18th District senate candidates share views

Candidates, including two from Camas, discuss education, policing, health care, more during online forum

A recent Clark County League of Women Voters forum highlighted three candidates — including two from Camas — vying for a state senate seat in Washington’s 18th Legislative District.

Incumbent Sen. Ann Rivers, a Republican, joined challengers John Ley, also a Republican, and Democrat Rick Bell in the July 8 candidate forum to discuss issues related to affordable health care, policing, homelessness and climate change.

Bell, a small business owner with experience in health care information technology, and Ley, a recently retired Delta Airlines captain, both live in Camas.

Voters will decide in the Aug. 4 Primary and Special Election which two candidates will advance to the Nov. 3 General Election. In Washington primary elections, the top two vote-getting candidates move on to the general election, regardless of political party affiliation.

Following is a recap of the League of Women Voters candidate forum, available online at cvtv.org:

On improving education in Washington state

League moderator Amy Lodholz’s first question to the candidates had to do with building a well-trained workforce in Washington state.

“We know we need to attract jobs to our community and that requires a well-educated workforce. What legislation would you suggest or support to improve education in Wasington, both academic and vocational?” Lodholz asked the candidates.

Rivers, a former teacher who became the 18th District’s senator in 2012 after serving one term in the state House of Representatives and has worked on early learning and K-12 education policy committees, answered first.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled gaps in the state’s employment, health care and transportation sectors.

“I think what we need to do is survey and find more of those gaps and then focus on those,” Rivers said. “I have a great record on career and technical education, so I know that we have the ability to do that. We have online schooling options that can be used.”

She added that her approach to the issue would be to “find what you need, (find) the people you need and make that happen.”

Ley, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat 18th District Rep. Brandon Vick in 2014 and dropped out of his 2018 bid to succeed former Rep. Liz Pike in the 18th District, said he would focus on giving local school district more control.

“I believe two people know what’s best for a child’s education and that is the parents,” Ley said. “Let’s let mom and dad decide what is best in terms of improving the quality of their education. That means local control because one size does not fit all.”

Ley said he believes state legislators’ “McCleary fix,” which sought to make education more equitable throughout Washington’s K-12 school districts, “have failed.”

“We do not need a top-down solution for our children’s education, especially if we want to improve the quality of our children’s education,” Ley said. “That’s what moms and dads care about most.”

Ley held up and recommended the “Victory in Our Schools: We Can Give Our Children Excellent Public Education” book written by John Stanford, a former U.S. Army major general who became the Seattle Public School District’s first Black administrator in 1995 and helped increase the district’s SAT scores and lower dropout rates until his death from leukemia in 1998.

“This is an amazing book,” Ley said of “Victory in Our Schools,” which has a foreword written by former Vice President Al Gore. “(Stanford) turned the Seattle school system around and took it from worst to first.”

Bell, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1998 and a health care master’s of business administration (MBA) degree from Oregon Health and Sciences University in 2020, said he would start by advocating for the state’s youngest learners.

“Universal (pre-kindergarten), quality early education, helps children avoid grade repetition, early parenthood, incarceration … all down the line. For every dollar you spend on early education, studies show you can receive $7 to $10 back in terms of other avoided costs,” Bell said. “Beyond that … I think what attracts a strong workforce is the cost of housing and the cost of healthcare. So, if we can keep those costs lower in this area of the state, that could be a strong attractor.”

On reducing police use of deadly force

The League’s second question asked candidates to speak on I-940, now known as the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, which seeks to reduce police use of deadly force by using de-escalation tactics and communication methods. This year marks the first time the law has been fully implemented in Washington state.

“How will you learn how well this is being implemented and what further legislation is needed?” Lodholz asked the candidates.

Bell said he believes a key piece of understanding how well legislation is working is to collect and analyze data.

“To understand how effective the legislation is, you have to see the data,” Bell said, adding he would begin with the question, “Do officers who receive (this) training, do they then demonstrate (fewer) instances of violent encounters with citizen suspects?” and then begin to analyze the legislation’s effectiveness.

“As a tech guy, I’m all about the data,” Bell said. “My overall approach is to analyze the data, track the trends and disparities … and then look at the root causes that drive those disparities for those trends you want to highlight.”

Once he better understood the root cause of an issue, Bell said, he would advocate for pilot programs to test to see if possible solutions might “work in the real world.”

Ley said it was clear that “in this present time, citizens are very, very concerned about our law enforcement.”

“We must hold our law enforcement to nothing but the highest standards,” Ley said, adding that he believes the best way to do this is to provide more funding for law enforcement.

“We must ensure there is adequate funding for them because training is absolutely critical so they understand the multitude of situations they encounter when they’re out in our community,” Ley said. “For the officers, we’ve got to hold them accountable, but we need to give them the tools they need to train and be prepared and to hold their actions to the highest standards.”

“At the end of the day, I think the average citizen is more than happy to support our law enforcement and give them the tools they need,” Ley added.

Rivers agreed with Bell that more data is needed, and said she would advocate for passing a bill that would help lawmakers better understand the data.

