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.
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.
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.
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