Olympic Middle School in Shelton Washington was the site of a public forum, Monday night, where 35th Legislative District and Public Utilities District 3 Commission candidates squared off in what at times was a tense conversation of the issues facing voters in the August 5 Primary election. The questions included pre-selected questions prepared by the hosts and then candidates fielded questions submitted by the live audience.
The evening opened with PUD candidates, incumbent Tom Farmer and challenger John Koman answering questions that are on the minds of rate-payers in the third Mason District. In opening statements and the answers to questions, Farmer, who is seeking his second term, spoke of the progress of the commission and touted the building of a brand new state of the art facility that was built without raising the utility rates paid by electricity consumers in the district. Koman, who has made the multi-million dollar “castle on the hill” the primary issue in the campaign, repeatedly referred to Farmer as “the most expensive commissioner in the history” of the PUD 3. When asked how they would work to keep up the 35 year record of a clean audit from the Washington State Auditor’s office, Commissioner Farmer stated that “very few government agencies have this kind of integrity” and that the auditor’s office “don’t give these kind of reviews to just anyone”. Koman answered, “the audit: that’s great. The real auditors are the voters” and again took issue with the enormous cost of the new building and using rate payers’ money to build a water pipeline and then just “giving it” to the city of Shelton free of charge. In closing statements, Koman stated his belief that his experience as a newsroom manager and media executive at King County’s KOMO and KING television stations made him more qualified than being a shellfish farmer. Koman’s closing statement included, “those things (Koman’s media experience in Seattle) serve me better than being a small farmer in Mason County”. Farmer stated that Mason County is growing and he is charged with making decisions for the future. “My opponent is about the past, I’m about the future. PUD 3 is investing in the future”, he said.
The candidates for 35LD Position 1 were next up with incumbent Representative Kathy Haigh, Democratic, and challenger Josiah Rowell, Republican. Candidate Dan Griffey, also Republican was unable to attend due to a commitment made as a firefighter that caused him to be out of state. School Board Director Dinah Griffey, his spouse, read opening and closing statements on behalf of her husband in which he quoted Presidents John F. Kenney and Ronald Reagan and reminded voters of his longstanding commitment to public service and that partisanship needed to be put aside so that a cooperative spirit would allow Washingtonians to do better for our state. Haigh reminded voters that after 12 years as a School Board Director she ran for Representative in 1998 to focus on education as her number one priority and that as a veterinarian, together with her husband and now their son, she owns and operates a small business, the Haigh Veterinary Clinic in the greater Shelton area. Rowell thanked his wife for being by his side through over 10 years in the United States Navy including three overseas deployments, one of which was in a combat zone in Afghanistan. Haigh and Rowell then answered questions. When asked about raising the state’s minimum wage Haigh stated that local government, or the people on the ballot, not the legislature should take the lead on that issue, and later in the lightning round she declared she would support a $15 or $12 per hour minimum wage. Rowell unequivocally stated he would not support such a high minimum wage because of the effect it would have on the many people who would lose their jobs and the consequences to small business. He spoke of supporting a business friendly climate that would grow the economy so more jobs would be created for more workers. On the issue of “climate change” Rowell opined that “the environment is our greatest asset” and Haigh offered that “the tribes and oyster industry is (sic) very interested in clean water and air” but also that we “have to pay for our roads” with fewer gas tax dollars because of vehicles using less or no fossil fuels. On the question of what to do in light of “ocean acidification” to improve the environment, Haigh answered that we need to raise energy from other sources than the dams and added “just sayin’”. Rowell responded to the question saying that “together we can protect the environment and grow the economy.” On education, Haigh defended her record as an education advocate in the legislature. Rowell spoke of the need to sever the Education Budget and open each session by voting on a bill to “fund education with our first dollar not our last dimes”. When asked what issues each candidate will work on, Haigh again spoke of education saying “if students could drop out of high school ready to get jobs” because of job training and industrial arts focus in education it would be an improvement. Haigh affirmed her support of Common Core Standards while Rowell responded “you can’t have common core coming down from the federal government and have local control at the same time”. In closing statements Haigh stated “I’m elected as a Democrat, but when I get to Olympia I try to put that aside” to work with Republicans for the people. Rowell responded that Haigh votes 95% of the time with Frank Chop from King County.” and that “Shelton is not Seattle”. Rowell closed by saying that the 35th is looking for candidates who will “walk the talk” in Olympia.
