State office hopefuls address upcoming election issues at 21st District candidate forum

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andidates for state office in the 21st legislative district met in a forum on Monday night at Edmonds United Methodist Church. The event was sponsored by the Faith Action Network and moderated by Faith Action co-director the Rev. Paul Benz. L to R, Sen. Marko Liias (D), his opponent Dan Matthews (R), Allen McPheeters (R) and Strom Peterson (D), both running for State Representative position 1, and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D) and Jeff Scherrer (R), who is challenging her for State Representative position 2.
Candidates for state office in the 21st legislative district met in a forum on Monday night at Edmonds United Methodist Church. The event was sponsored by the Faith Action Network and moderated by Faith Action co-director the Rev. Paul Benz. L to R, Sen. Marko Liias (D), his opponent Dan Matthews (R), Allen McPheeters (R) and Strom Peterson (D), both running for State Representative position 1, and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D) and Jeff Scherrer (R), who is challenging her for State Representative position 2.

The six candidates who will face off in November to represent Washington’s 21st legislative district came together in a public forum on Tuesday evening to answer questions and state their positions on a range of issues.

Held at Edmonds United Methodist Church and sponsored by the Faith Action Network, topics ranged from balancing the budget to homelessness to taxation and the perennial issue of a state income tax.

Sen. Marko Liias (D) is running to retain his seat. Liias was serving as 21st District State Representative (pos 2) when he was appointed to fill the term of Sen. Paull Shin who resigned for health reasons.
Sen. Marko Liias (D) is running to retain his seat. Liias was serving as 21st District State Representative (pos 2) when he was appointed to fill the term of Sen. Paull Shin who resigned for health reasons. Opposing Liias is Dan Matthews, to Liias’ left.

Moderated by the Rev. Paul Benz of the Faith Action Network, the candidates included current State Senator Marko Liias (D), his opponent Dan Matthews (R), the two hopefuls for State Representative position 1 — Allen McPheeters (R) and Strom Peterson (D), and incumbent Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D) and challenger Jeff Scherrer (R), who hopes to unseat her in the race for State Representative position 2.

In most cases, the candidates stuck close to party lines, but there was one significant area of agreement: All candidates acknowledged the will of the voters on the question of a state income tax, and firmly pledged that this is off the table and not an option.

But the question of how to fund statewide needs and balance the budget in other ways brought out significant differences, with Republican candidates generally favoring cutting expenditures and Democrats advocating what Liias characterized as “creative solutions to increase revenues in ways that do not include an income tax.”

The issues of homelessness and food assistance elicited some of the more passionate responses from the candidates. The Republicans tended to favor improving the economy and creating jobs by removing unnecessary government regulation of businesses and not raising the minimum wage, arguing that by getting more people working, homelessness and hunger would be significantly reduced. In addition, they question the reported numbers of homeless, pointing out that many of these are living in motels, with friends, and/or “couch surfing” and are not on the streets.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D), was appointed as 21st District State Representative (Pos. 2) when incumbent Marko Liias was tapped to fill the vacancy in the Senate created by the resignation of Paull Shin.  She is opposed by Edmonds resident Jeff Scherrer (R), seated to her left.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D), was appointed as 21st District State Representative (Pos. 2) when incumbent Marko Liias was tapped to fill the vacancy in the Senate created by the resignation of Paull Shin. She is opposed by Edmonds resident Jeff Scherrer (R), seated to her left.

Their Democratic opponents on the other hand argued that addressing homelessness and hunger go beyond providing a roof and food. “Helping to strengthen and stabilize families by providing affordable housing, a living wage, and decent schools gets to the root of the problem,” said Ortiz-Self. “Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry. It is unacceptable to have families forced to choose between paying rent or buying food.”

The candidates debated a number of other issues including how to balance the state budget, how to fulfill the state constitutional mandate to fund education, how to provide affordable housing, and how to encourage and foster small business.

Allen McPheeters (R) makes a point as his opponent Strom Peterson (D) looks on.  Both are running for 21st District State Representative (Pos. 1), the seat vacated by the departing Mary Helen Roberts (D).
Allen McPheeters (R) makes a point as his opponent Strom Peterson (D) checks his notes. Both are running for 21st District State Representative (Pos. 1), the seat vacated by the departing Mary Helen Roberts (D).

While there was little agreement on any of these issues, the forum provided voters with a clear choice between two divergent approaches to solving the issues facing the State of Washington and the 21st District. In closing, the Rev. Paul Benz urged voters to study the issues, think about them, and be sure to exercise the right to vote this November.

My Edmonds News TV videotaped this forum and it will be posted Wednesday.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Mr. Vogel, for reporting on this forum. I’m delighted that My Edmonds News is covering the campaign.

    I do have one or two minor quibbles with details.

    You wrote, “The Republicans…question the reported numbers of homeless, pointing out that many of these are living in motels, with friends, and/or ‘couch surfing’ and are not on the streets.” I don’t question the reported numbers. I do question what they mean and their implications for policy.

    The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) releases data each year about the number of homeless students in the state. The 2012-2013 data is here: http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/pubdocs/2012-13ByDistrict2-7-14.pdf. According to this report, OSPI considered 30609 students homeless in that school year. These students fall into four categories:

    – Unsheltered (1254 students): These students are living in abandoned buildings, camps, vehicles, parks, on the streets, and other similar situations.
    – Hotels/Motels (1675): These students have been provided with vouchers for rooms. We are helping these students.
    – Shelters (6527): These students are staying in shelters, transitional housing, or awaiting foster care. We are helping these students, too.
    – “Doubled-Up” (21153): These students are staying with relatives or friends due to loss of housing or economic hardship.

    The doubled-up group are roughly 70% of the total. (A side note: In a January story about homelessness, the Herald noted that this situation does not meet the federal definition of homelessness. See http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140130/NEWS01/140139902) Their situations are not ideal, but I’m far more concerned about those 1254 unsheltered students. We have limited resources, and that’s where we should be focusing our efforts.

    One other small note: it’s the state constitution that mandates school funding, not the federal constitution.

    Thanks again for all you do at My Edmonds News!

    Allen McPheeters
    Candidate, State Representative, 21st District, Position 1

  2. I recognize that, to get elected, one must take an income tax “off the table”, but it also means that there’ll be no adequate funding of education at all levels, and/or that funding of social/mental services will be cut, and also that the voters would probably shoot themselves in the foot and repeal it if it were approved. So, we’ll see how high the sales tax will go before any increases are repealed and businesses will continue to pay the onerous b& o tax that voters ignore. And so it goes!!

    • Bob:
      I agree 100% with your comments. It seems that our legislature never has the courage to raise taxes when appropriate. Their primary interest is remaining in office. A number of times they’ve hesitated to increase the gasoline tax, and when they did they did not increase it sufficiently – even when crude oil was fluctuating in price so much that the tax increase was almost not relevant.

      I don’t want to pay more taxes, but it’s time that our voters realized that our state must have more revenue. Unfortunately a state income tax should probably be a major component of any remedy.

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