Plateau voters will decide who represents them in the state House of Representatives during the general election season that culminates Tuesday, making a choice between two incumbent legislators and two challengers.
Incumbent Christopher Hurst, a Greenwater resident who prefers the political label of Independent Democrat, is looking to defend his House seat against Lisa Connors of Auburn. Cathy Dahlquist, a Republican from Enumclaw, is challenged by Democrat Brian Gunn. While Dahlquist is seeking a second House term, Hurst is looking for his sixth two-year term.
The Courier-Herald provided each with an identical list of questions. Here are their responses.
What are your the plans and goals for the upcoming legislative session and beyond?
CONNORS: My top priority will be to serve on the Education and Education Appropriations committees continuing necessary reforms and increasing education funding. I will focus on funding education first. As a first term legislator I will also focus heavily on communication with constituents and building relationships with legislators and the business community.
DAHLQUIST: My plans are to continue what I started to improve public education by focusing on what is best for students and measurable outcomes. I also want to continue reforming state government in the areas of Labor and Industry, workers compensation and the Growth Management Act that will encourage economic growth in our state and not hamstring growth with over reaching regulations and bureaucracy.
I am one of only a handful of elected legislators that actually owns a small business. I will continue to work needed government reforms that will offer relief to business so people can get back to work. My work on business friendly legislation has been recognized with awards from the Association of Washington Business and the National Federation of Independent Business. I was named Legislator of the Year by the Fraternal Order of Police for important public safety legislation. My support for improving student outcomes has earned me the endorsement of pro education organizations, Stand for Children, the League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association.
GUNN: The upcoming legislative session in Olympia will be dominated by another debate over how to balance the budget in the face of declining revenues. Legislators will be under tremendous pressure to make further cuts to education as well as cutting programs for the elderly, the disabled and the homeless. But budget cuts don’t fill potholes. Cuts don’t educate our children. And cuts don’t create jobs. The people of Washington are doing a great job for business. Productivity is up 120 percent since 1970. At the same time, tax preferences for corporations have tripled from $15 billion to $45 billion. It’s time to close tax loopholes for big business. Many corporate tax loopholes aren’t doing any good for the people of this state. Corporations used to be subject to much higher tax rates and they were still extremely profitable. It’s time once again for big business to pay its fair share. I look forward to working on creating health insurance exchanges, but these exchanges must serve the people and not the insurance industry by driving down costs, establishing strict requirements for continued participation and providing consumers with reliable information about insurance plans and their eligibility for tax credits as well as state and federal assistance programs. I also support the American Health Security Act of 2011 which would provide federal guidelines and strong minimum standards for states to administer single-payer health care programs. Washington state could then pass legislation to establish a Medicare-for-all style single payer system. I believe access to high quality health care is a civil right, but it just makes good economic sense to get better control over the cost of providing health care: single-payer programs do just that.
HURST: To begin with, working on our economic recovery and jobs is my first priority. Without a strong economy, we will never have the money to fund education properly – first things first. We are now recovering from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, which was caused by a global banking meltdown that began in 2007. We have passed strong laws to keep such an event from ever happening again in our financial markets, but we are still recovering from the damage.
I also feel that we need strong public safety laws to protect honest, law-abiding citizens, because without public safety, nothing else in society will work. As a 25-year veteran police commander and detective, I have been working to pass laws to protect citizens from violent crime and sex offenders.
I also know from my years in police work, that our first line against kids becoming involved in drugs, gangs and crime is a good education system. We need a dedicated education budget and for the legislature to fund education first. Those are my top three priorities in the legislature and, really, they all work together.
Describe your plans and goals for long-term economic stability.
DAHLQUIST: Identifying the priorities of government is the first step in recognizing what services are most important. Education, public safety and serving the most vulnerable (those that are unable to care for themselves) are the core government services that should not be compromised. It is fairly simple, operating state government leaner and not spending more than you have. Plan for the future and long term stability by continuing to reform pensions and fully funding what is owed and stop kicking the can down the road.
