Barring the unforeseen, the 13th District state House primary on Aug. 6 will be a dry run for the general election in November.
It’s a top-two primary in a race with only two candidates: Republican appointee Rep. Alex Ybarra of Quincy and Democratic challenger Steve Verhey of Ellensburg. So the general election field appears set.
District 13, which covers all of Kittitas and Lincoln counties and parts of Yakima and Grant counties, is one of only two districts with special legislative elections in 2019. It has that distinction because one of its two House seats was vacated when former Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg resigned amid sexual-impropriety allegations just after being elected in 2018. Ybarra was appointed to the seat by commissioners from the district’s four counties. This election will determine who gets to finish the two-year term. The seat will be up for election again in the regular state House election in 2020.
Like most Eastern Washington districts, the 13th is considered strongly Republican. Its other representative, Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, won in 2018 with 71 percent of the vote. And Manweller, even though he had already pledged to resign, won with 61 percent. Fundraising on the Ybarra and Verhey campaigns reflects this partisan divide. Ybarra had raised $30,111.50 as of Tuesday. Verhey had raised $1,742.
Verhey knows the political reality and understands he has a tough hill to climb. His pitch to voters is based on the state’s tax structure, which the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy deemed the nation’s most regressive. Republican stances against new taxes are really just a defense of that, he said.
“What they’re really saying is they’re happy to have low-income people paying the most of anywhere in the country,” Verhey said.
In addition to the district’s strong pro-Republican voting past, Ybarra has incumbency on his side. Having been in Olympia for one legislative session already, he knows his way around more than a rookie representative would.
“It’s just knowing how the process works — how you run bills, who you talk to,” he said. “The whole process is pretty complex. Having that year of experience has taught me how the process works.”
We asked each candidate the same four questions. Here are paraphrased summaries of their answers.
What should the Legislature’s priorities be for education right now?
- Ybarra: There’s enough money going to education, but it’s not dispersed equitably. Education funding per student should be the same, regardless of district. That’s difficult when the ability to raise money from levies depends so heavily on a district’s tax base. But figuring out a more equitable funding method is one of my main priorities.
- Verhey: The 2012 McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court was supposed to lead to full education funding by the state, but it has not. I know; I’m a teacher in a poor district with large class sizes. The answer, again, is in a more equitable tax structure statewide. If those who easily can pay more taxes were asked to pay more taxes, rather than those who cannot afford it, there would be more money for education.
Should legislators comply with the state’s Public Records Act, or should the loopholes currently being discussed by the state Supreme Court be maintained?
- Ybarra: I don’t know the current law enough to say whether it should stand. That’s for the court to decide. But I do believe we should govern as transparently as possible.
- Verhey: I don’t understand why it’s even a question. Of course state legislators should be subject to the Public Records Act.
What can be done to address drought relief long term?
- Ybarra: I’m a member of the Legislature’s joint Water Supply During Drought Committee. We worked on this during the last session, when we secured funding for the Odessa Aquifer Groundwater Replacement Project that will bring surface water to deep-well irrigators north of Interstate 90 and east of Moses Lake. And we’ll continue to work with constituents in the Yakima Basin, who have done a great job coming together to plan for their water future.
- Verhey: The Yakima Basin integrated water plan is a good start. But this, again, ultimately comes back to inequitable taxation. If the state is going to do more, at some point it needs more money. And the money would be there if the rich would pay their share of it. That’s necessary for a structural change in how we deal with drought.
Do you support the Yakima Basin integrated water management plan? What next steps are needed?
- Ybarra: I do support it. Like any plan, it will need frequent re-
- examination and tweaking as years go by. But it is a good plan, and I believe we should continue funding it at both the state and federal level.
- Verhey: It is going well, and I support it. The U.S. Congress has gotten behind it, and the Legislature should continue to fund and facilitate it. I’d support more state funding for it.