24th District candidates make their case at forum

None of the six are from Grays Harbor County.

With all candidates living outside of Grays Harbor County, the five men and one woman running for state legislative seats in the 24th District made their first joint appearance on Grays Harbor to discuss issues such as local unemployment, the proposed oil shipments by rail and sea, funding education and changes in marijuana regulations.

In Hoquiam High School on Tuesday night, in a forum sponsored by Greater Grays Harbor Inc., with participation from The Daily World, Alpha Media Grays Harbor and Jodesha Broadcasting, the candidates introduced themselves to an audience of about 50 people and fielded individual questions from a media panel, as well as participating in a panel discussion format on three additional issues.

The district includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties on the northern Olympic Peninsula and much of Grays Harbor county.

In order of appearance, the candidates are:

State Senate

• Kevin Van De Wege, D, Sequim: Van De Wege noted he had been the representative in the 24th District the past 10 years, with the last six being majority leader in the House.

“It’s a position I have enjoyed doing. It’s something I have been able to help the district with a lot, bringing legislation that has been beneficial to Grays Harbor,” said the firefighter/paramedic from Sequim.

Van De Wege said his career away from the Legislature helps him “stay grounded, no matter what happens in Olympia.”

Of his accomplishments and goals, Van De Wege cited his work to create jobs: “When people have jobs, they are able to help in their communities, they are able to fund their schools and their local government projects; there is less likely to be child abuse or issues with alcohol or drug abuse.”

• Danille Turissini lists herself as a Republican independent from Port Ludlow: Turissini said she has “about 30 years in public policy as a citizen.” Her husband Dave is transit manager for Sound Transit and Danille said she has been involved in local and state government, as well as being a former journalist.

“I don’t look at life in a two-dimensional world,” she said of her newspaper work in Pennsylvania before moving to Washington in 2001. “I see different angles. In fact I learned that there are not just two angles to stories, but there can be many. That’s why it is so important to me to find out what those different perspectives are.”

Turissini said she also knows Olympia having worked there for 10 years, most recently “training citizens to navigate the process, the campus and the relationships there. I know the process well. I know how things work there. I know how things don’t.”

On how to fund education mandated by a state Supreme Court order, Van De Wege suggested closing “tax exemptions that are no longer working” as a first priority. “Beyond that, certainly a capital gains tax is something that has been talked about,” he said.

Turissini was critical of the Legislature and budget process as a whole for the education funding problem: “You know what they say, ‘If you repeat the same things over and over again, you can’t expect a different outcome. The last 10 years I have spent in Olympia is like a rerun.”

She suggested dealing with the budget and education first in the legislative session and not at the end, or during a special session. “The best way to deal with it is to think like a logger — go after the biggest, baddest tree, take care of that one first and then start dealing with all the other things.”

State Rep. Position 1

• Mike Chapman, D, Port Angeles: Chapman, a four-term Clallam County Commissioner and former U.S. Customs Inspector, noted he had been operating in local government for the past 16 years.

“It is really where you impact people’s lives on a daily basis,” Chapman said, citing his efforts to balance the Clallam County budget and build up reserves that now total $12 million.

“We weathered two recessions. We never cut services in Clallam County, and we never raised taxes unnecessarily,” he said. “If we can do that on the local level, we can bring that same experience to the state.”

Chapman called for “finding pragmatic, bipartisan solutions that will work for our local community.”

• George Vrable, R, Port Ludlow: Vrable noted he was making his first entry into politics at the age of 72. The retired career firefighter joked that he decided to run for office because “my wife got tired of me sitting on the recliner and complaining about the news.”

“When she voiced that to me, it hit home because we can all sit on our recliner and complain about what other people are doing,” Vrable said, expressing respect for those who work in government. “I didn’t feel like I had a reason to complain any more unless I was willing to do something.”

While Chapman has suggested changes in what he calls the state’s regressive tax system, Vrable said he would be opposed to a state income tax.

Chapman also said he was a “strong supporter” of Initiative-1491, which would “temporarily prevent individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order.” The initiative is intended to prevent a person with violent tendencies from buying a gun or keeping a gun.

“This is an opportunity to remove weapons from people who may not be in a position mentally or emotionally where they should have access to weapons,” Chapman said, noting he had served as a former street law enforcement officer.

Vrable, on the other hand, questioned if the initiative could go too far: “I see a lot of possibility of abuse with that. I am very skeptical of something where somebody can accuse me of being dangerous and I lose my right to bear arms for a certain period of time.”

