Sen. Dean Takko, left, and challenger Jeff Wilson

Sen. Dean Takko, left, and challenger Jeff Wilson

Lots of policy space between Takko and Wilson in 19th District

Candidates for state Senate in the 19th District took part in a virtual debate recently, put on by Alpha Media Grays Harbor in cooperation with Greater Grays Harbor, Inc.

The session brought together incumbent Dean Takko, a Democrat from Longview, and Jeff Wilson, a Republican from Longview. A link to that session and others featuring legislative candidates in the 19th and 24th District races, can be found on the KXRO Facebook page.

Kyle Pauley of KXRO served as moderator. Debate subjects came from the moderator, and citizens could submit questions via Facebook.

Wilson is Port of Longview commissioner and businessman who has lived in Longview for more than 50 years.

Takko grew up in Cathlamet and served as county assessor of Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties. He has served in the Legislature, first the House and then the Senate, since 2004.

One big goal for the next term

Takko’s answer focused on expanding rural broadband by removing restrictions that keep PUDs from offering internet services, but he also offered several other priorities — helping oyster growers get a permit to spray for ghost shrimp, push for an independent review of the Growth Management Act and look at school funding. “We’re setting ourselves up for another McCleary case in that we have rural kids without broadband and they aren’t getting the same opportunity as ones who do have broadband.”

Wilson said he wants to eliminate the practice of what he called “ghost bills,” meaning bills that enter the legislative system with not much more information than the title, to serve as place holders that can be amended to include the actual bill language later. Republicans have said Democrats abuse that practice and use it to push through last minute legislation that can’t be scrutinized. He also said several times during the debate that he wants reform in the state Department of Ecology to speed up the permitting process for projects that create jobs.

The state budget

The state will be facing a budget shortfall because of increased spending and decreased revenue as a result of the pandemic and Wilson is adamant about not raising taxes to compensate. “We are not going to tax our way into recovery,” he said, emphasizing his particular opposition to any notion of an income tax.

Takko said he wouldn’t vote for an income tax either, but said it’s mostly moot because the state Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. He added that “to just flat out say you’re not going to raise any kind of revenue, I think is irresponsible. I think we have to look at everything. We have to look at cuts, we have to look at fund transfers, which we did in the last recession and move money from some of the programs that weren’t really necessary back over into the operating budget.” He said he would also look at ending some tax exemptions.

Referendum 90 on sex education

Wilson says he’s telling everyone he can to vote “reject” on Ref. 90 and overturn an already approved bill updating sex education curriculum. He points out that Takko was an original sponsor. “I can’t even get close to (supporting the legislation),” Wilson said. “I want curriculum developed locally.” Local school districts will develop their own curriculum, but it will have to be approved by the state Office of Superintendent of Instruction and Wilson says the parameters the state will accept go too far. He said some of the curriculum that might be approved would be “graphic” and held up a page from a book he said was meant for 9 and 10-year-olds. It wasn’t possible to see the page on the Zoom meeting. “Ultimately, it removes more of the voice of the parent,” Wilson said.

Takko says the legislation is being portrayed by opponents as supporting a “how to have sex” curriculum even in relatively early grades. He flatly disputes that and says the intent is to support learning about healthy “social and emotional” situations, what constitutes appropriate touching and what to do if one is sexually molested. “It really bothers me that we have a bill to teach kids safety and for whatever reason, it’s being spun as teaching kids sex, the people who are about spinning this on social media, including you, Jeff, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Mask wearing during the pandemic

Takko said, “I try to wear a mask 100 percent of time. I might lapse sometimes, but if I’m around people, I wear a mask. … It’s the right thing to do. … It’s just common sense.”

Wilson said, “The pandemic is very serious, yet it has been very confusing. we get a lot of information. The worst part of this mask issue is what it’s done to us. Through the governor and through our current leadership, we’ve set up systems to turn in our neighbor, to turn in our local businesses (if they don’t follow guidelines). If somebody else is so fearful of the virus, you need to respect that, if that means putting on your mask. But that person, too, can avoid you. There is a lot of choice. … What has broken my heart is how we’ve turned ” neighbor versus neighbor, he said.

