The only 14th Legislative District incumbent facing a challenger this year is state Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, whose lawsuit challenging Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 stay-home-stay-healthy proclamation drew White Salmon Democrat Tracy Rushing into the race.
Corry and Rushing are also running against Naches resident William Razey, who listed “education party” as his party affiliation but has done little or no public campaigning. Razey, who did not list a contact number in his filing paperwork, did not respond to emails seeking an interview for this story.
The other two 14th District incumbents, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, and Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, are running unopposed. The 14th is historically strongly Republican, both before and after its borders changed in a 2012 redistricting. The last Democrat to win in the 14th was Inslee in 1990. No Democratic legislative candidate has won more than 41% of the vote in the district since it grew to incorporate part of Clark County and all of Skamania and Klickitat counties in 2012.
In addition to electoral history, Rushing would have to overcome a significant funding gap to defeat Corry. According to their most recent state Public Disclosure Commission filings, Corry’s campaign has raised $76,146 while Rushing’s has raised $7,540.
Usually races in the district revolve around issues such as education policy, use of natural resources and the state budget. Those remain issues this year, but they have a new context within the obvious all-encompassing issue: the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Corry and Rushing have sharply divergent views on that.
In May, Corry joined three other Republican lawmakers, along with four additional Washington residents, to sue Inslee over the governor’s emergency proclamation shutting down nonessential businesses and ordering people to stay home except when necessary.
“We know that the emergency has been averted,” the suit said, calling for a repeal of Inslee’s order. Rushing, who works at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital and has written about sending “multiple patients down the river to large ICUs, knowing they probably won’t make it, knowing they will probably die on a ventilator and die alone,” hadn’t planned on entering politics until she heard about the lawsuit.
We asked each of them the same four questions. Here are summaries of their answers.
What is the most pressing issue facing the 14th District?
Corry: It’s our state’s coronavirus response and what that will look like moving forward, Corry said. That’s not just the medical response, it’s also the economic response, it’s “What does school look like in the fall?”
“Then, obviously, as our state budget is being decimated right now, we’re going to have some significant economic impacts we’re going to need to address.”
Gov. Inslee’s emergency proclamation is no longer needed, Corry said. We remain in crisis, but he argues the emergency has passed. Meanwhile, businesses are being closed and people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. Local health districts, with coordination from the state, should be leading the response, not the governor, Corry believes.
Corry said Inslee’s mandates could set a dangerous precedent.
“If this goes unchecked now,” he said, “what’s to stop another governor down the road from declaring an emergency that’s more questionable?”
Rushing: It’s health care, Rushing said. This district needs medically informed leadership to respond to the ongoing pandemic. But the need to focus on health care doesn’t end with COVID-19. Greater access to health care and greater affordability should be a priority regardless.
“The pandemic has really opened up our eyes as to why health care for all matters,” she said.
Rushing believes the emergence of telemedicine, made necessary by the pandemic, could help. But broadband access remains a challenge in many rural communities. And not all medical needs can be met remotely. So access and affordability remain key.
As the school year gets closer, and restrictions on contact, travel and business remain, what should the Legislature’s role be in the fight against COVID-19?
Rushing: She said her answer a few months ago would have been different than it is now, and her answer a few months in the future may be different as well. This is a novel virus. We’re still learning about it, and trying to predict what will be needed by the time the legislative session starts in January is impossible, she said.
She believes the response should be a locally led community effort, but that requires more effective leadership than we’ve had in this district. And sometimes means that mandates like Inslee’s stay-at-home order are necessary, she said.
“My kids remind me every day that nobody likes mandates,” Rushing said. “They should be a last resort. But right now certain ones, like the mask mandate, are necessary.”
As we move forward, she said, the key is going to be focusing more on science than on politics.
“My answer right now is really to defer to the experts. ... Recommendations are going to be an evolving process,” she said.
Corry: We’ll need to prioritize funding our pandemic response, Corry said. That means funding for things like hospitals and health care workers’ personal protective equipment, but it also means funding for unemployment and funding to help small businesses stay afloat.
Additionally, the Legislature needs to work collaboratively with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to determine what school will look like in the fall and beyond. Kids are not as susceptible to COVID infection, he said, so in-person school should be able to restart. If there’s an older teacher or one who’s immunocompromised, they could teach remotely.
“We need to figure out how to get kids back in school,” he said.
The lawsuit against Inslee states, “We know the emergency has been averted.” Do you believe this?
Corry: An emergency is something that is emergent, Corry said; there are variables you don’t understand. I understand that, in an emergency, people’s constitutional rights can be infringed upon for the greater good. But it should be as little as possible for as short a time as possible. This is a crisis, not an emergency, he says.
“A crisis is something you continue to go through. Nothing is an emergency forever.”
Rushing: She doesn’t believe the emegency is over. The argument is not based on medical knowledge or epidemiology, she said. There’s no data backing it up. And you see how the case count and death toll in Yakima County shot up over the following month as the virus exploded in the packing houses, she said.
“I thought that was one of the most presumptive lines I had ever read, especially during a pandemic,” Rushing said
Corry’s distinction between “emergency” and “crisis” doesn’t hold water, Rushing said. COVID is an emergency to dozens, sometimes hundreds, of newly diagnosed people in this 14th District every day.
“That distinction is complete semantics that actually has no bearing on anything helpful,” she said. “It’s very clearly an emergency.
What in your personal or professional background makes you the better candidate for this position?
Rushing: Rushing says she’s a more well-rounded representative of the 14th District. She considers her a more compassionate candidate than Corry.
“He seems to be working to optimize things for a very specific demographic in our district. ... It makes me concerned about who he is trying to serve with that lawsuit,” she said.
She wants to work for everyone in the district, Rushing said.
Corry: As an incumbent, Corry said his record speaks on his behalf. He considers himself a pragmatic legislator who is willing to work with both sides of the aisle. His philosophy is that he serves everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, he said.
“I will hear everyone out, and I will advocate for anyone in my district,” he said.