Candidates for offices in the 42nd and 40th legislative districts and Whatcom County Council district turned out on a crisp, clear Wednesday evening to try to convince county voters why they should be elected.
The candidates spoke to a nearly full county council chambers in Bellingham as part of the NWCitizen.com candidate forum on October 13. John Servais, NWCitizen.com owner, said he and his staff counted upwards of 130 people at the event.
Each candidate was allowed one minute to answer each question, in addition to being able to ask one question of his or her opponent. Each was also allowed a one-minute opening statement and a two-minute closing statement.
42nd Legislative District
Representative Position 1
The first candidates of the night were Democrat Al Jensen and Republican Jason Oversteet, a Blaine city councilmember. Jensen and Overstreet are running for state representative position 1, a position currently held by Representative Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
Jensen has been with the Bellingham Police Department since the late 1970s and is currently a detective. Oversteet has been a full-time firefighter with the Seattle Fire Department since 2001 and is a U.S. Army veteran.
The first question concerned the issue of public safety in Washington. Jensen said the state needs a comprehensive gang enforcement plan and more efficient methods for law enforcement officials to share information across state lines. He also said improvements need to be made to the state’s prison system.
Oversteet appeared to agree for the most part with Jensen. Oversteet said local law enforcement cannot be left by the wayside and that the state should not hand down mandates to local governments without providing the money to pay for them.
The next issue-based question concerned Initiative-1098 and brought out some ideological differences in the candidates. I-1098, one of six initiatives on the 2010 ballot, would create a state income tax for those making $200,000 per year or more.
Jensen said he favored I-1098 and said it would be a good litmus test to determine how Washington voters want the tax code to be restructured, something Jensen thinks is necessary.
The initiative found no support from Overstreet.
“[I-1098] is class warfare at its finest,” Oversteet said.
The reduction in state property tax levies and in some business and occupation tax rates in the initiative are just “carrots” being dangled in front of Washington business owners, Oversteet said. The reductions are meant to hide the fact that passing I-1098 would be the largest tax increase in state history, he said.
Despite their disagreements, Jensen and Oversteet maintained their promise to run campaigns focusing on the issues and not partisan bickering. They both alluded to this agreement, made earlier in the year, when asked how they feel about attack ads run by other campaigns.
Representative Positions 2
Representative Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, and Republican Vincent Buys were up next. Linville has been a state representative since 1993. She graduated from Western Washington University with a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology.
Buys is a graduate of Bellingham Technical College and has worked for Intel and Horizon Air, in addition to starting his own construction company.
The majority of the time Linville and Buys were given to answer questions focused on how to fund education and how government should interact with business. Linville said she supports State Need Grants while Buys railed against state-funded mandates that local school districts have to pay for themselves.
The next issue the candidates addressed was business. Buys echoed many of the points Oversteet made: government should keep its hands out of business as much as possible.
Buys also accused Linville of being bad for business by using her position as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee to make some businesses afraid of her.
Linville said that could not be further from the truth. She cited her work to reduce taxes paid by the BP Cherry Point Refinery, a large job provider in the area.
Linville maintained her decisions when it comes to governing are not based on party politics, but what is best for her district. She said representing the 42nd district is especially challenging because it is split nearly 50 percent politically: half Democrat, half Republican.
42nd Legislative District
State Senate Seat
The last candidates for office in the 42nd district were Representative Ericksen and his Democratic opponent Pat Jerns.
Ericksen brings 12 years of experience in the state house of representatives. He graduated from Western Washington University with a master’s degree in environmental policy and political science. Jerns has been working in real estate for the past 30 years.
The questions asked of these two candidates focused government’s role in business, but also briefly addressed social issues.
Jerns felt Ericksen was too focused on party politics to get things done in Olympia. Jerns said he has the experience in the private sector that is necessary to forge effective relationships between business and government.
Countering Jerns’ assertions, Ericksen cited his work with both parties in the state Senate to get work done on the Guide Meridian near Lynden.
When discussion of initiative 1053 came up, Jerns said he was against the measure while Ericksen expressed strong support for it. I-1053 would require a two-thirds majority in each house of the state legislature.
Jerns said the initiative, if passed, would make it too difficult for future legislatures to raise taxes for vital services.
“That’s like telling firefighters you can use a ladder to put out a fire, but not water,” Jerns commented.
One member of the audience asked if either candidates supports same-sex marriage. Jerns said he supports the right of two people of the same sex to get married, while Ericksen said he supports Washington’s defense of marriage act. The defense of marriage act, passed in 1998, defines marriage in the state as the union of one man to one woman.
Ericksen did say, however, that he supports the right of someone to leave their property to anyone they wish and have anyone visit them in the hospital without being heavily burdened by law.
During his closing statement, Jerns came out in support of the decriminalization, not legalization, of small amounts of marijuana.
Ericksen had no comment.