With the 2020 presidential election right around the corner, the Courier-Herald has invited the men and women running for the Legislative District No. 31 seats to participate in an in-paper debate.
The past three weeks featured Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) and his Democrat challenger, Katie Young. You can check out their debate online at www.courierherald.com.
This week, we introduce Thomas Clark and Eric Robertson, both running for Position No. 2. They will answer some questions as well, and will rebut their answers in the next edition of the newspaper.
The final week will feature more questions and answers, and then final statements.
Thomas R. Clark
U.S. Navy veteran, honorably discharged. Boeing retiree after 33 years supporting engineering development and system testing. Working alongside U.S. and international Air Defense forces, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with some of the best and brightest. We developed detailed and efficient processes to accomplish our collective objectives and achieved amazing results. These efforts required direct interaction with customers and government regulatory agencies. Working as a team, we ensured the interests, and requirements, of all members were acknowledged and incorporated. Through international travel, I learned to appreciate diverse cultures, respecting the value of teamwork, alliances and shared goals.
My basic philosophy is that we, as Americans, have far more in common than our differences. I believe a little empathy goes a long way. I have friends from every walk of life and political ideology. I focus on collaboration and compromise to accomplish common goals. I identify as a Democrat, but believe there is room for independence within a party. I value honor and integrity. I have enjoyed prosperity, but have also endured great tragedy. In our quest for greatness we should also remember to be good. I’ll work hard for you and would appreciate your vote.
Eric Robertson was raised in the 31st Legislative District. He attended Green River Community College and City University. Eric began his career with the Washington State Patrol in 1983 and graduated from the Washington State Patrol Academy in 1985.
While a state trooper, Eric was elected to represent the 31st District in 1994, where he fought for government accountability, reform, and lower taxes. In 1996, Eric was elected by colleagues to serve as Majority Caucus Chairman. Eric left the legislature in 1998 to serve full time in the State Patrol. He quickly climbed the ranks and became commander of Government and Media Relations and the Office of Professional Standards, working on agency accountability.
In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed him to be the U.S. Marshal for Western Washington. During his tenure, law enforcement teams sought fugitives from justice and sex offenders, arresting 3,000 suspects from 36 states and eight foreign countries. Eric also led the U.S. Marshal’s Strategic Planning team, assessing organizational, unit and initiative performance. His work earned him the Director’s Honorary Award.
After serving as U.S. Marshal, Eric led the combining of three communities’ fire and emergency medical services into one department — the Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA) — and served as the administrator. For his work, he received the Fire Chiefs Association President’s Award in 2018. He retired in January 2019.
Throughout his life, Eric has served our community. He has been a member of the Auburn Noon Lions Club since 1994, serving as president in 2009, and receiving the Melvin Jones Fellow award in 2012 for his service. He currently serves on its board of directors. Eric also served as Chairman of Community in Schools Auburn, which had a mission to “surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.”
Beyond one of you being a Democrat, and the other a Republican, the other stark difference between you both is experience. Should voters put their trust in a fresh newcomer, or someone who is familiar with the way Washington works? Why?
Eric Robertson: Experience matters – especially given today’s challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in serious financial pain. People have lost their jobs; small businesses have closed their doors for good. Washington families are struggling. Our state budget faces an astonishing shortfall. We stand to lose nearly $9 billion over the next three years. Unfortunately, Gov. Jay Inslee and fellow Democrats refuse to follow examples set by many other state legislatures and call a special session to deal with the crisis.
Making matters worse, the incompetence of the state Employment Security Department (ESD) resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions to fraud. Thousands of unemployed Washingtonians are still waiting for their unemployment benefits. The ESD’s incompetence also resulted in a lot of financial pain to people who had their identities stolen. Despite the debacle, the ESD has faced zero accountability. That’s unacceptable – it leaves the door open for similar mistakes in the future.
I served as the state representative for the 31st Legislative District for two terms before leaving to devote all my time to a career in law enforcement. During my time in the Legislature, I pushed for lower taxes and government accountability. I know the importance of not raising taxes when Washington families are already struggling – I fought to ensure that didn’t happen in the past, and I’ll do it again. I also know the importance of government accountability. I’ll fight to prevent the government from overreaching and damaging the lives of the people it serves.
Due to my law enforcement experience, voters can also trust me to deliver results on pressing public safety issues. Our law enforcement agencies face serious challenges, including threats from the “defund the police” movement. At the same time, we must repair trust between our law enforcement and the public. Wildfires also threaten our public safety, leading to the loss of livelihood and damage to our health. I’ve served as a state trooper, a volunteer with Enumclaw-based Rescue One, captain in the Washington State Patrol, U.S. Marshal for Western Washington, and Valley Regional Fire administrator. After my 36 years in public safety, I understand the challenges our state faces. And, I know how to produce the solutions we need to improve public safety.
