Candidates air views at CHS forum

Topics include climate change, home rule charter and transportation

Candidates running for a handful of county, state and federal offices answered questions posed by Camas High School students during a recent forum.

Organized by the Camas Youth Advisory Council, participants in last week’s forum included men and women running for Third Congressional District and 18th Legislative District positions, and Clark County commissioner.

The CYAC Candidate Forum has been put on annually since 2003. The council is made up of Camas High School sophomores, juniors and seniors who have an interest in politics. They are advised by Camas Mayor Scott Higgins and Camas School Board member Casey O’Dell.

The event was met with a large crowd inside the theater at Camas High School.

The first race to be featured was the Third Congressional District. Candidates Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas), the incumbent, and Bob Dingethal, a democrat.

On the topic of climate change, Herrera Beutler said the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive.

“The science supports that we can both let the resources work for us, and we can protect the resources,” she said.

She suggested that timber in federal forests like the Gifford Pinchot National Forest could be selectively harvested to create a better environment for animals and people, and also jobs in rural communities like Skamania County, where forestry funds have been used to support schools.

Dingethal described the issue of climate change as “world critical.”

“This may be the biggest thing that you people face in your lifetime,” he told the students in attendance. “We are seeing evidence around the world. Science is almost in 99 percent in agreement that global climate change is anthropogenic, and it’s getting worse. This is something where we need to reach across the aisle and make sure that we pass comprehensive climate change bills that address not only how we can mitigate, but how we can live with it.”

Regarding Social Security reform, Dingethal said he supports a solution that would include removing the lifetime taxable earnings cap — the point when working people stop paying into the Social Security system.

“This is critical, not only for the stability of people who are retired, but for the people who are in the community,” he said. “It’s an economic issue.”

According to Herrera Beutler, removing caps means raising taxes — an action she does not support.

“You can’t just raise your taxes out of this,” she said.

Herrera Beutler suggested a solution is to create a balanced budget amendment so that Social Security funds aren’t tapped.

“If we act now and make changes, we stop overspending, we stop raiding the trust funds, we can bring things into alignment and balance our budget,” she said. “It’s really a bigger problem than just Social Security. We need to look at our spending and reduce it.”

18th Legislative District, Position 1

Candidates for 18th Legislative District, Position 1 — incumbent Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) and Washougal resident and democrat Mike Briggs — were asked about the proposed Port of Vancouver oil terminal.

Vick said he supports “letting the project take its course.”

“Oil is a big deal. There are obviously accidents and things on the news that we need to be concerned about,” he said. “I am very supportive of the project — if the project makes it though the proper steps. If it fails to make it through the proper steps, I will also not be supportive of the project.”

He said if the oil terminal is approved by Gov. Jay Inslee, the focus should be on safety.

“We need to be concerned because we have these trains going through our towns at rail stations and other cross points,” Vick said. “If we do move forward and have an oil terminal in downtown Vancouver, let’s try and change the focus to what we actually can work on to make things better. Let’s make sure those rail crossings are safe, let’s get overpasses for the cars and pedestrians. That, to me, is where the state can have an impact.”

Briggs said he doesn’t support the current oil terminal proposal.

“That railroad cuts Washougal and does a lot of damage to Camas,” he said. “If there is an accident, you could kiss it goodbye. Right now, there is not one fire department that could contain an oil fire.

“Public safety always comes first, and those trains aren’t safe,” he continued. “Unfortunately, until they improve those cars to my satisfaction and to my constituents’ satisfaction, I don’t think they should come through.”

Briggs and Vick were also asked about what they, if elected, would do to create a transportation package that would address issues in Camas — a growing community.

Briggs said Southwest Washington projects have been overlooked in the past — much of the money is dedicated to projects in King County.

“Southwest Washington has not got their fair share of transportation funds in a long time,” he said. “We are not donors, we are people down here and we deserve part of those funds. If I had my way you’d get all of your transportation, believe me.”

According to Vick, last session the legislature worked on creating a transportation package that would have created a 12 cent gas tax to bring in $12 billion for transportation projects across the state. The tax, he said, was just too high, and Clark County would have received minimal funding from it.

“It’s a package that we absolutely have to keep working on,” Vick said. “If we are still asking residents for 12 cents a gallon for the next 30 years, that is a package that you have told me you don’t want. The people of the 18th district have spoken to me very clearly on that, and that is something I will abide by.”

