Mental health system reform, guns and education funding are just a few of the issues candidates running for the state House of Representatives in the 13th District likely will face if elected.
The district includes all of Lincoln and Kittitas counties and parts of Grant and Yakima counties.
The race for Position 1 consists of incumbent Republican Tom Dent of Moses Lake and challenger Jesse Hegstrom Oakey of Ellensburg, a Democrat.
The Yakima Herald-Republic talked with the candidates about how they plan to tackle issues facing the 13th Legislative district and why they’re the ones to do it.
In light of higher teacher salaries and less local funding, what else needs to be done with the McCleary ruling?
Dent: The ruling is finished and it’s behind us now. I think legislators did a good job collaborating on this issue. The Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to adequately fund schools, but as a ranking member on the Early Learning Committee, we haven’t seen much funding for that with McCleary. It appears that mistakes were made in the legislation and I can see that it needs to be fixed.
Hegstrom Oakey: I’m not convinced that we’re having higher teacher salaries. For two of the biggest school districts in the 13th Legislative District — Ellensburg and Moses Lake — it looks like they’re going to be worse off after the ruling unless the Legislature does something. No one understands where we’re at, so we need to evaluate where we are after McCleary. The court said we have to move away from levies and move toward state funding. The state says it’s enough and it’s clearly not enough; there’s a disconnect between state and local governments.
What can be done to reduce polarization and improve bipartisanship in the Legislature?
Dent: What goes on in the state Legislature is not what you see happening in Washington, D.C. We are more bipartisan at the state level; we have more in common than we don’t. The key is having relationships built on respect and having the capability to listen to each other. Maybe we agree and maybe we don’t but we work together. You have the right to believe what you want to believe and that’s what our country was built on. You work at it. It’s not rocket science; you love them as a human being.
Hegstrom Oakey: We need to acknowledge that we’re in a space where we don’t want to listen to each other: we want to win. We listen only to respond, not to understand. We need to sit down and find out what we have in common and be willing to acknowledge the positive qualities of the other side. For example, Republicans’ emphasis on individual liberty, religious liberty and realistic view of responsible gun ownership are all positive qualities.
What can you do to respect gun rights while limiting gun violence? Do you favor regulating sales of ammunition or banning large capacity magazines?
Dent: These issues stem from a lack of respect within society and a lack of discipline. I grew up with discipline, which kids need; if you don’t grow up learning right from wrong, you’ll never learn self-discipline. People want to restrict gun ownership, but before we do that, we need to look at the issue with society. Initiatives put forward on this issue without collaboration worry me. You can’t have common ground if you don’t talk. You’re not going to fix it with one law or initiatives because it’s not that simple. I do not favor banning or regulating ammunition.
Hegstrom Oakey: We need to foster a culture of gun responsibility. We need to acknowledge we have a Second Amendment and respect the Constitution. We also need to acknowledge that gun violence is down compared to previous decades. While gun issues are a problem, the media reporting of those issues is also problematic. We need to demand that media report on school shootings in a different way that doesn’t sensationalize it.
What additional reforms are needed for the state’s mental health system?
Dent: Our mental health system is in rough shape and its one of the biggest problems we have. We don’t have a workforce for mental health and we need to overcome the stigma. We need to fund hospitals and fill the workforce to fix the system. We need to realize that it’s just like the flu or the measles and it’s something that needs to be acknowledged.
Hegstrom Oakey: The problem starts with the entire health care system. We need Medicare for all because part of the problem with mental health is access to affordable health care. Access is especially difficult for those with lower incomes or who live in rural areas. Mental health is further complicated on top of that system because of the stigma and misunderstanding.