Candidates for state Senate in the 24th 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 Kevin Van De Wege, a Democrat from Sequim, and Connie Beauvais, a Republican from Joyce. 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.
Beauvais manages a publicly owned drinking water system in Joyce and serves as a Port of Port Angeles commissioner. She was a Clallam County planner, a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, she has owned a business and held a commercial fishing license.
Van De Wege served five terms in the House of Representatives and is in his first term in the Senate. He is chairman of the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee and serves on the Ways and Means and Long-term Health committees. He is a lieutenant firefighter and paramedic for Clallam County Fire District 3.
Here are some of the subjects covered in the virtual debate
Key priority for the upcoming session and how to achieve it
For Beauvais, it’s getting the state back to normal, which, she said, first means “getting all of our businesses open.” She’d like to relax the business and occupation tax somewhat as a response to pandemic hardships and doesn’t want budget balancing to include tax increases on businesses or individuals to fix the deficit caused by the pandemic. But first, she said, the governor’s emergency powers should be reviewed, echoing the call of many Republicans who say Gov. Jay Inslee’s Covid-19 protections go too far.
Van De Wege says Beauvais is outlining “trickle down” economic theory that “doesn’t help people get jobs. My number one priority is getting people jobs. We’ve been successful in doing that in investing a lot in the Port of Grays Harbor and helping Cosmo Specialty Fibers in Cosmopolis. Grays Harbor has proven to be an excellent place for manufacturing. It’s the easiest of three counties (in the 24th District) to create jobs in.”
McCleary case on school funding
The Legislature’s solution for the state Supreme Court case that caused school funding formulas to change has been criticized for making things worse in rural areas that have low property values. “We need to refine it,” Van De Wege said, conceding that many schools in the 24th are worse off. He said refining the initial fix could take five or six years and noted in particular that the funding method for special education has to fixed.
“They had eight years and it looks like they are going to be need another eight. I hope I can be part of the fix of the fix of the fix,” Beauvais said. “They fixed it by allowing the (local levy amount to be increased. … Rural districts are just too dis-proportionally affected by this.”
Beauvais said the expansion of gubernatorial emergency powers made sense when it happened as a reaction to a major earthquake a few years ago, “but this has gone on too long,” she said, referring to the governor’s use of the powers during the pandemic. She wants to see it capped at 30 days. She said the Legislature should have gone into special session because it has authority to make specific budget adjustments to account for the pandemic, while Inslee’s authority only allows broad brush adjustments.
Van De Wege agreed there should have been a special session by now. He also said that a review of the governor’s emergency powers is “something we should look at.”
Van De Wege supports legislation passed last year to require local districts to choose a sex education curriculum based on a framework provided by the state’s educational arm — the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Referendum 90 on the fall ballot asks voters whether to let it go into law or reject it.
Van De Wege says the benchmarks from the state include age-appropriate curriculum that would teach kids about appropriate and inappropriate touching. The local news in his district often reports on child molestation, he said, and “the number one reason is kids don’t know what’s right and wrong, what’s ‘good touch and bad touch’ from family members. The aim of this legislation is to teach kids these parameters. I think it will result in lower incidences of child molestation. In addition to that, districts that don’t use any sex education have higher a incidence of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. This really makes for a healthier community. “
Beauvais has concerns about the state influencing local curriculum and said most districts already have developed a curriculum. Five years old may already be too late to teach about good touch and bad touch, she said, and added that she’s been assured that it is already taught “at very low (grade) levels.” She said it is important to teach about “social and emotional” concepts, as the legislation sets out to do, but she thinks parents are concerned about’ “degenderizing and sexualizing’ kids at what they think is too young an age.”
Beauvais said it’s unfortunate that rioters this summer took the focus away from legitimate demonstrators. She wants to see community stakeholders who object to some of the policing sit down with government officials and first responders and talk about the problems they all see from their various perspectives. Issues that demonstrators had were overwhelmed by the sometimes violent unrest and those demonstrators now feel “under the spotlight more than before,” she said. “I think we can fix this.”
Van De Wege said he’s happy with the policing reform that’s already in place. “The only reform I support is changing the hiring process for future police officers. Some of it is “antiquated” he said, for instance the practice of washing candidates out for having smoked pot in the past. “It’s not the ’60s anymore,” he said. The State Patrol, in particular, he said, has seen its duties expanded and has trouble filling all the openings it has because the requirements are so stringent.
Job creation, natural resources
Van De Wege said he wants to put more focus on traditional timber, milling and fishing sectors and his chairmanship of Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks will help the district.
Beauvais pointed to the proposal by the international mining giant BHP, which withdrew its plans for a Hoquiam shipping facility, and pointed at the state Department of Ecology. “It takes way, way too long to get a permit to break ground. We need to find a way to get permitting done more quickly.”