Camas-Washougal community members packed into the Camas High School theater Monday night to hear from political candidates running for county, state and federal positions at the 16th annual Camas Youth Advisory Council (CYAC) Candidate Forum.
CYAC students invited eight candidates, and seven showed up to answer questions generated by local youth. Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, fighting for her 3rd District seat in Congress, was the only candidate unable to attend the Oct. 22 forum.
Herrera Beutler’s opponent, Democratic candidate Carolyn Long, a political science professor at Washington State University, Vancouver, raced to Camas High after hosting a town hall in Vancouver earlier that evening, and said she wished Herrera Beutler had been able to attend the forum, since Long strongly believes in the power of speaking in-person to people she hopes to represent in Washington D.C.
“I have held 45 town halls in front of almost 3,400 people, which is my way of getting out there and hearing what you have to say … that’s what true representation is all about,” Long said, during her opening statement Monday night. “I am present, accountable and committed to fighting for the people of Southwest Washington. If elected, I will do the same thing I am doing now, which is meeting with you as much as possible.”
Asked by the students why she feels it is important to hold in-person town halls, Long said live town halls give her a chance to look people in the eye and tell them about her positions, and gives constituents a chance to look candidates in the eye and ask difficult questions.
“It’s so difficult to do this if you’re removed by the phone, or if you don’t make an effort to go out and (meet in-person),” Long said. “My town halls are open to everyone. They’re usually 90-minute affairs. I spend the first five minutes introducing myself, and then the rest of the time answering questions. My questions aren’t screened. I don’t have fancy notes. I’m just telling you my positions as openly as I can.”
If she doesn’t have an answer, Long said, she will let people know that, too.
“No candidate can have the answer to every question, but we should all have the strong desire to learn more — not only about the policy, but about how constituents feel about an issue,” Long said.
The students asked Long how she might solve problems associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Republicans dubbed “Obamacare.”
“The ACA is imperfect, but it provided care for 26 million Americans,” Long said, noting that current Republican legislators have tried to get rid of the ACA 40 times, and voted to take away the Act’s “individual mandates,” which removed incentives for healthy people to get health insurance and raised costs for everyone else.
Instead of scrapping the ACA, Long said she would like to “be part of the solution in the House of Representatives.”
Long said she supported an ACA solution like the bipartisan health-care bill Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, crafted in 2017, which would have restored cost-saving measures and allowed states more leeway in regulating health insurance plans. Though the bill had bipartisan support, Republicans in Congress pushed it off in an attempt to repeal the ACA entirely, and later left out of a spending bill.
Long said the bill could help “shore up” the ACA, ensuring that more Americans have access to affordable health care plans.
Clark County Council Chair
Although Long’s race against incumbent Herrera Beutler has picked up national attention — with Long even garnering support from former President Barack Obama — the youth-led Camas High candidate forum focused equal attention on important county and state races.
The first two candidates to speak at Monday night’s forum were Clark County Council Chair candidates Eric Holt, a Democrat, and Clark County Councilwoman Eileen Quiring, a Republican.
Holt, who states in his campaign literature that Clark County “deserves a County Council that represents the common folk and not the interest of big money,” kicked things off, saying he hoped to “be the voice of the people,” if elected to the council chair position.
“It is important that all of our voices are heard, not just (the voices of) special interests,” Holt said. In her introduction Monday night, Quiring said she believes the county needs new leadership “to move from a mere bedroom community of Portland into our own identity, so that our citizens can work where they live.”
The Camas students asked Holt and Quiring about the county’s structural deficit, recommendations for improving the outdated and overcrowded Clark County Jail and if they would continue to ban recreational marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county.
Holt said he believes in fully funding the county’s levels of service, and that the allowable 1-percent annual property tax increase is simply not enough to keep pace with how fast the economy and county’s needs are growing. He added that lifting the ban on recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated parts of Clark County also could add to the county’s revenues.
“We are losing a major source of revenue, not allowing (recreational marijuana sales) outside cities,” Holt said. “There was $57 million (from cannabis sales) made inside Clark County … and this is money we give away to the cities.”
Quiring said she was more concerned about the sales tax revenues Clark County may be losing when county residents go across the state line to buy goods in Oregon, which has no sales tax. She said the county’s revenues are up, but so are funding requests.
“We need to be responsible with every department when they come (to county council) with requests,” Quiring said.
The county councilwoman added that she supports a ban on recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated Clark County, because she believes the revenues would be negated by a need for more law enforcement and health services.
“Regardless of revenue (from cannabis sales and related taxes) … I believe we’ll have to spend more on social services,” Quiring said.
Holt countered that voters in Washington state clearly approved of recreational marijuana sales throughout the state — in cities and rural areas — and wondered if Quiring feels the same way about selling alcohol in unincorporated parts of the county, given alcohol’s connection to a greater need for law enforcement and social services.
18th Legislative District, Position 1
Candidates for the 18th Legislative District, Position 1, followed the County Council Chair candidates at the Camas High forum.
CYAC students asked Republican incumbent Rep. Brandon Vick and his Democratic challenger, Chris Thobaben, questions about public school funding, transparency for legislators’ public records and school safety.