State Rep. Position 2

• John Alger, Sequim, refers to himself as a Republican independent: An Aberdeen native who graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1972, the career Air Force officer said he was making his first run at public office as an independent-leaning conservative.

In Olympia, Alger said, his primary focus would be jobs, noting the most recent state figures show Grays Harbor County with 8.8 percent unemployment, placing it third highest among the 39 counties in the state: “This economy has been depressed for way, way too long.”

• Steve Tharinger, D, Sequim: The third-term incumbent described himself as a “pragmatic problem-solver, working on issues in a non-partisan, focused way.” Tharinger pointed to several projects in Grays Harbor County as an example.

“We have been able to strengthen the hospitals and get them better reimbursement rates, we have been able to bring some dollars in to help the Port of Grays Harbor with their dredging, we have been able to help Ocean Shores with coastal resiliency, and we were able to get some dollars to help Aberdeen build their Gateway Center,” Tharinger said.

Another major issue, Tharinger said, is health care, noting he chairs the Joint Select Committee on Aging.

Tharinger and Alger differed most distinctly on the issue of raising the minimum wage, with Initiative 1433 on the November ballot — a measure that would incrementally raise the state’s minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020 and mandate employers to offer paid sick leave.

Tharinger said he generally supports minimum wage increases, which he called a “challenge for our district for the rural areas.” The increased wages come with increased economic activity, he noted. While he said a $15 minimum wage would be too high, Tharinger said the amounts set by the initiative “make some sense.”

Alger, however, said Washington state already has the eighth highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.47 an hour. “I don’t like the initiative, because I don’t think we should have one size fits all for the entire state,” Alger said.

Grays Harbor issues

Employment and health issues, along with coastal erosion, flood control and protection were among the subjects chosen for questions that were asked by a local media panel.

Van De Wege suggested that Grays Harbor could try to develop a pilot program to find a “new way to tackle a lot of the drug and alcohol abuses that bring down those health statistics.” He noted that the state is moving toward treating chemical dependency and mental health together.

“A lot of the struggles that Grays Harbor faces is that often people have to go to Olympia to get treatment,” Van De Wege said, calling for “bringing more services out here to Grays Harbor.”

Turissini said she believes that “government needs to work better for us, and not against us” and asserted that many of the “problems could be solved less expensively if we empower people to help those around them.”

On the issue of flood control, Tharinger said he would work with the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquaim for the Timberworks project started this past December to reduce flood risks and improve the neighborhoods affected by flooding and flood insurance mandates.

“I think it’s a very important project,” Tharinger said. The project has about a $50 million price tag, he noted, calling for a “partnership with the cities and state” to fund the project.

“The state does have an obligation here to move this project forward,” Tharinger said.

Alger also expressed concern about the rising cost of flood insurance in the wake of major localized flooding last year, and he said the goal should be to have the area “redefined as a 100-year floodplain” to help bring down premium.

“I agree with Rep. Tharinger that we need to do a partnering and I would hope there would be a way we could partner upstream — the cities, the state, and pull in federal funds as well,” Alger said.

On the issue of the proposed oil shipments by rail and ship through the Port of Grays Harbor, Turissini said the state “should take into consideration what the people want and not try to impose things upon it. I’m not against oil, but I am against this project.”

“There are a lot of other things that we can do in this community to help to create jobs,” Turissini said, suggesting an effort to enhance broadband services as one possibility.

Van De Wege also said he was opposed to the crude oil project, advocating building better rail line directly to the refineries to transport the oil rather than offloading it and then shipping it be sea to be refined.

“Jobs are tough to create, and it’s always a challenge,” he said. “I think the first step in economies and jobs is protecting the jobs you have.”

There was fairly unanimous support among all the candidates for development of more district-wide manufacturing such as cross-laminated timber. Congressman Derek Kilmer recently was among members of Congress who have introduced a bill to accelerate wood building construction and help rural communities affected by mill closures. The Timber Innovation Act (H.R. 5628) would spur the use of highly flexible, sturdy and flame-resistant modern wood products such as cross-laminated timber in buildings over 85 feet. The act would create federal grants to encourage the use of less expensive and less carbon-intensive construction materials in tall buildings.

“That’s an issue we’re working on in Clallam County,” Chapman said. “As a county commission, we’re actively trying to recruit a business from outside the area to our county to create a cross-laminate timber manufacturing plant.” The product could be used in new school construction, Chapman noted.