My past leadership on taxes and government accountability earned the respect of my colleagues in the state legislature. I was honored to be elected the majority caucus chairman in 1996. Before leaving to serve full time in the State Patrol in 1998, my leadership also earned several “Legislator of the Year” awards from community groups. I’m proud of my experience in Washington politics. Voters can trust me to deliver for them because I have delivered for them.
Thomas Clark: Experience is very important. Voters should consider experience when determining who best represents the interests of our communities.
Few who know me would characterize me as a fresh newcomer; seasoned professional would be more accurate. It is critical to consider what benefit specific experience brings to the honor and privilege of serving the people. After graduating high school in 1978, I spent a year at a General Motors assembly plant, working “final assembly”, installing the engines (386 per eight-hour shift) in Buicks and Oldsmobiles. As a member of the United Auto Workers union, I was able to earn a living wage. I appreciated the opportunity at GM, but at 18 years old, with nobody dependent on my income, I decided to join the Navy. The recruiting slogan of the day was, “Join the Navy, It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure.”
I enlisted for six years and was eligible for the “Advance Electronic Field” program. I spent the first 18 months in training and was sent to the fleet as an electronic warfare technician. The next four years were spent aboard a destroyer homeported in San Diego, C.A. During that Cold War period, I participated in numerous fleet exercises in the Pacific and Indian Oceans working in the Combat Information Center coordinating joint operations with all of our allies (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea and others). Our primary threat then, as it is now, was Russia (at that time they had already annexed many countries that are independent today, but are still under the constant threat of Russian aggression every day). After my sea tour, I transferred to shore duty assigned to the AEGIS System Combat Engineering Development Site in Moorestown, N.J. In that capacity, I worked alongside the RCA engineers in R&D. In 1985, I completed my enlistment and was hired by The Boeing Company, relocating to Seattle. At Boeing, as a member of SPEEA union, I was again able to earn a livable wage. In my 33-plus year career, I learned how to help solve very complex problems working with teams of resourceful and innovative aerospace professionals in all capacities all over the world. These teams included proud members of the governments and armed forces of the United States, NATO, France, Japan, Korea, Australia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. I learned to respect the diversity and cultures of all backgrounds. It takes unity to succeed.
In 1986, I purchased my first home in Kent. In 2002, my wife and I consolidated families and purchased a home in Auburn. We relocated to Lake Tapps in 2005, where we currently reside. We have adult children living in Bonney Lake. Washington is where we choose to raise our family. I may not know my way through the back staircases of Olympia, my only experience there being a chaperone for my granddaughter’s fourth grade class, but I do have a lot of experience in innovative problem solving. What I value most, and pledge to bring to work every day, is integrity.
As one of you is former Navy and the other former law enforcement, how should the state be focusing on police accountability? Should we “defund” police to allocate resources elsewhere, or bolster law enforcement budgets?
Thomas: As an American, veteran, citizen, aerospace professional, neighbor, friend, husband, father, grandfather, and human being, I understand myself to be accountable.
To be more specific, in my Naval service, I was taught “authority may be delegated, responsibility cannot be delegated”.
The philosophy of the Republican Party, at least as it is currently constructed and as expressed by the president on numerous occasions is, “I take no responsibility, I take no responsibility at all,” regardless of what has happened on his watch.
After retiring in 2018, I was afforded the rare privilege of seasonal employment with the Seattle Seahawks. In my support capacity I have had significant and extensive interactions with every level of law enforcement: federal, state and local. I have the utmost admiration and respect for their dedication, professionalism, courage, sacrifice, commitment and sense of community. I know, from speaking with my friends, that nothing is more infuriating to them than those whose actions bring dishonor to their profession.
What we, societally, have to evaluate is: are our policies and processes achieving the results we want? I can say without hesitancy, observing our current national and world abject dysfunction, we are not achieving the desired results. We need to reevaluate everything we do, and how we try to do it. We need to have appropriate responses to situations, with the correct resources applied. If, after analysis, evaluation and consensus, it is determined that reallocation of resources is more supportive of the objectives, then of course they should be applied. If people want to describe that process, for inflammatory and rhetorical purposes, as “defunding” I would argue that it is, in truth, being good stewards of the people’s money.
Robertson: We live in an exceptionally polarized political environment. The politicization of public safety is an unfortunate result of today’s hyper-polarization. Responsible leaders can work together to improve on police accountability without compromising public safety through dangerous policies like those pushed by the “defund the police” movement.
Accountability in any government agency is vital. It ensures our agencies function in a healthy manner, serving the people rather than hindering or harming them. That’s why I worked so hard for government accountability during my two terms serving the 31st Legislative District before leaving in 1998 to devote my time to law enforcement. Police agencies are not an exception.
During my 36 years of service in public safety, I learned the importance of accountability in law enforcement firsthand. Under my leadership as the United States Marshal, our law enforcement teams brought numerous fugitives from justice and sex offenders to justice. We arrested over 3,000 suspects from 36 states and eight foreign countries. We made a significant difference, saving lives and making our communities safer. I know that would not have been possible without following proper protocols for accountability – protocols that keep our officers and members of our communities safe.
