Candidates debate the issues

U.S. Rep. candidate Jim Moeller is unable to attend the event at Camas High School

The Camas Youth Advisory Council candidate forum at Camas High School featured the men and women running for State Representative and Senator positions and a U.S. Representative seat, with one notable exception.

It was announced at the beginning of the event that Jim Moeller, who is looking to unseat Third District U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, was unable to attend after becoming ill. It would have been the first time that the pair faced off in a public setting.

Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, was left to answer the questions generated by CHS students, without any challenger opposition.

Topics focused on Social Security reform, state and federal rights and responsibilities when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, and higher education reform.

Herrera Beutler said Medicare and budget instability due to overspending are threats to the future of Social Security. She suggested citizens should have more choices when it comes to Medicare.

“Fundamentally, we need to make sure that it’s fair,” she said. “That it’s not changing the [Social Security] program on people currently, who are at or near retirement. If we change it now, we can save the trust funds. They’re not going to go bankrupt. We have little choice, if we really want to get our fiscal house in order.”

When asked about state rights and federal rights as they pertain to the legalization of recreational marijuana, Herrera Beutler said she would support a citizen repeal of Initiative-502, originally approved by voters in November 2012. She described her views on the subject as “old school.”

“It was an initiative that the citizens put forward and the citizens voted in, and I would support the citizens taking it back out,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something that helps our future, especially when I look at young people. My message continues to be, it’s still not legal for you.”

According to Herrera Beutler, higher education and tuition reform ideas she supports include implementing a program that allows tax credits to employers who help their employees pay down their student loans, flexible federal Pell Grants and a revolving low-interest student loan program.

She added that options beyond four-year college opportunities, such as career and technical education, need to receive more focus as well.

18th Legislative District State Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida is being challenged for Position 1 by Democrat Justin Oberg.

Oberg said he supports a higher minimum wage that is determined by each city, while Vick indicated he is satisfied with the current system the state has in place.

Wages should be at levels that allow workers to adequately support their families, Oberg said.

“I believe that it needs to be a community-by-community basis,” Oberg added. “Throughout the state of Washington we do have different needs. But we do need make sure that we are providing wages that allow them to raise families, make sure that they are planning for their future, because only that way we’ll be able to have the growth we need.”

Vick said increasing the minimum wage creates an “artificial ceiling.”

“I think Washington State has a decent system in place,” he said. “We give an incremental increase as inflation is accounted for. Really, I think a free market where you go to your employer and discuss and determine what your wage is going to be and your value is a preferable and optimal environment.”

When it comes to mandatory standardized student testing, Vick and Oberg agreed that the current system is not working.

According to Vick, students should not just be educated to take a test.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have some sort of testing,” he said. “We want to know that you’ve learned something, that the education that the state is providing, that the teachers are providing, is worthwhile.”

Instead, Vick said, standardized tests in some cases should be replaced with an end-of-course assessment or evaluation.

Oberg explained that while some form of assessment of teachers and students needs to be in place, education should not be a one-size-fits-all system.

“Not all students have the same needs, have the same learning styles,” he said. “Us being able to be adaptable to each of those styles is something I feel is necessary.”

Oberg and Vick differed in their views of marijuana tax reform.

Oberg suggested the current tax structure is fine, for now.

“Keeping our tax system the way it is right now is something that I agree with,” he said. “If we give it a few years, we have studies where we get to look at what the revenue was, what we are dedicating the revenue to, and the burden it is placing on people. I think at that time we can reflect back and make adjustments we need.”

Vick, on the other hand, suggested that “sin taxes” are too high.

“I don’t care what the products are, when you are charging a 30, 40 50 percent tax on something I think that’s bordering on criminal,” he said.

Running for 18th District State Representative Position 2 are incumbent Liz Pike, R-Camas, and Democrat Kathy Gillespie.

When asked about funding for transportation needs, Gillespie focused on doing away with the gas tax, while Pike highlighted the need for traffic solutions to move people and freight.

Gillespie said leaders need to consider alternatives to the gas tax, which is no longer a stable funding source for transportation infrastructure projects due to the popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles. Other models might work better, and are being tested in states throughout the country.

Pike talked about the creation of a bi-state bridge coalition involving legislators from Washington and Oregon. She said the focus should not be on building one bridge, but three.

“We need to connect our west side with Hillsboro. We need to connect our east side with Troutdale,” Pike said. “And we need to fix the aging infrastructure on I-5, retrofit it and add a new bridge along side it and make this transportation work for our community.”

Gillespie and Pike’s views are strikingly different when it comes to the proposed Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Gillespie said she does not support the proposal. She suggested better options for finding energy sources include looking at hydro electric, wind and solar power.

“I don’t think putting our communities at risk is a choice that we should make,” she said. “I think that we have a community that is so full of human assets and beauty. Why would we want to threaten any of that?”

Pike claimed Tesoro has had an exemplary safety record during the 29 years they have been exporting refined petroleum products from Vancouver.

“We have the toughest environmental rules in the entire nation,”she said of the state. “I am confident that our rules and regulations in place will ensure the safety and continued security of our community, if that terminal is approved by our governor later this year.”

In the race for 18th District State Senator, Eric Holt is running against incumbent Ann Rivers. Both voiced opposition to Common Core standards.

“I think that we’ve taken all of the enjoyment and fun out of teaching and learning by demanding that students have certain numbers of credits in certain things,” Rivers said.

Students, she said, need to know there are options other than college available to them.

“I think we need to have more middle ground, where students can actually take charge of what they want to study,” Rivers said.

Holt said Common Core takes choice and individuality away from students and teachers.

“I don’t think Common Core allows for the differences in the abilities that our children have,” he said. “Some children learn differently.”

Holt described the Columbia River Crossing project as a viable solution to the region’s traffic problems.

“I think the CRC is a great step in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think we should be looking at a third bridge right in [Camas’] back yard, where it just dumps traffic to Troutdale.”

He suggested building a west bridge that would allow freight to bypass the greater metro area.

Rivers, meanwhile, said she supports replacing the I-5 bridge, then finding a regional transportation solution that disburses traffic to the west and east.

“The reality is, if we can disburse traffic that will aid in the congestion that we see in the Rose Garden,” she said. “It will also allow us to do bridges of scale in other locations. We don’t need a six-lane bridge everywhere. As long as we are disbursing traffic and getting people where they need to be more quickly, then I think we will see success.”