After ousting incumbent David Taylor from his state House of Representatives seat in August’s primary election, voters in Washington’s 15th Legislative District will decide who they want to replace him in next month’s general election.
They must decide between Republican Jeremie Dufault and Democrat A.J. Cooper, two Selah residents who are vying for the Position 2 seat Taylor held for nearly a decade.
Dufault, a real estate developer, won 45.7 percent of the vote in August’s primary election; while Cooper, a fitness instructor, won 26 percent. Taylor, a Republican from Moxee, won 23.2 percent.
The 15th District covers parts or all of Selah, Yakima, Terrace Heights, Moxee, Union Gap, Wapato, Toppenish, Zillah, Granger, Sunnyside, Grandview and Mabton. As of 2010, about 133,000 people lived in the district.
Ballots for the election will be mailed out Oct. 19. They will need to be postmarked or dropped off at one of several ballot drop boxes in the county by 8 p.m. Nov. 6. Voters in the 15th Legislative District will also decide the outcome of a race for the district’s Position 1 House seat, and a race for the district’s single state Senate seat.
For this race, the Yakima Herald-Republic asked each candidate for their positions on issues that likely will arise in the next legislative session.
In light of higher teacher salaries and less local funding, what else needs to be done with the McCleary ruling?
Dufault: We need to roll back property taxes from McCleary, impose the 3.1 percent cap on salary increases for teachers, reduce property taxes at the state level and keep the local levy cap in place. We also need to reform the way we fund school construction, and put in place operating efficiencies within closely located school districts so that we’re not doing duplicated services like bus service and administrative services across geographically similar and proximate areas. I also feel we need a statewide salary schedule and that teachers in rural areas need to be given incentive to teach in rural areas. The way McCleary came down is that teachers get paid more in Seattle than they do in Yakima County, and I think that should be reversed. You want to attract good teachers by offering them higher pay, and you also want to give teachers a reason to teach in more challenging schools. A lot of our rural schools have more children below the poverty line, therefore those are the ones that are going to statistically have more disciplinary issues and be more challenging to teach in. You need to incentivize teachers to teach in those schools as opposed to schools in say, Bellevue.
Cooper: The McCleary ruling was about funding those basic educational needs. Now, I would like to see more done in the classrooms to meet every student’s needs. We still have parents who have to move around to meet their child’s needs because they’re not fitting into the status quo classroom. Also, I would like to see some flexibility in the classroom. We have a lot of unique needs in the Valley. When it comes to education, it’s not always just about funding. And we definitely need to make sure that teachers make a livable wage. They’ve gone years without a cost-of-living adjustment, so we need to make sure we keep up with the cost of living.
If voters turn down the carbon tax initiative, what should be the Legislature’s next step? What if voters approve it?
Dufault: The next step should be nothing. But what will it be? They’ll basically propose the exact same language as legislation in the next session. If voters approve it, the Legislature should reverse it. It’s a very unwise mandate. All of the costs are going to be borne by the state of Washington, but whatever marginal, microscopic benefit that will come will be for the whole world. That does not make sense to me. It’s a feel-good initiative and I understand the motivation behind it because I, too, want clean air for my children. I get the emotional argument, but the fiscal and nexus arguments are not there.
Cooper: We need to do something about climate change. I know there are some changes happening in the agricultural industry. Some industries are making those changes. Some of our smaller farmers in the area and some small businesses are taking those steps to be green, and I would like to see tax incentives for them. When I see taxes, I want them to be invested back into the state’s economy and our environment. I really like these small and local business tax incentives. If we’re going to have money flowing out, we’re going to need to have money flowing in. I would live to also see some diversification in the state’s revenue. Part of our problem right now is that we don’t have diverse revenue. I would like to see some simplification in our government. I feel funding could come from making our government agencies more efficient. For example, we have eight agencies overseeing our foreign guest workers. I think one agency would be less costly and more efficient. If the carbon fee doesn’t get approved, we have to look at more diverse streams of revenue. If it gets approved, let’s see what happens and go from there.
Should legislators comply with the state’s Public Records Act? Will you support recommendations coming out of the Public Records Task Force?
Dufault: Yes, there should not be a legislative exemption to the open public records and open public meetings acts for the Legislature. As for supporting recommendations from the task force, it would depend on what those recommendations are.
Cooper: Yes, I do not feel the Legislature should be exempt from that. As a legislator, I would be employed by the people and they deserve to know what I’m doing. I would have to see any recommendations before I knew if I could support them.
What can be done to reduce polarization and improve bipartisanship in the Legislature?
Dufault: We can make the greatest strides by focusing on the issues on which we agree, and there are many. Recently, we’ve had these contentious, highly partisan issues that have been the drivers of our legislative session and I don’t think that’s healthy. As long as issues are about government growth, they’re going to be highly partisan. But if we could roll up our sleeves and say, “This is what we have to work with, let’s all prioritize together,” I think that’s where we would start to make strides. At the end of the day, people from both parties want to see safer streets, they want to see mental health issues resolved, they want to see our kids well educated, and they want to make sure we have clean air and water. Those are not controversial issues.
Cooper: With a lot of issues that have become politicized and polarized — climate change, for example — we need to really put those differences aside. Types of projects like the Yakima Basin integrated water plan are what I want to see more of, especially on these really polarized issues. With that project, they basically sat down at the same table and everyone was involved. It’s one of the reasons why it’s admired nationally and globally.
What can you do to respect gun rights while limiting gun violence? Do you favor regulating sales of ammunition or banning large capacity magazines?
Dufault: The Legislature can play a role in protecting our children in schools, which in my opinion is the most concerning aspect of gun violence. We need to focus on doing things at the schools themselves — such as providing common access points, which will prevent people from bringing guns into schools undetected — rather than focusing on the guns. I’m opposed to any new restrictions on responsible gun owners.
Cooper: Gun rights and reducing gun violence are not just a one-sided issue. With Initiative 1639, I like the parts about the gun dealers needing to keep their guns safely stored and holding people accountable. This issue tends to get linked a lot with mental illness. There are some issues when it comes to mental illness and gun violence, but that’s not always the case. Again, having those safety precautions to keep the guns out of the wrong hands is one thing, but also dealing with our society is the other. I don’t have a problem with gun ownership at all. But we need to start building a healthy society right now and that starts with our children. I support banning high capacity magazines, but when it comes to ammunition I’d need to see specific legislative language.