Increasing police accountability – whether through adding internal protocols or implementing reforms – should be assessed carefully. “Defunding” police agencies to allocate resources elsewhere doesn’t increase police accountability. It just increases the mess law enforcement agencies have to clean-up with fewer resources. Given the reality we face today – including slow response times to emergency calls and spikes in crime – our law enforcement agencies need more resources to protect our communities, not fewer.
Minneapolis is already experiencing the consequences of cutting funding to their police department in favor of unproven – and highly inadequate – substitutes to law enforcement. Violent crime is up with more people murdered so far in 2020 than all of last year. And property crime is up 55 percent compared to the same time in 2019. Much like Seattle, the Minneapolis police force is demoralized – a reality that further exacerbates the decline of public safety. That’s not a situation any city wants to find itself facing.
More funding allows for continued training programs for police agencies, helping officers grow and improve in their careers. It means additional police officers on our streets, providing much needed relief to the daily strain faced by our officers. These are important factors that will – ultimately – improve the relationship between our police and the public.
Both of you have spoken strongly on education; what are your thoughts on Senate Bill 5395 (the 2019 sexual education bill) and how should public school be tackling such an important topic?
Robertson: The government should never infringe on parents’ rights to instruct their children as they see appropriate. Senate Bill 5395 crosses the line, imposing an extremely controversial new sex education program in public schools. That includes children as young as 6 years old.
Democrats claim that parents are allowed to excuse their children from the controversial programs. But that’s not the full story. Senate Bill 5395 also weakens the authority of local school boards, delivering another blow to the authority of parents over their children. There is a place for state-mandated sex education – local school boards and parents should place a significant role in making those decisions. Senate Bill 5395 centralizes power over curriculum and weakens local control. That’s not acceptable.
The way Majority Democrats rammed Senate Bill 5395 through the state Senate poses another significant problem. During the 2020 legislative session, Democrats did not offer any opportunity for public or expert input. They did not hold hearings – despite the controversy surrounding the bill. And they did not offer any amendments. Senate Democrats simply introduced the bill and passed it.
House Democrats did not take the controversy surrounding the bill much more seriously. The House passed the bill after six hours of debate. Though representatives proposed more than 200 amendments, Democrats stuck down each one. Democrats even struck down amendments to ensure the maintenance of parental authority, including simply making the bill’s “opt-out” option into an “opt-in” option.
The actions of Senate and House Democrats are not acceptable. Their actions represent a dereliction of duty toward hardworking taxpayers. Their actions degrade the trust voters place in elected officials to carefully consider legislation before imposing it on the public.
Clark: This issue has been misrepresented by those who apparently have some unidentified or unarticulated motivation to maintain power and control over basic human rights, and basic education. Sexual education is very important to the understanding of biological function, but also needs to include the concepts of differences, acceptance, and responsibility. In twisting this into some ideological argument intended to further sow the seeds of division, it is reduced to another “hot button” issue attempting, again, to reduce all arguments to an “us or them” choice.
In reality, when young people are provided access to quality sex education, they are less likely to partake in risky sex behavior, to experience unintended pregnancies, or get sexually transmitted diseases. Access to information and resources about healthy relationships will help provide them the tools to respect personal boundaries, ask for consent, and learn how to say and receive a “no.”
Many arguments against providing sexual education focus on overlooking that key requirement, “age appropriate”.
In grades K-3, instruction must be in social-emotional learning – learning skills to do things like manage feelings, set goals, and get along with others.
(Note: there is no sexuality content required for students in grades K-3.)
In grades 4-12, instruction must include information about:
• The physiological, psychological, and sociological developmental process experienced by an individual;
• The development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to communicate, respectfully and effective, to reduce health risks and choose healthy behaviors and relationships based on mutual respect and affection, and free from violence, coercion, and intimidation;
• Health care and prevention resources;
• Abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases;
• The development of meaningful relationships and avoidance of exploitative relationships;
• Understanding the influences of family, peers, community and the media throughout life on healthy sexual relationships;
• Affirmative consent and recognizing and responding safely and effectively when violence or a risk of violence is or may be present, with strategies that include bystander training.
For too long our society has put the responsibility for personal action on certain members. Women have been held to different standards than men. Straight people are simply accepted without question where “others” have been marginalized at a minimum and reviled and attacked at the extreme.
LGBTQ youth deserve to see themselves reflected positively in sexual health education and be provided an opportunity to experience acceptance by their teachers and peers.
Research indicates providing sex education in public schools promotes racial equity because schools that teach disproportionately Black and Brown students are more likely to use “abstinence-only” education; and students of color are more burdened with societal stigmas and stereotypes against them and their sexual freedom.
Additionally, and in keeping with the age appropriate requirement of the legislation, young children who are being sexually abused and don’t understand what is happening are provided with the tools and language to communicate it with a trusted adult.
This legislation is science based and provides the information and tools to help bring sexual education into the light.