“We had a bill in the senate this year that would actually force that data collection, but it didn’t get out of committee,” Rivers said, “so we’re going to resolve that. We’re going to make another run at that.”

She added, however, that her primary concerns with the new de-escalation legislation, is the question of how it’s being enforced.

“Is it enforceable? Is it being enforced?” Rivers said of I-940. “I think that, how you get to, ‘Is something working?’ is that you have people at one big table. I’ve done around 70 town halls and get to hear from folks across the spectrum. I get to hear from citizens. I get to hear from local officials. I get to hear from law enforcement folks. And all of those perspectives are important to listen to because they give us some idea of what’s working and what needs to be tweaked.”

Rivers said she’s come away from those town halls, as well as from her committee meetings as a senator, with the perception that “law enforcement officers want to have clear guidelines.”

“They don’t want their profession tarnished by bad actors, and they don’t ever want to see what happened in Minneapolis to happen here in Washington,” Rivers said, referring to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd said he couldn’t breath, bystanders begged the officer to get off of Floyd and three other police officers looked on without intervening.

More on policing

Asked what three specific legislative efforts they might introduce or support to make policing more equitable and safer for the community — and what they hoped to accomplish with the legislation, the candidates had widely varied answers.

Bell said he would support collecting more data on Washington police departments’ use of deadly force to track the trends and disparities; expand I-940 to focus on implicit bias, non-lethal uses of force and “the de-escalation tactics that are already in there, but (for which) I think there’s more work to do.”

He added that he would add his own initiative to “rethink the police and maybe augment police with additional resources for social and mental health.”

“The times we live in (mean) we have to do something,” Bell said. “We have to take it seriously and we have to move forward.”

Rivers agreed that collecting the data would be her top priority, and said she also believes in passing legislation that forbids impeding an individual’s airway.

“Again, we simply cannot let another George Floyd event happen, and that (the legislation against choke holds and other neck restraining maneuvers) is one way to make sure,” Rivers said.

She added that she also is a proponent of community policing and does not support “defunding the police.”

“I’m a fan of … (community policing in which) police officers take time to develop relationships and then they develop trust and respect,” Rivers said. “When you have that, they can be more like a friend than an authoritarian, militaristic presence in someone’s life. And I think those things will pay immediate dividends and will move us down the road.”

Ley said he would like to see legislation that would put police officers “in every one of our schools.”

“We find that when we have personal, emotional interactions with people, we learn to trust them, and I’d love to see our children learn that they can trust our law enforcement community,” Ley said, “and that these are honorable people and that if they have issues they can trust (the police) and go to them just like they trust their teachers and their family.”

Ley said he also would like to see an increase in funding for community policing efforts.

“Again, our policemen need to be in the communities and near the businesses and the families for whom they are enforcing the laws,” Ley said. “By having the police in the areas they’re enforcing it helps everyone get along, and that ultimately delivers a much better product and better communities.”

Ley added that he also would like to have legislative efforts that might “reward communities that have a higher rating for people who trust our officers.”

On climate change

Asked if they supported or would initiate proposals to help climate change, the candidates’ answers ranged from blaming China and India for polluting the air and water (Ley), to selectively harvesting old-growth trees and then planting a number of new trees to act as a “carbon sink” or way of capturing carbon in the air (Rivers), to transitioning the state to using clean, affordable and reliable energy sources (Bell).

“There is an entire green economy out there if we are willing to transform our economy into it,” Bell said. “These are good, well-paying, non-outsourceable jobs that can lead our path to trying to solve larger problem of climate change and leading to a new energy economy that can benefit us in the long-term future.”

Ley said Washingtonians should “take pride in the fact that Washington state is one of the cleanest states in the nation when it comes to taking care of our environment and in climate change (reductions).”

“I would love to have the rest of the world follow our example,” Ley added. “We’re already doing more than our fair share, and we’re showing the rest of the world how to do it. But when you’ve got China and India polluting the air and the water beyond any imaginable basis, we can’t do enough.”

Rivers said she believes the state can and should do a better job sourcing supplies and materials from local businesses to help reduce Washington’s carbon footprint.

“It is ridiculous that our major state agencies are purchasing things from across the United States and thereby contributing to a larger carbon footprint by having truck traffic,” she said. “We need to use local procurement.”

On addressing homelessness

“According to the Washington State Department of Commerce, our state has about 10,000 citizens without shelter and another 11,000 in temporary homeless housing. How would you address homelessness in our state or why would you not?” Lodholz asked the candidates.

Rivers said the state has spent more than $13 billion over the past decade on homelessness, so she believed “throwing money at homelessness is not the answer.”

“The No. 1 industry in the 18th Legislative District is the home-building industry,” Rivers said. “And as someone who’s tried to get a permit myself, I know how costly it is. I think (reducing home-building permit costs) is something we can do.”

Rivers also would like to see more allowance for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and said she would back a program that would help match people looking for housing with those who have an extra room in their home or an ADU.

“Then we can match people with existing housing, but we would ask (the federal government) for a waiver to use Section 8 dollars to do that,” Rivers said. “I think if we can do these things and sort of look outside the box, then we’ll actually move the ball forward to solve the issue of homelessness.”