I would not support raising taxes to balance the budget. People are struggling to find a job, pay their mortgage or keep their business afloat. I support the continued work on government reforms in all areas including, Labor & Industry and workers compensation that would offer some relief in the cost of doing business in our state and spur our economic recovery. I will continue to work to eliminate the “use it or lose it” budgeting process within our state agencies that encourages spending to retain funding. Agencies operate under budgets that are figured on what they spent the previous year. Incentivizing savings within departments and agencies can create a budgeting system that rewards good accounting practices, fiscal responsibility and real savings.
GUNN: Low-income families already pay over 17 percent of their household income in taxes, while the top earners pay less than 3 percent. To make our tax system fairer, we should implement a capital gains tax, so long as we exempt the first $10,000 for individuals ($20,000 for couples) and the sale of a primary residence or farmland. We should use the additional revenue to restore education funding and improve public transportation, since these are key to creating a robust and resilient economy. I believe small business is good business. Instead of discouraging job growth by taxing gross receipts, I’ll work to reform or eliminate the grossly unfair business and occupation tax that makes starting a small business here so difficult. Instead, I would support a value-added tax that would help Washington small businesses grow and be more competitive. More successful small businesses means more jobs, and higher employment means more consumer spending and more revenue for the state.
HURST: I have been working to make our state budget sustainable. I started by cutting my own legislative pay last year to help make ends meet. State government is doing more with less and it starts with me. Although I was one of the first to take this voluntary pay cut, most legislators have also done so.
We passed a best-in-the-nation four-year balanced budget law. That means that we now have not only a two-year balanced state budget, but the budget is not allowed to create a deficit in the following two years. I was a leader in the push for this legislation that was passed by both Democrats and Republicans.
We are also forcing more government efficiencies and passed reforms to the public pensions for new hires that will save billions of dollars in the years to come – money we can now invest in education. We are also eliminating unfunded mandates that were bending our state spending curve higher each year. We created a constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund that the voters also approved which, during good times, will allow us to save for a rainy day.
CONNORS: I believe the private sector creates jobs, not the government. To get Washington working again we need to reduce regulation and lower taxes for all business while providing workforce training to help get our unemployed the skills necessary for the jobs in our state. I will continue to focus on ways to create a healthy business climate supporting business and development of career and technical programs.
How will the state pay for the education mandate handed down by the state Supreme Court?
GUNN: I don’t think Wall Street banks should make money off of our tax dollars. Let’s put our money to work for us right here in Washington. A state bank would partner with existing local banks to encourage small businesses, make it easier for municipalities to fund infrastructure improvements while driving job growth in the resulting construction projects and give college students relief from the crushing burden of debt. If we close tax loopholes for big business, make our tax system less regressive (see my answers to No. 2, above), get control of health care costs and start a state bank, Washington will be able to fully fund the school system as mandated by the McCleary decision and continue to provide support and services for those who need it most through such programs as the Rainier School.
HURST: I have listed a number of the ways we are increasing efficiencies in state government and the state budget to save billions of dollars in the next decade. We will invest this money in education to help meet the Supreme Court mandate, but it still will not be enough. We will make more cuts and in the case of social services, eliminate fraud, waste and abuse.
I have been working with other legislators to shift those in need from cash grants to vouchers for housing and food when they are in need. We were seeing too many stories about people using the cash EBT cards for drugs, gambling, alcohol and tobacco products. Cutting down on waste and fraud is critical, while at the same time maintaining a safety net for those truly in need, but people need a hand to get up and back on their feet, not a handout that ultimately leaves them in distress and dependent on government support.
We have also been working hard to save money and find efficiencies in our Workers Compensation system and unemployment insurance. This saves money and keeps rates down for small businesses. When we save money, we invest it in education.
CONNORS: The question should be, how will the state pay for all other services after it pays for education. The state Constitution and the Supreme Court made it clear that the state must amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the state’s first and highest priority before any other state programs or operation. Fund education first.
