Editor’s note: Lane Walthers and Phil Fortunato are seeking the 31st District State House Position No. 2 seat that was previously held by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater. Hurst decided not to seek re-election. The two candidates are participating in a three-part debate that will published in the Courier-Herald and Auburn Reporter. This is the part one of the State House debate.
I’ve been married to my wife, Suzanne for 39 years, we have five children and live in Auburn, with our youngest. Our three oldest boys are US Marines, with the oldest Jason still on active duty. Joseph served in the reserves until 2004 and Justin, after nine years of service, currently works at SpaceX as a quality assurance inspector on Falcon 9 rockets.
I started my first business when I was 18 and have over 40 years of experience in erosion control and stormwater management. I currently provide environmental training and consulting to help contractors and landowners meet clean water act regulations. I am considered an expert in Clean Water Act compliance and get called on by law firms as an expert witness in court cases.
I served in the Washington state House of Representatives from 1999 to 2000 on the Local Government, Agriculture and Ecology, and Transportation committees.
I’m running to bring an independent voice to represent our communities. I am not a career politician. I have also never been afraid to roll up my sleeves and do hard work. I’m a firefighter captain and assistant fire marshal with East Pierce Fire & Rescue.
I’ve lived in our community for over 50 years, and am witness to the challenges that growth, crime and traffic congestion are presenting to our local communities. I want to bring a moderate voice to the Legislature that can bring together members of both political parties so we can forge compromise and tackle critical issues, especially when it comes to public safety, fully funding our schools, dealing with gridlock traffic and standing up for seniors and veterans.
I live in Enumclaw, am 57 years old, and hope to earn your vote so I can get to work for you in Olympia.
Question No. 1
The Washington state Constitution states, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”
Please explain how you think the state Legislature should proceed with funding education following the State Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling and order of contempt.
It is our paramount duty to fully fund our schools, but raising taxes should always be the last resort. Our families deserve better from the Legislature, and it’s time to move past political party and gridlock, to get results for our kids and schools.
The facts are clear: we rank near the bottom nationally in class size, and local communities are frustrated that they are consistently asked to foot the bill because the Legislature has not done so. I support finding increased efficiencies and closing tax loopholes in the existing budget that are no longer serving their purpose. This money would be well spent on educating our children.
Make no mistake about it; wisely investing in schools and education is the best defense against kids getting involved in gangs, drugs and crime. I am a public safety first-responder, but teachers and well run classrooms are our best defense against social decline. Investing in our schools is investing in our future.
We need to move more revenue towards addressing our education funding issues and we must do it NOW. Further, we should look at how we can make the state’s property tax system more fair and ensure that property rich Seattle is paying it’s fair share to meet our school funding obligations. Kids from rich school districts should get the same education as kids from rural and suburban districts. There are going to be tough choices in some cases, but I got into a career where as a first-responder, I don’t run from challenges, in fact, I run towards them. That is the approach we need from politicians in Olympia when it comes to resolving education problems. I will be honest with you about the decisions I make, and will take responsibility for the tough decisions that need to be made.
Lawmakers increased education spending by 36 percent since the 2012 ruling. The court has acknowledged that the Legislature has “fully funded” materials, supplies, transportation, full-day kindergarten and progress has been made in reducing class size in grades K-3: Funding for additional classrooms also still needs to be addressed.
The critical issue of compensation to remove inequities is still the biggest problem. The teacher compensation issue is not new. As the state representative of the 47th in 2000, I introduced HB 2787 commonly called the Teacher Housing Allowance. Teachers in Eastern Washington are among the highest paid people in some counties. That same teacher in King or Pierce county is on food stamps. The Housing Allowance would give teachers in the higher cost of living areas an additional supplemental income based on the cost of housing on a county by county basis. A teacher in King would get an allowance of $5700 and in Pierce $5400. This would help balance the inequity between Eastern & Western Washington.
The Housing Allowance would also help address the lack of teachers in higher cost of living areas. The median price of a home in King County is $490,000, but only $175,000 in Spokane County. Which school districts has a harder time filling teacher positions?
The other area that needs to be addressed is the cost of state regulation on education. Just like regulation adds costs to businesses, it does the same for education. The difference is that businesses scream about the cost of regulation.
Question No. 2
Do you support or endorse your party’s presidential nominee? Please explain why or why or not.
Yes. While Trump was not my first choice, I trust him to appoint better cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and protect our country than the alternative.
I am running as an “Independent Democrat” because I would like to see a decreased emphasis on political parties and a renewed focus on the needs of local families. Retiring State Representative Christopher Hurst first pioneered that label many years ago, as well as his rational approach to representing our communities. I think that political independence is important to our folks out here, and it is to me as well. I want to carry that more centrist, fiscally responsible and common sense position forward, and that is why Representative Hurst is supporting me in this campaign.
I do support the party’s nominee, but like you, I am frustrated with politics at the national level. We currently face two unpopular nominees from the two major parties for American president, probably far more so that at any time in the history of our country. That can be a bit discouraging right now, however, I am always optimistic that our best days are always ahead of us in America. As Americans, we always find ways to unite and pull together. Our country is strong and so are our people. We have had challenges before and will get through these ones just as we have in the past.
That being said, the gridlock of Washington DC is starting to influence politics in Washington state, and we must change the way we do business.
Small business owners who have to manage a bottom line, seniors or veterans struggling on fixed incomes, or men and women who work hard for their paychecks don’t care what political party you belong to — they simply want to know that someone is working for their interests. That is why I am running. I want to be that new independent voice to fight for 31st district families.