Bell said he would try to protect the state’s housing trust fund, even during tough financial times, because a loss of housing causes a “cascading effect” of issues that, over the long-term, wind up costing more at the state and local levels.

“Housing is one of the determinants of health,” Bell said. “If you’re not in stable housing, it’s hard to take care of yourself. When you have a chronic condition, you end up in the hospital or ER. Then you come out of the hospital and end up back in a terrible housing situation and you’re not able to take care of yourself and you’re back in the ER in 30 days or less.”

“Fundamentally, one of the reasons to focus on housing is that there are cascading effects if you don’t keep people in housing,” Bell said. “Additionally, I think there are other steps we can take (to) combine health care, transportation and housing, and to try to build communities where the total cost of living can be lower.”

Ley said he would want to see people get “back to work, so they have jobs and an income” to deal with issues of homelessness.

“If they’re out of work and they can’t afford to pay their rent, then it sadly sets into motion a huge, horrible series of events,” Ley said. “They spiral into drugs, alcohol … crime takes over and a whole series of problems happen.”

“But housing has to be affordable,” Ley added. “That means you’ve got to control property taxes. You cannot have affordable housing without lower property taxes. Next we have to control building permit costs. When the cost of getting a permit costs $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 for a piece of paper, that makes housing unaffordable. It raises the cost. We’ve got to focus on a host of things but to get housing affordable you’ve got to lower the cost.”

On affordable and equitable health care for Washingtonians

Lodholz asked the candidates: “Does the state have a responsibility to ensure all its citizens have access to equitable affordable health care? If so, how should it be provided? If not, what is the state’s responsibility in the area of health care?”

Here is what the candidates said:

“It’s been my goal to make sure Washingtonians have excellent health care,” Rivers said, adding that she was able to secure dental health care for vulnerable populations while acting as chair of the senate health care committee. “Since we know that the No. 1 admit to the emergency department has been dental, and at a cost of $13,000 per visit, we know it’s easier to just pay for it on the front end.”

Rivers said she recently met with Vice President Mike Pence, who shared with her “how he led Indiana out of its health care crisis … by making sure rates of reimbursement were high enough that doctors would be (reimbursed).”

Rivers said she believes new business and occupation (B&O) taxes approved by the state legislature have negatively impacted doctors and patients.

“This session we gave docs a little more, but then hit them with a huge B&O tax, so they were unable to take more Medicaid patients,” Rivers said. “So now we have a huge segment of the population who have insurance but don’t have a provider.’

Rivers said she also has seen success using telehealth in rural areas underserved by hospitals and doctors.

“Now we need to get broadband out into those districts so they can fully avail themselves of telehealth without going into an office,” she said.

Ley said he believes the ultimate answer to health care is to “fix the broken system on a national level.”

“What can we do here in Washington state? We obviously need to improve the efficiency of our current system, and that’s first and foremost so that health care dollars stretch further,” Ley said.

He railed against state mandates in health insurance, and asked why “somebody in their 50s, 60s or 70s has to buy an insurance policy that provides maternity coverage.”

“Why would they ever want to buy that?” Ley asked. “Every one of those mandates makes it more expensive and less affordable. An easy solution should be giving you the choice. Buy what you need and what you can afford because those mandates create a higher cost for everybody.”

Bell said he believes the state needs to “take on the responsibility of ensuring the insurance system is fair to all and making sure it’s accessible to people on low incomes and with different kinds of employment arrangements.”

Bell, who has worked in health care technology and started his own health care tech company in 2016, said he believes the insurance companies have failed to provide the foundation and alternative payment models people need in the health care system.

“If they continue to fail to do that, we need to look at single-payer, Medicare-for-all systems,” Bell said. “At systems that can introduce and force the innovations that are possible in the health care system and (allow us to) focus on the quality, patient experience and lowering total overall costs.”

ABOUT THE AUG. 4 PRIMARY AND SPECIAL ELECTION

What: Voters in Washington will soon decide which state candidates move on to the general election in November. Washington’s primary election advances the top two candidates with the most votes, regardless of political party affiliation.

Voter registration: Online voter registration is available at voter.votewa.gov and ends Monday, July 27. In-person registration is available through Aug. 4.

Ballots due: Ballots for the Aug. 4 Primary and Special Election went into the mail July 17 and should have arrived in voters’ mailboxes by Wednesday, July 22. All ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, Aug. 4, or placed in an official drop box by 8 p.m., Aug. 4. The Clark County Elections Office recommends mailing ballots by Friday, July 31, to ensure they are postmarked by Aug. 4. No postage is necessary.

Drop boxes and in-person sites: Local election drop boxes are located at the downtown Camas post office, 440 N.E. Fifth Ave., and at the Washougal Library, 1661 “C” St. The local voters’ pamphlet, located online at clark.wa.gov/elections, has a complete list of drop box locations. The Clark County Elections Office, at 1408 Franklin St., Vancouver, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, for in-person services. All school election day-only sites are unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.