Incumbent 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and his opponent, Marianna Everson, a Democrat from Montesano, have very different opinions about most things. In fact, rarely in the district have there been two more diametrically opposed choices on the general election ballot.
Those differences include reactions to the state’s COVID-19 response.
“Initially, we were closer on track with the response to the outbreak and it’s kind of gone off the rails as time has gone on, in what I believe is an overreaction,” said Walsh. “The problem here is the term ‘science’ has been hijacked by various political interest groups and kind of cheapened what science means, at least in this issue.”
“My opponent tends to want to blame the governor for the virus and the thing is what we’ve been doing is listening to the experts — doctors, nurses, those experienced in taking care of people and society in the middle of a pandemic,” said Everson. “I think we have done a lot to keep people safe in Washington.”
Walsh said the key metric of measuring any outbreak is the crude mortality rate, which he said provides the simplest number of deaths due to the virus. He said the epidemiological and state models “are very subjective” and the crude mortality rate isn’t; it measures how many people have died as a percentage of the population.
“Cases are not as important as mortality rates,” said Walsh. “Yeah, watch the case numbers, but that’s not the most important stat. Mortality is.” He said of course everybody wants to keep everyone safe, but the numbers show the oldest people with pre-existing conditions and comprised immune systems from chronic health problems are at much greater risk from the virus.
“There’s no doubt about that,” said Walsh. “Let’s focus our public health policy on them and how to help the most vulnerable. Let’s not use these very broad public policy swipes, let’s quarantine those who are most vulnerable if needed, but even that is a last resort. Get them isolated and get them first in line for a vaccine.” He called the appropriate approach to pandemic policy would be precise, like a scalpel, “but the governor and others have used a sledgehammer.”
Everson maintains the response has been right on track, looking at the numbers of cases — according to the state, more than 2,000 people have died in the state from COVID-19.
“We were ground zero for this pandemic in the United States,” she said. “Although it’s sad that anyone had to die, I think our response has been enormous and very realistic and we have saved lives by the things we have done in Washington.”
The candidates also widely differ on their thoughts on reopening schools for onsite learning.
“It’s not time to think about that right now,” said Everson. “We are going into the winter and viruses thrive in our bodies in the wintertime when we’re inside. If we were to start gathering people inside, it would just explode the number of people who would get sick from and die from the virus.”
Everson, continued, “The virus lives to replicate. It’s only purpose is to infect as many people as possible, and we need to respect that we’re not in control of the virus right now. We wish we were, we’d have more fun and be happier, but it’s not the time to risk our teachers. I really think kids are very resilient and they will bounce back from this interruption in their education and have learned something very important from it.”
Walsh has been vocal about reopening businesses and schools alike. He said it’s parents of special needs children who are most vocal about a return to school.
“Especially the kids who are mainstreaming but have special ed classes, they get the most from being socialized,” said Walsh. “Parents will take care of their kids’ health issues and think it’s worth it to have their kids in class. Their real-life experience is the kid is happier and progressing better when they’re with other kids. This policy of online learning is incredibly regressive and hurts those who most need the help.”
He continued, “There are kids for whom school is the most normal and healthy regimented part of their lives,” said Walsh. For those experiencing poverty or homelessness, come from drug-addicted environments and abusive households, “the normalcy of going to school and hanging with other kids and, God help us, maybe even playing football, can allow them to see another way of life.”
Everson has a young child who has benefited from special programs in local schools and agrees that school funding unfairly favors larger, urban districts.
“The thing I want someone to tell me is why an affluent Seattle school district has enough to support its schools while we in Southwest Washington school districts have seen cuts to the educators that made it possible for my son to thrive in school.” With recent cuts within the area’s districts, “I’m wondering how our kids are going to even get through this.”
She continued, “We must fund schools equitably. Every kid deserves an excellent education regardless of the property value that people own. We have to invest in schools in an equitable way,” and placing that burden on local jurisdictions through levies and bonds that raise property taxes is something residents of the 19th can’t afford.
Walsh maintains the state’s current “prototypical school funding model” unfairly benefits larger districts and leaves smaller districts like those in the 19th in the dust.
“It’s an imperfect formula designed primarily by people from urban school districts that favors, both directly and indirectly, larger school districts,” said Walsh. “The question is, can that model be repaired so that it is more equitable to all 280-plus school districts around the state, or do we just have to blow it up and start all over again.”
He said he’s “inclined to say we need to blow it up and start all over again, but I’m open to the argument it could be saved and reformed.” He said a set budget amount per student should to some degree follow the student, which allows families to decide which district is best suited for their children, comfortable in the knowledge that funding will follow that student wherever they go.
With revenue shortfalls forecast, Walsh said the state needs to look at specific areas to cut, if needed, not just make across the board, one-size-fits-all cuts. He said he thinks if the Legislature takes a hard look at the budget it can do what he and others were able to do with the transportation budget last year — make adjustments by looking item to item.
“We did it with the transportation budget, we just need to do it with the operating budget,” he said. “No across the board cuts, probably very few cut to zero,” and “make up the shortfall with no new taxes.”
Everson said it’s “the worst time ever to consider cutting anything. Small businesses and working families are already past the limits of what we can afford. We have to invest in each other.”
She said, “Washington has the worst tax system for working families in the country. As a percentage of income I pay more in taxes than the richest man in the world.” That man is Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. Everson said if Bezos “paid the same rate we paid we’d have more than enough to overcome the budget shortfall, fully fund schools, and send every kid to college.” She said it’s possible to give tax relief to working families by coming up with a more equitable tax system that targets the state’s wealthiest.
Environment and regulations
Global mining company BHP recently withdrew its shorelines permit application for a potash shipping facility at Port of Grays Harbor property in Hoquiam, citing lack of a cohesive state permitting structure as part of the reason.
Everson said the region’s rail system is inadequate to serve a project like the potash facility at the Port, and there are higher priorities for economic development to be tapped locally.
“It’s unfortunate the rail system is not up to date to accommodate for BHP, that was definitely, I think, a very big part of it,” she said. “If we had a stronger infrastructure some of the worries could have been mitigated.”
She said better maintenance of infrastructure could provide family wage jobs the region really needs, “like caregivers to take care of our aging and disabled.” She said she would focus on building affordable housing “and things we need in the district to keep people here and allow them to keep a good life.”
Walsh said the region would benefit by focusing on getting some smaller projects to set up shop, and continues to support a more navigable permitting process.
“We have to change the attitude about business development in the state,” said Walsh. “We kill good projects in the hopes of the unicorn, the green energy project that creates thousands of jobs, and stomp on somewhat green enterprises that could provide hundreds of jobs.”
Walsh used a baseball analogy to describe his preferred direction. “We’re basically a team that needs to be rebuilt and the best way to do that is to play small ball. Don’t hold out for the dream project; take five or six smaller projects and leverage that into some momentum … it’s from that momentum the bigger projects start to show some interest.”