In the 35th LD Representative Position 2 race, Incumbent Representative Drew MacEwen, a Republican, faced his Democratic opponent, Tammy Newton. MacEwen spoke of his experiences in the Navy and as a small business owner who knows what it’s like to work a second job at night while building his business during the day and also what it means to “sign the front of a paycheck”. Newton thanked the audience for coming but said it was easy to come out of the heat into the air conditioned room. She spoke of her work with Habitat for Humanity saying “I believe in the power of community” and “…the positive power of people.” The first question was on the support of the single payer system of Workers Compensation. MacEwen spoke positively about Washington’s system calling it one of the better systems in the country, but also said it could be improved with private sector competition to bring the rates down allowing a more job creation friendly business climate. Newton began her answer saying, “you can tell I’m a newby” but assuring the audience that “we need to look at doing what we do better” and we need “to do what we do in a better way”. The conversation tensed when the question was asked “why would you do a better job than your opponent”. Newton stated that she “would do better for a lot of reasons”. “I have a strong track record of bringing people together.” MacEwen replied that he has a pretty strong bipartisan record citing an example of working together with a leading Democrat to get legislation passed. Newton retorted “one bipartisan success is not a track record”. The candidates were asked what one bill they would pass if they had the chance to pass only one bill that would bring jobs to Mason County. MacEwen proposed a specific bill to restructure the B&O tax in order to ease the burden on small businesses. Newton did not suggest a specific piece of legislation but proffered that she would “focus on education” and spoke of the problems facing Washington. In a very personal closing statement Newton addressed a telephone survey that asked voters if they knew of her bankruptcy and suggested she had only lived in Mason County for a short time. She spoke about the circumstances surrounding her bankruptcy and that she had been a resident of Mason County since 2002. MacEwen reminded voters of his record in his first term as a Representative, serving as House Minority Whip, and successfully bringing legislation to a vote, and passing bills in the house.
Next up, the candidates for Senate in the 35th came to make their case for why they should represent the people of Mason County. Incumbent Senator, and President Pro Tem of the Senate, Tim Sheldon faced criticism from, both his Republican challenger, Travis Couture, and his challenger from within in his own Democratic Party, Irene Bowling. Sheldon defended his decision to defect from the Democratic Caucus and join with one other Democrat and all the Senate Republicans to create the “Conservative Coalition Caucus” which became the new majority in the Senate. Bowling called the Coalition “obstructionist” leading Sheldon to defend the accomplishments of the Senate since he became the President Pro Tem. Couture called out Sheldon as being "a big government Democrat" while describing Bowling as a "bigger spending Democrat". Dr. Bowling spoke of her extensive education in her opening statement. Couture spoke of the value of liberty and the need for smaller, limited, local government to safeguard freedom. Sheldon shared his personal history as a native of Mason County where he operates a small timber industry business. From Transportation to the McCleary Decision to order the legislature to make education a higher spending priority, the candidates sparred. Couture asking why after all these years in the Senate, Sheldon had still not brought a bypass to Belfair. Bowling suggesting that there is just not enough revenue and the wealthiest Washingtonians need to pay more. Sheldon spoke of the challenge of getting a bypass through the legislature suggesting an initiative was the best course of action for funding such a project, while asking Bowling if she was suggesting an income tax when she asked for the wealthy to “pay more”. He reminded her that the voters soundly reject an income tax every time they get the chance to vote on it. In closing statements Bowling challenged Sheldon’s reliance on the budget and statistics saying that the numbers don’t tell the truth, “what we feel does” when we walk down the streets of our community. Sheldon said the Democrats don’t like it when he sits down in a room with Republicans to find solutions but he answers to the voters of his district not to the King County leaders of the Democratic Party. Couture closed the Senate portion appealing to voters to make this election this year about the future, not the past and pledging “I represent you”.
A “lighting round” of questions wherein candidates could not speak but only hold up a sign for “support” or “oppose” finished off the evening. Issues ranging from a $15 minimum wage to an income tax to fund education split the candidates, mostly along party lines. Democratics Bowling, Haigh, and Newton supported raising minimum wage to $12 or $15 per hour, and Republicans Couture, Rowell, MacEwen were joined by Sheldon in opposing either increase. There was not one of the ten issues that all candidates agreed on. All of the candidates opposed an income tax as the solution to fund education. Haigh and Newton seemed torn between not supporting an income tax but wanting to fund education.
In all, the evening was spirited, educational, at times comical and at others quite tense. The event, hosted by the Shelton-Mason Chamber of Commerce and the Shelton Mason County Journal, was emceed by the Shelton-Mason Chamber Executive Director, Heidi McCutcheon.
The chamber and Journal were gracious hosts and the audience in attendance gave each group of candidates a round of applause for their participation. Who won or lost will not be known until late in the evening on August 5th at the earliest.
GE Cummings, KMAS Newsradio – July 14, 2014
Read about the candidates on the KMAS Voters Guide