DAHLQUIST: I was a prime sponsor of the “Fund Education First” legislation that would amply fund education prior to any other agency or government service as stated in the Washington State Constitution. This legislation would create a separate education budget, similar to the transportation and capital budget. I have also supported LEA (Local Effort Assistance/Levy Equalization) which balances the property-rich districts with property poor districts and is a critical funding source for the Enumclaw, White River, Auburn and Sumner school districts. I have been appointed to the Joint Task Force on Education Funding and Education Accountability and will continue to look for balance when restructuring our funding priorities and align them with measurable accountability practices.
What is the difference between you and your opponent and what makes you the best candidate?
HURST: Although I respect my opponent and appreciate her participation in the race, there areprofound differences between us. We are both elected officials, she’s on the Auburn School Board and I’m in the State Legislature, but our approach to this fiscal crises is very different.
I cut office and mailing budgets and my own legislative pay. At the same time, she has been traveling very extensively on taxpayer dollars to San Diego, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando and other locations, spending thousands of dollars on each trip – money that should be spent in the classroom teaching our kids. Even in-state, when she goes to Seattle for a meeting, instead of putting in for reimbursement for the 27 miles driven each way, she stays in the Seattle Westin Hotel for the night, on taxpayer dollars.
We also differ on efficiencies. She has proposed the significant reduction or elimination of the Department of Natural Resources, even though they produce significant revenue for school construction through selling state timber, and leases to technology companies for cell towers. This plan would also cost thousands of jobs in our area in the logging and forest products business. I’m working to keep those jobs.
CONNORS: My opponent is part of a serious problem in Olympia. He is a 10-year incumbent Democrat who has continued to cut education, harm business and continue the agenda of Seattle liberals. It is time for a change.
DAHLQUIST: I have worked hard to represent the people of the 31st Legislative District in a fair and equitable fashion. I have worked across party lines to help pass some needed government reforms that benefit all taxpayers in our district. I would be honored to continue to represent you. I support requiring a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the legislature to raise taxes. It should be a bipartisan effort to make a change that affects all citizens in our state. This proposal has been passed by the citizens of Washington five times since 1993. This requirement also encourages greater accountability to taxpayers. The easy choice in a budget crunch is to hit taxpayers with new and higher taxes. The high threshold created by I-1053 forces the Legislature to make the difficult choices to reform, restructure and make government more efficient first when facing a budget shortfall. My opponent opposes the two-thirds majority initiative. I oppose an income tax. My opponent collected signatures for I-1098, an initiative to create an income tax in 2010. I want to continue the needed government reforms in L&I, state pensions and workers compensation. My opponent wants to increase costs to employers and taxpayers at the cost of losing jobs. I support the concept of the free market to drive our economy and policy decisions and not government policy to drive an unsustainable market. I also believe that small business development and expansion will lead us toward economic recovery. Allowing small business to do what they do best and not interfere with them by burdening them with additional rules and regulations and offering relief would benefit all businesses in our state. My opponent wants to create new bureaucracies in Olympia. I oppose the Washington State Bank proposal being brought forward by my opponent. I agree with Assistant State Treasurer Wolfgang Opitz, speaking on behalf of his boss, Washington State Treasurer James McIntire (Democrat) against a state bank bill in January 2012 during a committee hearing that a state bank “would place both public funds and the state as a whole at significant risk.” He also stated, “The bill violated the Washington State Constitution’s prohibition against loaning the state’s credit.” The initial cost of creating this new government agency has been estimated at $85 million and then $150 million each biennium to sustain the banking agency. I am in support of shrinking the size and scope of government not expanding.
GUNN: Recently, decisions made in Olympia by our legislators, including my opponent, have consistently hurt those who are already suffering while protecting the profits of giant multi-national corporations. Lobbyists promise generous campaign contributions to elected officials who will continue to sponsor and vote for legislation that amounts to nothing more or less than corporate welfare. Olympia is controlled by the special interests; that’s why I am accepting contributions only from individuals, not from corporations, PACs, unions or political parties. Instead of protecting big money interests, I will represent the people, fight for equal rights and create opportunity for all. My candidacy represents a clean break from “pay to play” politics. When legislation comes up for a vote, my first and only consideration will be what is best for the people of 31st Legislative District and the state. That’s what makes me the best candidate for this position.
