Washington 16th District candidates square off in virtual forum

Abby Main, Staff Reporter

On Oct. 6, the forum for candidates running for 16th Legislative District office was dominated by subjects such as COVID-19, the economic recovery, taxes and recent wildfires. The forum was conducted over Zoom and candidates received 60 seconds to respond to questions and 2 minutes for opening and closing statements. 

State Representative Position 1

Two Walla Walla natives are running for State Representative Pos. 1: Frances Chvatal (D), a healthcare professional and registered nurse, and Mark Klicker (R), a farmer and business owner. 

Responding to a question on the state’s role in childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, Klicker said that the state should provide stimulus packages and grant money to aid childcare providers. 

However, “What I don’t want,” he said, “is the state involved in running our childcare.” 

Chvatal said that 18 percent of childcare facilities have not reopened, and she would support expanded funding for such facilities.

“Public health is job one, but the economic recovery is job 1.5,” she said. “For many, access to quality and affordable childcare is critical to employment. This is not just an economic issue, but a moral question of how we care for our children.”

Both candidates emphasized a science-based approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic. Chvatal highlighted her experience as a health care worker and advocated to focus on quick and reliable testing. She also warned of the impact the coming flu season may have on the pandemic. 

Klicker agreed that “masking up is essential.” Citing a lack of education on hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the virus, Klicker suggested a set of state guidelines.

“At the same time,” he said, “we’ve got to be able to mix our economic system with [preventative measures].”

Klicker suggested that a special session of the Washington state legislature continue working on the issue.

The candidates were also asked to outline the role of the state government in responding to disasters such as the wildfires that have affected much of the state. Both candidates voiced support for forest management. Notably, Chvatal acknowledged the role of climate change.

“In the long term, I believe we must understand how climate change contributes to the environment in which these disasters occur with increasing severity,” Chvatal said, “and we need to continue public education to decrease man-made emissions sources.”

Klicker cited his history of work on forest management, remarking that on Tuesday he spent much of his day thinning forests. He said environmentalists have gotten in the way of proper management.

“The environmental community has shut down our forests… because of the spotted owl,” Klicker said, referring to the owl’s classification as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. “The state needs to work on finding management tools and money.”

Each set of candidates were given 30 minutes to respond to questions. Photo contributed by Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce.

State Representative Position 2

Carly Coburn, a progressive Democrat from the Tri-Cities, is challenging first-term incumbent Skyler Rude (R) for the district’s second state representative position. Both candidates emphasized the need for bipartisanship in Olympia, though they disagreed on policy specifics.

Rude and Coburn voiced support for relief provided by the state but to varying extents. Coburn said the state should do “as much as possible” to help families, though she did not offer details.

Rude announced his frustration with the state’s decision-making process; he feels the legislature has been cut out of Washington’s coronavirus response.

“A more engaged legislature would be a first step,” Rude said, before voicing support for relief on Washington’s business and occupation tax.

Rude said that a lack of income tax is a “selling point for Washington state,” and doubted that a progressive income tax would be in accordance with the state’s constitution. Coburn, on the other hand, proposed a commissioned study on Idaho’s partial income tax system to evaluate the viability of a similar system in Washington state.

“As someone who has lived on 12k a year, up to 60k a year, I’ve seen the fluctuation of what it’s like to pay taxes,” Coburn said, “and I know that lower-income folks are paying way more in taxes, just through sales tax, than some higher income folks because of sales tax. I know that sales tax is very popular… I really think that it would be great to do a study on how Idaho does their [taxes].”

In response, Rude noted that there are some progressive aspects of the state’s tax system — for example, most grocery food is exempted from retail sales tax. Coburn responded that, as someone who has lived on food stamps, she thinks the existing tax structure places an unfair burden on low-income residents.

“There are some things that need to be tweaked, some things that need to be changed and some things that maybe can be left alone,” she said, “but I especially think that the things that affect the lowest income folks are the taxes [and] we need to be looking at them at first and foremost.”

A question submitted by an audience member asked why the candidates identify and feel loyal with their political parties. Rude and Coburn both mentioned areas where they diverge from their party’s platform.

Rude described himself as socially moderate and fiscally conservative as “a way to protect social services.” He said he thinks marijuana should be legal and believes in marriage equality.

Coburn located herself within the “spectrum” that is the Democratic Party, and said that she’s “a little bit more pro-gun” than other members of her party.

State Senator

The 16th District’s state senate race features Democrat Danielle Garbe Reser, a diplomat and former CEO of Sherwood Trust, and Perry Dozier (R), a wheat farmer and former Walla Walla County Commissioner. Both candidates are Whitman College alumni.

The moderator asked about Washington’s tax system, which is the most regressive tax system in the country. In response, Dozier voiced sympathy for tax relief, reductions and exemptions for low-income people. Garbe Reser emphasized that she does not support an income tax but said the state can do more to support childcare and economic growth.

The two candidates split on the topic of land and water use. When asked whether the state should regulate private developers using public water, Garbe Reser responded:

“We’ve had voters tell me that they were frustrated when Nestle came in and tried to set up bottling water plants, and my opponent tried to change zoning so that he could bottle and sell water on his farm. People want to make sure that we have sustainable water for the development of our region in the future.”

Dozier responded that his background as an irrigator and county commissioner grants him credibility on this issue. 

However, he said, “Danielle is absolutely incorrect on what I was doing with my personal property right… I was not involved with the Nestle company as Danielle is alluding to… I understand water rights, and I was not going to utilize them and sell my water rights to a big corporation.”

This is in reference to an amendment to the zoning code that Dozier proposed in 2017, which would have allowed anyone with property and water rights to bottle water off their land and open the door for large corporations.

In his closing statement, Dozier reiterated his economic experience and cited his endorsements from businesses.

“I’m the only candidate that has experience balancing a budget in a recessionary period without raising taxes,” he said. “I’m also a candidate that knows what businesses and families need to be successful.”

Garbe Reser repeatedly emphasized her view that the 16th District’s interests would be best represented by a Democrat in the Senate.

“I really think that we need to make sure that the needs that are different in our communities here in Eastern Washington have a clear, loud voice in Olympia,” she said, “and the places where that voice gets lost right now is in the Democratic Caucus room, because all of rural Eastern Washington has no Democrats [in the Senate]… If I’m there in the room I can have these conversations.”