Local candidates for Washington State Legislature and Congress as well as spokespeople for several key ballot initiatives gathered in the Edmonds City Council Chambers Monday night for what has become an annual Chamber tradition: a forum for candidates to express their views and have an opportunity to rebut their opponents.
We are providing a summary of the issues here and will present the candidates in a separate report. You can watch the full two-hour forum starting Thursday on cable channels 21 and 39 and we will also have the program available for on-demand viewing on My Edmonds News. Ballots will be mailed to voters on Oct. 19 and must be returned by election day, Nov. 6.
502: Legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana — Pro: Rick Steves and Con: Pat Flack
Steves, owner of Edmonds-based Europe through the Back Door, has been a long-time supporter of efforts to legalize marijuana. The measure would remove civil and criminal penalties for adults 21 and older and tax marijuana sales using a “liquor store model,” with an estimated $500 million in tax revenues split between the state general fund and “health care and drug abuse and prevention programs.”
“That money is being raised right now but it is going to gangs and organized crime,” Steves said. “Our feeling is, we take the crime out of the equation and treat drug abuse as an education and a health challenge, we can lessen harm in our society.”
Speaking against the measure was Pat Slack, who serves as a commander for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office but was speaking as a private citizen. Slack noted that if Initiative 502 passes, it will become law in December 2012, then handed over the Washington State Liquor Control Board to develop rules and regulations — which don’t need to be in place until December 2013. As a result, anyone 21 years and older “can possess an ounce of marijuana but where are they going to get it? They are still going to have to get it from the black market,” he said.
In addition, Slack said, the pro-502 camp notes that 10,000 people are arrested yearly in Washington state for marijuana possession, but 42 percent of those are under 21, “and still will be arrested and they are the ones most tragically impacted by a possession arrest.”
1185: Two-thirds vote required to raise taxes — Pro: no representative attending. Con: Reuven Carlyle, Washington State Representative
Calling it “bad public policy,” Carlyle noted that an almost identical policy was tried in the state of Colorado and was “a complete disaster. The very conservative Republican governor asked the voters 10 years later to suspend that policy and those Republican voters did,” he said. “It’s also eviscerating our ability to fully fund public education,” he added. Forum moderator Chris Keuss noted that state voters have approve this issue twice before when it has appeared on the ballot, and asked “why not go with the will of the people.” Carlyle’s response: “What this initiative does is uses the simple majority of the people to eliminate simple majority and the constitutional issue is very serious.”
1240: Charter schools — Pro, Tim Ceis. Con, Melissa Westbrook
This initiative would authorize up to 40 public charter schools over the next five years in the State of Washington with government oversight. Ceis said that charter schools follow the same requirements as any traditional public school and are funded in the same way. “What they do allow is for teachers and principals to have more flexibility in how they teach,” especially for kids who are not traditionally well-served by public schools, he added.
Westbrook noted that Washington state voters have rejected the idea of charter schools three times. Studies show that only 17 percent of charter schools do better than traditional schools, she added. Ceis disagreed, adding that in fact “there are outstanding charter schools getting outstanding results. It should be an option for our students in this state as well.”
“There is no district in the entire country that because of the presence of charter schools has closed the achievement gap,” Westbrook said. “And you think that in 41 states in 20 years, you’d have one district to be able to say that.”
Referendum 74 Same sex marriage — Pro: Rep. Marko Liias, Washington United for Marriage and Con: Chip White, Communications Director for Preserve Marriage Washington
White said his organization supports “the traditional definition of marriage — one man and one woman.” He pointed to Washington’s existing recognition of same-sex partnerships, noting that gay couples already have full legal rights in the state. “Referendum 74, if it’s approved, will grant no new benefits to same-sex couples,” White said.
“It’s better for kids to have both a mom and a dad,” he added. “Children learn something from their female parent and they learn something from their male parent and there no way that a man can be a mom and there’s just no way that a woman can be a dad.”
Liias said that while the domestic partnership protections passed by the Legislature are important, “they are inadequate and aren’t the same as providing gay and lesbian couples access to marriage. Domestic partnerships are confusing and when a person is admitted to the hospital or life-threatening decisions have to be made, confusion is not something you want to introduce into that situation”
Added Liias: “For the children involved, having the safety and security of a loving couple, loving parents is what’s most important in their lives and this provides this opportunity to all our families across the state.”