How will you vote on Initiative 1240 (charter schools)?
CONNORS: I have not decided how I will vote on this Initiative. I support charter schools but have concerns with this specific Initiative.
DAHLQUIST: I am supporting I-1240 because I believe that all students deserve an equal opportunity to a great education. My children have been very fortunate to go to schools in a district that has provided a safe and stable learning environment with highly-qualified teachers. Many children in our state do not get that same opportunity because we are only one of nine states that does not allow for public charter schools. Public charter schools would be a new option for students and parents. These schools would allow for more flexibility and creative solutions in public school staffing, scheduling and administration. Students would still be held accountable to high standards and requirements. Washington state currently has one in four students failing to graduate from high school on time. Only one-third of those that do graduate, do so without the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college or the workplace. More than half of high school graduates entering community or technical colleges require remedial classes in math, English or reading. The status quo is not working for all students, which is why I am supporting I-1240; it offers an opportunity for educational choice.
GUNN: I have seen no compelling evidence that charter schools improve educational outcomes. We have to work to ensure that equal educational opportunity is vailable to all our young people; charter schools won’t help, and often make access to high quality education even more exclusive.
HURST: I am voting no on this initiative because the voters have voted down charter schools a number of times over the years and I listen to the voters. I also know that there is very conflicting information about how well they work in different parts of the country. We will see what the voters say this time around.
How will you vote on Referendum 74 (marriage for same-sex couples)?
DAHLQUIST: The voters will ultimately decide the outcome of the redefinition of marriage. I believe that the definition of marriage resides in one’s religious beliefs and not in the opinions of our state government. As a Catholic, I am opposed to redefining marriage as it is currently defined. The domestic partner law that was passed by the voters in 2009 allows couples that are the same sex to have the same legal rights of all couples.
GUNN: Washington’s Marriage Equality bill should be approved by the voters and become state law. We have a legal and moral obligation under the U.S. and state constitutions to ensure that all persons are treated equally before the law. Furthermore, I believe that two men or two women getting married in no way, shape or form harms me or anyone else or detracts from any of the other married couples who live in our state. The right to marry the person you love is a civil right that must be available to every citizen on an equal basis.
HURST: I voted no on the floor of the House when the measure was before me.
CONNORS: I will Reject the bill passed by the Legislature.
How will you vote on Initiative 502 (legalizing/regulating marijuana)?
GUNN: I support legalization of marijuana. We are spending an inordinate amount of money to process people (a disproportionate number of whom are people of color) through our criminal justice system for possession of small amounts of marijuana. There are flaws with this initiative with respect to the DUI provisions being based on levels of THC in the blood that could make it impossible for users of medical marijuana to drive legally, so the legislature should take steps to correct this by changing the medical marijuana law to require evidence of impairment beyond the blood test for a DUI conviction.
HURST: I will vote no on this initiative because marijuana use and sales is a violation of federal law. If Washington were to legalize marijuana, no tax revenue would be collected or available as the federal government has already said that they would seize the money from the state as proceeds of illegal criminal activity and prosecute those involved in the process. That makes no sense.
Additionally, we have enough problems with young people using illegal and prescription drugs and people on public assistance with substance-abuse problems. Do we really need to make it worse by telling folks that marijuana is legal?
Finally, if Washington “legalizes” marijuana and tells its citizens that it is, but a citizen gets caught at a park, on the water or crossing the border and is arrested by a federal agent, they will be charged and convicted of a federal drug crime and keep that conviction for the rest of their lives, seriously hampering any chance of getting a job, renting or buying property, getting a loan, going to school or succeeding in live – that’s not fair.
CONNORS: I will note “no” on this initiative.
DAHLQUIST: Until the federal government takes action to change the definition of marijuana as a controlled narcotic, I will not support the legalization at the state level. Currently, the law allows for patients to obtain a recommendation from a doctor that allows them to use small amounts of the drug for medicinal purposes.