In-paper debate: Robertson, Clark rebuttal answers about police accountability, sex-ed bill

This is part two of the debate between the two Legislative District 31 Position No. 2 candidates.

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.

Last week, we introduced Thomas Clark and Eric Robertson, both running for Position No. 2 as they answered questions about police accountability and Senate Bill 5395. This week, they rebut each other’s answers from last week. The final week will feature more questions and answers, and then final statements.

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?

Tom Clark

Tom Clark

Tom Clark: I stand by my statement “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 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.”

My opponent did indeed have a long career as a government employee and his experience appears to be very focused on the internal operations of law enforcement. I believe voters should consider whether Mr. Robertson’s experience is analogous to the old saying, “to a hammer every problem looks like a nail.” To further help voters to determine who should represent their interests in Olympia I point out the Seattle Times July 16, 2020 article where my candidacy was formally endorsed. In receiving the endorsement ahead of the August Primary election, the article noted how my career in aerospace may be useful in understanding the issues we face as Boeing and all the other associated employers and employees in our state struggle in these unprecedented times.

Additionally, the article went on to provide some insights into my opponent’s experience:

“Robertson, of Sumner, remains unrepentant for a shameful racial incident during his first of two terms in Olympia. In January 1995, two young Black men attended a House committee hearing to testify on a juvenile-offender bill. From his seat at the dais, Robertson, who is white, decided one of the men looked suspicious — for holding his hand inside a pocket of his baggy jeans — and summoned state troopers. Officers followed the 19-year-old man into a hallway, handcuffed and searched him because, as Robertson said, a “sixth sense” told him the man was an armed threat. The search found only a bulky ’90s cellphone and a keychain.

Twenty-five years later, not even a national groundswell against racial injustice has evoked contrition. Robertson said he felt the “valid situation” had alarmed him rightly. Robertson owes better to that man, whose name is Neill Hoover, 44, a North Seattle father of three who drives for UPS. The experience of being detained right after he testified remains vivid for him.

“It just kind of negated everything I had said,” Hoover said recently. “I just figured this is what happens, this is what they do to us. And I accepted it.”

Societal change is long overdue. Washingtonians who take their concerns to Olympia must be welcomed. Clark deserves the 31st District’s vote. Regardless of how the election goes, Robertson must finally apologize for his abuse of power.”

I want to be very clear, that I maintain an open mind with regard to how we will work together to “create a more perfect union” that all us should want to see, where all of us know we are represented equally, with dignity, respect and integrity.

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson: I know public safety and law enforcement. The complexities – including all repercussions to our communities – must be examined thoroughly before taking any drastic measures. Cuts to law enforcement’s budget – like those pushed by the “defund the police” movement – will not produce greater accountability or improve the police relationships with our communities. Making matter worse, the calls to “defund the police” do not come from people who wish to engage in thoughtful dialogue about how best to ensure our communities remain safe.

My opponent simply does not have the experience needed to produce results – including implementing effective accountability measures. Over my 36 years of service in public safety, I implemented accountability measures successfully. I gained firsthand insights into the intricacies of law enforcement as an investigator in Internal Affairs at the Washington State Patrol (WSP). As Commander of the Office of Professional Standards at WSP, I developed new strategies to contemporary law enforcement practices to address critical challenges in our communities. During my time serving as a United States Marshals and the Valley Regional Fire Administrator, I “raised the bar” to practices delivering public safety services to all the communities we served.

Mending the relationship between law enforcement and all members of our communities is important. That can be done with smart accountability measures like those I’ve implemented during my time in leadership. A danger to public safety occurs when inexperienced politicians make reactionary decisions based on limited insights. The push to “defund the police” is a prime example of too many politicians’ reactionary responses.

A King County Council member recently admitted he wanted to reallocate police resources in favor of “unarmed alternatives” for emergency situations like domestic violence complaints. Any experienced law enforcement professional knows that domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous emergency situations – 40 percent of police fatalities are related to domestic violence calls. The plan would place lives in danger – the lives of the unprotected social workers who respond and the vulnerable or abused. The results would only serve to further erode trust between law enforcement and our communities.

We simply need to look to Seattle to see the results of the “defund the police: movement. A city which already didn’t have enough police to respond to emergency calls just slashed their funding and forced out their police chief. If candidates who think we need to take money from police funding for other priorities get elected, we can expect to see Seattle’s thoughtless policy decisions replicated in our cities and towns.

Again, this is where experience matters. I understand the health of our communities requires greater trust in law enforcement. I also know the lack of trust devastates police officers’ morale, making their difficult jobs that much harder. These challenges require smart solutions – not reactionary “defund the police” measures. I have the experience necessary to implement accountability measures that restore trust and boost morale. Voters can trust that I will produce the results are communities and law enforcement agencies need.

Both of you have spoken strongly on education; what are your thoughts on Senate Bill 5395 (the 2020 sexual education bill) and how should public school be tackling such an important topic?

Robertson: Democrats make a lot of claims about Senate Bill 5395 to defend how recklessly they passed the legislation. They cite cherry-picked research and studies to explain how their controversial curriculum will impact various age groups and underprivileged or marginalized communities. The irony? Democrats failed to allow any public or expert input before passing their legislation. They did not hold hearings or offer amendments – opposing research and viewpoints never saw the light of day. Democrats passed the controversial bill without due diligence.

The bottom line is that any conversation about sex education must start in the home when parents deem the conversation appropriate. Mandating public schools begin sex education for children at the age of six – as Senate Bill 5395 enforces – infringes on parental authority. As a survey conducted by the Sexual Health Education Work Group discovered, a clear majority of Washingtonians agree and do not want the bill.

At its core, Senate Bill 5395 takes away local control. It weakens the authority of local school boards. Given parental involvement begins with local school boards, this weakened authority delivers another blow to parents’ rights over their children’s education. There is a place for sex education in public schools. However, those decisions must be made locally. Local control of school curriculum – especially controversial curriculum – allows for the greatest opportunity to deliver the education appropriate for our communities. Essentially, this allows for needed involvement from parents, teachers, school administrators, and school boards.

Clark: Mr. Robertson’s response echoes the dog whistles of the party that was previously identified as the Republican Party. His response, as the Trump Party dictates, employs tactics of divisiveness, misrepresentation, obstruction and fear mongering to create terror in the minds of susceptible people.

I provided direct extracts of what the bill actually states. My opponent focuses on the Trump Party standard grievance when they are the Minority party. Their intent is to obstruct the will of the majority and control as the minority. Hopefully people are capable of seeing this for what it is. State Bill 5395 was passed after the people of the great state of Washington selected the Democratic Party to have control of the State Legislature in 2018. People are exhausted by constant efforts to divide and control by the Trump Party representatives. The Democratic Party represents hard working, honest, fair and just people.

I believe we can forge a better future for all Washingtonians if we follow the consensus of science-based leaders who are willing to step forward on issues like SB 5395 and have open and genuine discussions leading to sound methods of improving public health. If, in this specific point in time where we are struggling with a horrible pandemic, lacking any plan by the executive branch of the federal government teaches us nothing, it is that we need to rely on experts, for fact-based guidance to preserve public health, then we should at least be appreciative of that.