Vick said he could support a package that is more affordable and includes reforms to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Money for transportation projects do not just have to come from gas taxes, according to Vick. He supports re-instating the Public Works Trust Fund, which offered low interest loans to municipalities.

“There are a lot of ways to do this without additional gas tax,” he said. “That discussion will keep coming up and we’ll just have to see what those final numbers are.”

18th Legislative District, Position 2

The first question doled out to 18th Legislative District, Postion 2 candidates Liz Pike (R-Camas), the incumbent, and Maureen Winningham, a democrat who works at Intel, focused on an issue important to many students and parents – college loan debt.

Pike said she will continue to support the legislature’s current freeze on tuition increases.

“The path out of poverty is education, whether it be a technical school, whether it be an apprenticeship, or a 4-year baccalaureate institution,” she said. “We have to make sure that everybody, no matter what socio-economic background they are from, has an opportunity to better themselves so that they can lead productive lives as citizens.”

Pike said she also supports providing additional career and technical education opportunities, and plans to encourage colleges and universities to use more e-technology, including ebooks to replace the more expensive hard copy textbooks.

“It’s a barrier for a lot of our kids,” she said.

Winningham countered that ebooks are not a solution to the bigger problem.

“Digital books is not going to help you deal with $27,000 worth of student loan debt,” she said. “That’s what the average college student has to look forward to now. It is frightening, and it is creating an entire economic cycle that is not sustainable,

Winningham said most student loans are underwritten by the federal Department of Education.

“This is a federal problem because the DOE is making money off of those loans, and that is going to fund our K through 12 education,” she said. “We have to have federal action on student loans. It has to happen now. This cycle of economic debt cannot sustain itself.”

If elected, she would look for other ways for people to pursue higher education, including online courses offered by colleges and universities across the country.

Winningham and Pike were asked how the state could improve its efforts to transition to selling recreational marijuana, which was legalized following the approval of Initiative 502 in November 2012.

Pike expects the issue will be addressed when the legislature reconvenes in January.

“This year, when we go back to Olympia, I fully expect that we will see a dozen marijuana bills that will fix it so that we do have a well regulated recreational industry and also a medical marijuana industry,” she said.

Winningham does not support taxing medical marijuana or overtaxing recreational marijuana.

“I think we are taxing [recreational marijuana] too much,” she said. “If the whole idea is to drive it out of the black market, then taxing it at 75 percent is not going to do it.”

Winningham said she is concerned about issues including marijuana “edibles” that are being sold, and marketing marijuana products to children.

“I really want to keep a close eye on that because I don’t want it to be attractive to children,” she said.

Clark County Commission, District 3

Democrat Craig Pridemore and Republican Jeanne Stewart are running for the Clark County Commission’s District 3 seat. They were asked their thoughts on the proposed Home Rule Charter that is on the Nov. 4 ballot. It would change the structure of Clark County government.

“I am distressed about proposed charter,” Stewart said.

She explained that she is concerned that if it is approved the five elected council members would no longer have the ability to act on behalf of citizens, and the appointed administrator would have “ultimate control.”

“Read the charter like you would read your insurance documents,” she said. “If you read the charter, you will see where the problems are.”

Pridemore described himself as a longtime supporter of the charter, adding that with a current Clark County population of 442,800 it’s time for a change.

“To believe that three people can represent this many people is unrealistic,” he said of the current system that has been in place for more than 100 years. “To say that this charter somehow prevents those elected officials from going out and talking to citizens is blatantly untrue. What the charter prevents, or at least discourages, is for one county commissioner to go to staff and ask them to do something, when they don’t have the support of the other county commissioners. This is rule by majority.”

The Clark County Commission candidates’ also tackled the issue of a solution to the I-5 Bridge’s structural problems.

Pridemore suggested that Washington leaders need to start negotiations and rebuild partnerships with officials in Oregon.

“Until we do that, there is no solution to bi-state transportation,” he said.

Stewart said she supports the concept of creating a bi-state transportation plan.

“When we go to the table to discuss the plan, we need to be taken seriously,” she said. “We need to have a true seat at the table, not one where the Oregon side wants to give us some kind of a marginal hand-out. We need to be there as equal partners.”

According to Stewart, a third bridge across the Columbia River is a must although she would not pinpoint an exact location.

“There can’t be any question that we need a third bridge,” she said.

Ballots for the Nov. 4 General Election have been mailed by the Clark County Elections Office. They must be postmarked by Nov. 4 to count. For more information, visit www.clark.wa.gov/elections.

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