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Candidates vie for ‘fiscally responsible’ tag

State Sen. Derek Kilmer and challenger Marty McClendon take questions from moderator Tim Mathes during Saturday’s candidate forum at Towne Square Port Orchard. - Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo
State Sen. Derek Kilmer and challenger Marty McClendon take questions from moderator Tim Mathes during Saturday’s candidate forum at Towne Square Port Orchard.
— image credit: Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo

Given the financial challenges awaiting in both Olympia and the nation’s capitol, it’s no surprise each of the candidates attending Saturday’s campaign forum at Towne Square Port Orchard used the occasion to position himself or herself as more fiscally responsible that their opponent.

Sponsored by the Senior Action Committee, the three-hour event attracted about 100 attendees to hear candidates for Rep. Norm Dicks’ seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as Derek Kilmer’s 26th District’s seat in the Washington State Senate and both seats in the state House of Representatives.

“I’m not running against Norm Dicks per se,” Republican challenger Jesse Young told the crowd. “He’s been in Congress long enough for five or six careers. But it’s a little like being in Hollywood — the longer you stay in that artificial environment, the more you lose touch with the real world.

“I think it’s time to send someone to Congress who’s dealt with real budgets, real payrolls and real problems,” he said.

Fellow Republican hopeful Doug Cloud, a former staffer in the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, was even more direct.

“We need to fix the problems that are killing this country,” he said. “Corruption is a huge problem in Congress. Unfortunately, Mr. Dicks has fallen in with that culture of corruption and he needs to go. He needs to be honored for his service, but he needs to go.”

Dicks did not attend the event in person, but was represented by a staff member.

Young, who most recently served as senior business technology consultant for Russell Investments in Tacoma, touted his experience in the private sector — specifically in the financial services industry — while deriding Dicks’ handling of the economy.

“Norm Dicks is trying to tell you the same thing Barack Obama is — that it’s OK to spend money you don’t have,” he said. “We know better.”

“We can’t tax and regulate our way to prosperity,” Cloud said. “The way to fix the economy is by doing just the opposite. We need to get out of the way and free people up to let their natural ingenuity come out.”

The private-sector analogy applies at the state level, too, Kilmer told the audience during the state Senate portion of the event.

“We need to think of economic development like selling a product,” he said. “Unfortunately, Washington needs to come up with a better product and it needs to do a better job of selling it.

“I really don’t understand how you can expect employers to add jobs when you’re piling more and more taxes and regulations on them,” Kilmer said. “If people in the private sector did their jobs the way some people in the Legislature did theirs, they’d be fired.”

Republican challenger Marty McClendon agreed, but questioned Kilmer’s commitment to the private sector.

“Derek Kilmer says the right things, but he’s a member of the party whose platform calls for creating jobs in the public sector,” he said. “The problem with that idea is that it’s the private sector that generates the revenue that pays for the public sector. We need to be doing everything we can to support business, not growing the size of government.”

The event’s most heated exchange came when Gig Harbor resident Marlyn Jensen, who herself ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a seat in the Legislature two years ago, asked Kilmer why he voted against Jessica’s Law, which would have imposed stricter penalties on sexual predators while mandating more aggressive monitoring of their whereabouts.

“I supported an alternative bill that was endorsed by the state’s law enforcement agencies because they believed it would be more effective,” he said. “As the father of two young daughters, anyone who believes I’d do anything that puts anyone’s kids at risk is just plain out to lunch.”

McClendon, a Gig Harbor real estate broker, said he would have supported Jessica’s Law.

“I’m obviously not a politician,” he said. “I’m a guy who believes in common sense and is frustrated by the way things are going in our state government.”

In the forum’s final hour, candidates for both 26th District seats in the state House of Representatives burnished their credentials as budget hawks.

“I’ve been a small business owner for most of my professional life,” said Republican incumbent Rep. Jan Angel. “I know what it’s like to put a key in the door every morning and sign the front of people’s paychecks.”

Her Democratic opponent for the district’s Position 1 seat, Gig Harbor pediatrician Sumner Schoenike, noted that he, too, operated a small business.

“And it’s the small business owner in me,” he said, “that wants to cut all the red tape out of the way so we can grow our way out of this recession.”

Not to be outdone, Position 2 incumbent Larry Seaquist called himself, “the most fiscally conservative Democrat you’ll ever meet.

“We need to re-size Washington state’s government,” he said. “I’d estimate it can be reduced by about 20 percent. But we also need to re-set how it operates so we can continue to meet the state’s most important priorities.”

Seaquist’s challenger, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Doug Richards, was unable to attend the forum because of work responsibilities but also sent a spokesman on his behalf.

Asked whether they would pledge not to sign any tax or fee increase during their term, the candidates expressed varyng degrees of support.

“I told you when I ran for this office two years ago that I wouldn’t vote for any tax increases, and I kept my promise,” Angel said. “Our budget can be balanced without raising taxes, and I have no problem pledging to do just that.”

Schoenike said he would only vote for a tax increase as a last resort.

“There’s a glut of government,” he said. “But we also have a social contract with the residents of this state to provide needed services and we owe it to them not to take the easy way out. If a tax increase is needed to pay for those services, I’d vote for it.”

Seaquist was more abrupt.

“I don’t do pledges,” he said. “I’m here to offer my judgment. I don’t support higher taxes and I voted against last year’s budget for that reason. But I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I would absolutely oppose under any circumstances any sort of tax increase. I’d have to look at it first and use my judgment.”

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