emotionally where they should have access to weapons,” Chapman said, noting he had served as a former street law enforcement officer.
Vrable, on the other hand, questioned if the initiative could go too far: “I see a lot of possibility of abuse with that. I am very skeptical of something where somebody can accuse me of being dangerous and I lose my right to bear arms for a certain period of time.”
Democrat Chapman has raised more than $103,000, compared to Republican Vrable’s $4,120.
Rep. Position 2
In the other House race, incumbent Democrat Steve Tharinger of Dungeness faces Sequim resident John D. Alger, who refers to himself as a Republican/Independent.
Alger is an Aberdeen native who graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1972, served as a career Air Force officer in England (twice), Germany (Berlin), Japan, Hawaii, and Honduras. Retiring to Sequim, he lists community service with My Choices Pregnancy Medical Resource Centers and as a council member at Sequim Valley Foursquare Church.
“The unemployment situation in our communities is tragic,” Alger says. “Job creation will affect everyone in our communities. I recently heard of a survey of 35 homeless in Port Angeles (I use this as an example, assuming those in Grays Harbor will be similar). When asked what the one thing each needed — 27 of 35 said they needed a job. They didn’t say, shelter or clothing but, he/she needed a job. Significantly lowering our unemployment — getting jobs for our neighbors — has to be our primary focus.”
Alger also listed education funding as his second top priority, in dealing with the state Supreme Count mandate to fully fund public schools: “The McCleary decision has set the course for education reform and funding. Now, the Legislature has to come up with reforms to make our system more successful. The number of students we currently lose to dropout saddens me personally.”
Tharinger is seeking his third term. The 39-year resident of the Olympic Peninsula is the past owner of a small wood manufacturing business and served three terms as a Clallam County commissioner. In the House, he has served as vice-chair of the environment and finance committees and currently is chair of the Capital Budget committee, while also sitting on the appropriations, health and wellness Committees.
“There is more to do in the areas of education funding from early learning to college,” Tharinger says. “The 24th Legislative District is one of the oldest districts in the state. I co-chair a joint executive legislative committee on aging which deals with long-term care services and helping people age in place.
“Our district suffers from chronic unemployment, so creating and maintaining jobs is a high priority. We were able to get $5.2 million in the Capital Budget to start using cross-laminate timber (CLT) for classroom construction. This pilot will show that CLT is a great building material for schools and affordable housing, which should lead to more jobs in the woods and manufacturing facilities on the Peninsula. Plus CLT sequesters carbon helping with global warming, something we should all be thinking about. We must work together at the local and state level ensuring we have strong communities helping our families thrive.”
Tharinger and Alger differ most distinctly on the issue of raising the minimum wage, with Initiative 1433 on the November ballot — a measure that would incrementally raise the state’s minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020 and mandate employers to offer paid sick leave.
Tharinger said he generally supports minimum wage increases, which he called a “challenge for our district for the rural areas.” The increased wages come with increased economic activity, he noted. While he said a $15 minimum wage would be too high, Tharinger said the amounts set by the initiative “make some sense.”
Alger, however, said Washington state already has the eighth highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.47 an hour. “I don’t like the initiative, because I don’t think we should have one size fits all for the entire state,” Alger said.
As an incumbent, Tharinger has raised $100,000 more in contributions than Republican Alger.