“Safety in schools is an incredibly important issue. In 2018 alone, the United States has averaged one school shooting per week. This year, Camas High School changed their evacuation plan from having students meet as one body in a fenced off football field, to spreading out classes all across campus,” the students told the state legislative candidates. “Where do you draw the line between right to bear arms and protecting the children of Washington state?”
Thobaben, a reserve officer in the United States Marine Corps, answered first, saying he is a responsible gun owner, but that he believes guns have gone from a tool to a toy in recent years.
“Guns have gone from a tool to achieve an end — and that end is killing, let’s not mince words — to a status symbol, a toy, that we have devalued in terms of our everyday lives.”
Speaking of school shooters, Thobaben said many of the shooters got their guns from family members who hadn’t locked the guns away, or taught children “how to treat guns with respect … or the value of human life and dignity.”
Thobaben, who calls himself a centrist Democrat, said he would like to see people encouraged at point of sale to lock up their guns — something he believes would also help reduce the number of veteran suicides in the U.S.
There are 22 veterans a day committing suicide, and most use guns because “guns are efficient,” Thobaben said. “Suicide is a 5-minute decision. If I have to go through getting my gun (out of a gun safe), that gives me an extra two or three minutes to think about my decision and maybe call a friend.”
He added that he believes the state also needs to take care of mentally ill citizens to help reduce the number of mass shootings, and said schools need to have adequate funding for counselors.
Republican Rep. Vick said he would argue against using the word “epidemic” to describe mass shootings in the United States.
“I understand that school shootings make the news, and mass shootings make the news, and those things are terrible. … But I would also argue the fact that we have an epidemic on our hands,” Vick told the students. “I am not in school right now, obviously. I hope you don’t go to school everyday fearful for the fact that there might be a school shooting.”
Vick said he believes school shootings are an issue that can be addressed “without infringing on a certain group of people’s rights.”
“Republicans in the state of Washington called for a special session to address this issue — to put armed officers in every school, to put security checkpoints in every school, to close off those campuses that have doors on the outside and make them single-access point places,” Vick said, noting the “majority party,” the Democrats, had denied that special session.
“This issue, I think, is going to go back and forth for as long as time goes on. But, honestly, denying one group the right to own something, to me, doesn’t make any sense,” Vick said.
As his time for answering ran out, Vick told the Camas High students and crowd of Camas-area families: “You gotta understand folks: In some parts of the state, people hunt to eat. There’s no grocery stores.”
18th Legislative District, Position 2
The end of the forum focused on candidates Kathy Gillespie, a Democrat and former Vancouver School Board member, and Republican Larry Hoff, a former credit union CEO, who are hoping to snag retiring Rep. Liz Pike’s 18th Legislative District, Position 2 seat.
The students asked both candidates why they ran for office, what they thought of the school-funding “McCleary” fix that challenged bargaining agreements between school districts and teachers unions throughout Washington this school year, and how they would address global climate change.
“The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week published a report saying the world needs to take urgent and unprecedented action before there will be irreversible climate change,” the student moderator said to Gillespie and Hoff. “What policies would you propose the legislature take to address this looming issue?”
Gillespie answered first, and said her own children, ages 22 and 20, likely spend a great deal of time wondering what their future will be like in the face of serious climate change.
“Washington is fortunate that we have hydroelectric power, which helps us reduce our carbon footprint,” Gillespie said. “But that doesn’t mean Washington can’t be a great leader in terms of finding new ways to produce energy and to set very high standards.”
If elected to the state legislature, Gillespie said she would advocate for looking at bipartisan ways for Washington to meet the “very ambitious” carbon-reduction goals state leaders set in 2009.
“I would ask the legislature to renew their commitment to those goals that we set and to look, in a bipartisan way, at how we can support clean energy, support businesses and support people working.”
Meeting the carbon reduction target is important, Gillespie said, but the state must do it in a way that doesn’t lose jobs.
Hoff, the Republican candidate, said he “believes the climate is changing” but that “it has been for thousands of years.”
“How much you as individuals and our businesses contribute (to climate change) is still a question,” Hoff said, before launching into an attack on Initiative 1631 (I-1631), which would make Washington state the first to impose a carbon emissions fee on major contributors to the state’s carbon footprint. The fees would be used to fund healthy air, water and forest projects throughout Washington state.
“I-1631 is a flawed initiative, a bloated piece of bureaucracy that would … pass out billions of dollars with no objective that would do anything to help our climate,” Hoff said, before telling the students and families inside the Camas theater that he is “the biggest proponent of a clean environment.”
“I’m an avid outdoorsman,” Hoff said. “I spend days, hours, weeks off clean, pristine streams. I breathe the clean air that we all do, and respect that.”
To find more information on any of the candidates who appeared at the forum, visit clark.wa.gov/elections and click on the “Online Voters Guide” under the Nov. 6 General Election Information guide. Or, visit the League of Women Voters’ online, nonpartisan voter guide at vote411.org. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. The online registration deadline has passed, but the deadline to register as a voter in-person, at the Clark County Elections Office, 1408 Franklin St., Vancouver, is Monday, Oct. 29. For more information about dropping your ballot off in person or at one of the ballot boxes throughout the county, visit clark.wa.gov/elections/ballot-deposit-locations.