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35th District race offers candidates with starkly different visions
At Tuesday morning’s 35th Legislative District Position 1 debate sponsored by the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce, the three candidates were as varied as the breakfast menu at the Cloverleaf Sports Bar and Grill in East Bremerton.
Incumbent Rep.Kathy Haigh (D-Belfair) stressed the importance of education, while Bremerton City Councilman Brad Gehring, a Republican, emphasized the need for Olympia to listen to cities and counties. Fellow Republican Marco Brown focused on slashing taxes and cutting social services.
“It’s the most important investment we can make as a society,” Haigh said of education. “But it’s not just K-12.”
After serving on the House Transportation Committee early in her legislative career, Haigh now plays a prominent role in education funding for the entire state.
“A lot of our students are wasting their last two years of high school and we have to do more to prepare them for the workplace,” she said, pointing to accelerated learning programs like Running Start and technical and trade schools.
Gehring agreed that education is important, but in order for the state to be able to provide for mandated services like infrastructure and transportation, more must be done to improve the state’s economic climate.
“I think we should be getting rid of the B&O (business and occupation) tax instead of passing it onto another group,” he said.
The state is currently too restrictive on businesses, which creates an unnecessary burden, especially for smaller businesses, he said.
“It seems as if sometimes the Legislature is trying to do the right thing, but it isn’t quite sure of what the needs are for us in cities and counties,” Gehring said, emphasizing that this is one area where his experience as a Bremerton city councilman will benefit the entire 35th District.
Brown said he would represent the “common man” and be a voice of reason in Olympia, where corporate America seems to be in complete control.
“Social programs have failed,” he said. “They need to get off welfare and get jobs.”
In addition to reducing social programs, Brown said the Legislature needs to be responsible with taxpayers’ money.
“Tim Sheldon told me in 2006 that people entrust us to spend their money,” Brown said. “No they don’t. They expect us to spend it wisely.”
One issue all three candidates agreed on was the need for huge improvements with the state’s ferry system.
Haigh said Gov. Chris Gregoire’s decision to place the ferry system closer to the governor’s office has provided more oversight and accountability for the entity, which previously lacked such careful examination.
“The focus has to be on providing service to the public,” Haigh said.
Gehring said there are a number of possible ways to improve the system’s efficiency and if elected, he would work to ensure those ideas are fully explored.
Brown said the system doesn’t need more funding from the Legislature until it can show that it is operating efficiently.
“It’s time for a change,” Brown said in his concluding remarks.
“When you’ve got the government aligned with corporate America, you’ve got problems,” Brown said. “It’s time to give it back to the people.”
Gehring quoted Article I, Section I of the Washington State Constitution, which states, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
“I believe in that document and I will do my best to make sure it is followed,” Gehring said.
As the incumbent, Haigh promised to continue working hard to find ways to save taxpayer dollars in the Legislature, but stopped short of promsing not to raise taxes.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 19 primary will face off in the Nov. 4 general election to decide who will represent the 35th District in Position 1.