If the governor issued another stay-home order, what would you do in the Senate?

Wilson said one of his big objections is that the governor should have forced a special session, and he said the Senate and House need to do something to check the governor’s power to restrict “how long he can offer these mandates. … I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of the mask issue will resolve itself (after election day).”

Takko noted that case counts are starting to increase in many places and said, “If we have to do something, we have to do something. I’d remind Jeff that the governor’s proclamations are signed off on by legislative bipartisan leadership. If you don’t want them, all the Republicans have to do is not sign off and they’re done.”

Minimum wage

“We should have a (minimum) wage that somebody could live on,” Takko said. “Even the minimum wage isn’t a livable wage (currently $13.50 in Washington) and, unfortunately, the ones losing their jobs right now are the ones on the minimum wage.” Regarding whether rural and urban areas should have the same wage, he said. “Should it be the same all across the state? Maybe not necessarily,” he said.

Wilson said minimum wage should be set to encourage workers to “aspire” to something better. “Minimum wage should not be expected to be a family wage … a minimum is a beginning,” Wilson said. “I’m a big fan of talking about the maximum opportunity, which is a chance to go to work.”

Homelessness

Wilson said he has served on homeless housing task forces and been a volunteer on homeless issues. “We have an out of control addiction problem,” he said. He said he doesn’t support “no-barrier” homeless shelters that allow people to stay, even if they have been using drugs or alcohol. “We need to be compassionate, but stop enabling.”

Takko said he doesn’t like them either, “but the reality is you have to get people inside a building. They’re going to get sick and die in the cold. They’ll be in emergency rooms and we’re going to be paying for it. I wish there was an easy answer. … I don’t have a problem with low barrier housing. You have to start somewhere.”

Possibility of a motorist tax based on miles travelled, as opposed to paying gas tax at the pump

Both candidates said they would not support such a tax.

Police reform

Both candidates criticized rioters who destroyed property in demonstrations sparked by treatment of blacks during arrests by police.

Takko said he has started working with law enforcement leadership around the state to look for standard practices for restraining people. Practices vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, he said. “In one place, they can use some pretty drastic measures to restrain people and other places, they don’t allow it.”

Wilson said he would increase money for community policing, encourage satellite stations in addition to a central police station and encourage spending on technology for police, including body cameras.

Permitting problems for large projects such as the BHP potash project that has been withdrawn in Hoquiam and a proposed methanol refinery in Kalama

Wilson blames the lengthy permitting process overseen by the state Department of Ecology. “I’m going to actively look for bills to reform and create oversight of these agencies,” he said, and criticized Takko for not doing more to reform the agency before now. “We’ve been held hostage under seven years of Sen. Takko’s watch” in the Senate.

Takko said that when it comes to projects that affect the environment “everybody’s in their own corner and it’s hard to get them to come out. … That’s what’s so frustrating to me, I like to think of myself as one of those guys in the middle trying to find the answer. … I’m as frustrated with DOE as most anyone. One of my biggest frustrations is with the burrowing shrimp (Ecology has been asked to approve a permit that oyster growers want to spray and eradicate them). The parties are so entrenched. and the Department of Ecology is not doing anything to help, just saying no. That’s the thing my opponent doesn’t realize. There aren’t easy answers to these things.”

Closing statement

Wilson said he’d bring a spirit of entrepreneurship and common sense to the job. He said Democrats have had such a lock on both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office for so long that they don’t have any incentive to deal with Republicans anymore. “Fairness needs to represent all sides. There’s nothing fair about an unfair fight in Olympia. The majority party doesn’t offer much choice.”

Takko said he works with Republicans and has a reputation as a moderate. The reality is, Democrats will still control the Legislature, but with him, there is a moderating force, when Democrats caucus and decide priorities and strategy,” he said. The caucus meetings are “where the debate happens and that’s where I speak in the caucus, and there is where a couple of us who are rural Democrats do our work and try to make sure that any bill that comes out of there doesn’t affect rural counties adversely as much as we can.”