WALLA WALLA — COVID-19, economic recovery and police reform were the focus of a candidate forum last week for 16th District legislative seats in Walla Walla.
A senator and two state representative positions are up for election this year. Because both representative races have only two candidates, each is assured a spot on the general election ballot Nov. 3. The top two candidates in the Senate race will advance.
District 16 is made up of Columbia and Walla Walla counties, and parts of Benton and Franklin counties. It includes Prosser.
Two Walla Walla natives aim to fill the Position 1 seat left open by Senate candidate Bill Jenkin. On the Republican ticket is farmer and business owner Mark Klicker of Klicker Enterprises. Frances Chvatal, a registered nurse of 37 years and Walla Walla native, is running as a Democrat.
First-term incumbent Rep. Skyler Rude, R–Walla Walla, defends his Position 2 seat against Progressive Democratic challenger Carly Coburn of Pasco, a political activist and former chair of Tri-Cities Young Democrats.
Three candidates are vying for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Maureen Walsh, R–College Place: state Rep. Bill Jenkin, a Prosser Republican; Perry Dozier, a Republican, farmer and former Walla Walla County Commissioner; and Danielle Garbe Reser, a Democrat and former diplomat and Sherwood Trust CEO.
On COVID-19, Dozier highlighted the importance of the agricultural labor force, and said employers and the government should play a role in protecting essential workers.
“I believe that the employer has a role in this along with getting the right information from our state,” Dozier said, mentioning how much more has been learned about the coronavirus and its transmission. “Testing is essential for this group of people (and) we need to have testing available.”
Jenkin said he wants to get the politics out of the COVID-19 response and get back to work. “I know mask wearing is something that is foreign to all of us,” he said. “I don’t like doing it. I walk into a convenience store and see that sign and walk back to put my mask on. But we do it to be conscious of the people around us.”
Garbe Reser said the Legislature should play a bigger role and come back into session.
She called for safety and security provisions for employees, and commended some companies for stepping up and criticized others for breaking COVID-19 safety guidelines. “Lives were lost as a result,” she said.
Garbe Reser also called for a review on the Washington State Employment Security Department breach that led to a fraudulent transfer of millions of dollars out of state. “The state Legislature needs to have oversight and make sure that the fraudulent claims are investigated and that money is returned to the state and people are held accountable,” she said.
Dozier and Jenkin agreed that tax increases aren’t necessary in balancing the budget.
“I don’t think you can tax yourself out of a tough financial situation,” Dozier said, referencing his work as a commissioner during the last financial crisis. “We balanced the budget, we didn’t raise property taxes for four years, we didn’t dip into our savings… and we did it without large layoffs.”
Jenkin said once the economy heats up and the state generates more revenue, money should be put in the rainy day fund.
Garbe Reser said a mix of measures would be required to balance the budget; including money owed by the federal government and a review of approved spending. As a very last resort, she stressed, she’d support a tax on the very highest earners in the state.
On the issue of police reform, Dozier called for more officer training and substance abuse and mental health programs.
Jenkin agreed that we “have to do something about mental health.”
“A lot of the homeless have mental health issues,” Jenkin said. “And that’s a drain on the economy. We have to help these people. More than just give them a bed to sleep but help them come back as part of the society.”
Garbe Reser first addressed the racial and ethnic discrepancies in Washington across health, education and policing outcomes. She advocated for community-based task forces that she said have been successful in Washington in the past, and comprehensive mental health programs.
As the forum neared its end, the senate candidates were asked to identify their unique attribute among the group.
Dozier said he’s the only candidate who’s balanced a budget during a recession without raising taxes.
Jenkin said he’s the only one who can bring together knowledge of Olympia and the 16th district.
Garbe Reser said she’s the only one, as a Democrat, who would “sit in the majority room and help shape the agenda and work on the issues most to our region.”
She would be the only legislator from Eastern Washington sitting in that room, Garbe Reser said.
“We need someone who can say ‘your one-size-fits-all policy is not what fits our communities.’”