18th District candidates debate issues

Online forum featured Democratic challengers from Camas, Washougal

A recent Clark County League of Women Voters candidate forum featuring candidates vying to represent Washington’s 18th Legislative District covered a wide range of issues, from the candidates’ plans for pandemic response and police use-of-force policies to early childhood education, transportation needs, ways of addressing homelessness and how to provider greater access to broadband internet services in rural areas.

The remote candidate forum, streamed live on Sept. 30, included the state Senate candidates — Republican Sen. Ann Rivers and her Democratic challenger, Rick Bell — as well as the state legislature candidates for the 18th District, Position 2: Republican incumbent Rep. Larry Hoff and his Democratic challenger, Donna Sinclair.

The forum was set to include candidates for the 18th District, Position 1 legislative seat, Republican Rep. Brandon Vick and his Democratic challenger, Kassandra Bessert, but a League representative said Vick could not attend, so that forum was canceled. Voters will decide the 18th District races in the Nov. 3 general election.

Following are a few of the questions posed to the candidates at the Sept. 30 forum, and their responses:

18th District Senate candidates

Asked to address their top-two priorities if elected in November to represent the 18th District in the state Senate, Bell and Rivers spoke about their primary concerns.

Bell, a small business owner from Camas who has a background in health care information technology, said he would focus first on making sure the state can weather a second wave of COVID-19.

“We will have to return our focus to having adequate (personal protective equipment), ventilators for hospitals and, hopefully, further advances in monitoring and testing,” Bell said, adding that another part of meeting a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus meant ensuring that people had affordable access to health care.

“We can make our health care system better while at the same time lowering health care costs” by implementing a value-based care system and “fighting drug company profiteering.”

Lowering health care costs for Washingtonians, Bell added, would help the state’s businesses grow and increase state revenues.

“Fixing health care is one of the strongest ways to address our remaining budget shortfall,” Bell said.

The Camas entrepreneur’s second priority would be to fight against the “negative influence of corporate money in politics,” Bell said. “We can’t do the hard things that require the tough solutions that we need to put in place when they run against the interests of the very companies we have funding our campaigns.”

Bell said he would propose a 50-percent tax on campaign contributions that would help fund “fact-based political journalism and impose stricter transparency requirements on legislators.”

“Either the tax will greatly reduce big money in politics or (it will) provide the business model to make us all well-informed voters,” he said, adding that democracy needs well-informed voters to function.

Rivers said her first priority if re-elected in November, would be to focus on the state budget and the economy, “which go hand in hand.”

“We have to hold on to the gains we made in public education and protect our most vulnerable and especially our seniors,” Rivers said. “The primary thing we have to do is decide what are wants and what are needs. The wants can wait. The needs we fulfill right away.”

Rivers, a former middle school math and science teacher, said she also is concerned about addressing the education gap “that has already started to form” as a result of students being in remote and hybrid learning environments during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As a state senator, Rivers said she would try to keep the topic of closing any COVID-19 related education gaps “high profile” and “work with colleagues to make sure it doesn’t fall through the cracks.”

Later in the forum, Bell and Rivers were asked to share their plans for helping rural Washingtonians access broadband services.

Rivers said she has worked with other state senators and “done quite a bit of work” to “make sure people in far-flung areas have (broadband) access” for things like school, work and telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed to public-private partnerships like the one happening in the city of Ridgefield, as a possible solution for other parts of the 18th District.

Bell said he agreed with Rivers on this issue, but that he would like to “go a little stronger” by requiring broadband providers to provide “that last mile” free for rural families.

Bell added that the technology exists to make this type of “last mile” broadband access possible.

“Wireless hotspots, signal boosters … they’re widely available,” he said, adding that although some companies are “taking steps” toward greater broadband access, he feels there is more the state can do to require this access in remote regions.

Both Rivers and Bell agreed broadband access is critical not just for students in remote classes but for people in rural areas who need to access health care providers via telehealth sessions.

“It’s about a lot more than education,” Rivers noted.

Asked about the 18th District’s transportation needs over the next 15 years, Bell and Rivers had visions that extended well beyond widening roads or providing more public transit.

“Now that we’ve seen how long it takes to build a bridge, we have to start planning for our third, fourth, fifth bridge (connecting Washington and Oregon states across the Columbia River),” Rivers said. “We kinda dropped the ball 20 years ago. We allowed homes to be built on land that could have had infrastructure on it.”

Bell agreed that he could foresee an “East County bridge without tolls” as “tolls are a hassle and a giveaway to people that are well-connected,” but added that he would like to see state officials concentrate more on the inevitable emergence of self-driving cars and trucks.

“We are witnessing the transition to self-driving, autonomous cars and trucks over several decades,” Bell said. “My hope is that we have given the truckers a good heads-up in the future. If you are a trucker and are not clear how that plays out for you, you need me in Olympia. If automation is going to take out a whole class of jobs, people need 10 to 15 years of warning, and we need to help them make that transition.”

Rivers said she sits on the Senate’s autonomous vehicle workgroup as well as the career technical education workgroup.

“It is on the front of my mind when we look at what is going to happen, when people have to transition away from jobs due to (automation),” Rivers said. “We have to be nimble and understand there are things on the horizon and plan for those as much as possible.”

Asked about how they would address the state’s childcare and early childhood education needs, the candidates both addressed existing legislation.

Rivers said she would press for continuing to support a state program that assists women who are financially challenged be able to afford childcare while working or in school.

Bell said he would support a bill known as the Fair Start for Kids Act, which never made it out of committee.

“I would be a strong supporter of that in the Senate,” Bell said of the bipartisan legislation that would reduce child care copays, support child care providers and build more child care facilities in Washington.

“In terms of funding, we have to make stronger choices about our priorities, and, if we have to make trade-offs and choices, then I’m going to put kids first and (not protect) subsidies for big corporations,” Bell added.

18th District, Position 2 candidates: Hoff and Sinclair

Also asked about their top-two priorities for the 18th District, Hoff and Sinclair both mentioned economic concerns.

“The budget and economy are top priorities, but education and affordable health care are tied in,” said Sinclair, a history professor at Washington State University Vancouver and Western Oregon University who grew up in Clark County, earned her master’s degree in history and Ph.D. in urban studies, and was elected to the Washougal School Board in 2017.

She added that she would push for more investments in technical education and bring partnerships with private businesses, state agencies, Washington tribal authorities and others to train students in North Clark County on things like green construction, watershed restoration and “possibly even wildland firefighting.”

Ensuring that Washingtonians and 18th District constituents have affordable health care — “not just insurance but actual care” — also is one of Sinclair’s top priorities if elected to the state legislature in November.

Hoff, a former chief executive officer of Fibre Federal Credit Union elected in 2018 to fill the 18th District, Position 2 seat vacated by Republican Rep. Liz Pike, of Camas, said his top two priorities if re-elected in November would be “the budget” and “children’s education.”

“The budget right now is at the top of that list,” Hoff said. “We have to figure out a way to get our economy recovered. That would obviously involve some small business considerations … they need help. The regulatory burden on them is tremendous within the virus cloud we’re currently operating, they could use some relief.”

“Children’s education is certainly one we need to pay attention to in the next session,” Hoff added.

Later, Hoff said he would want to take the state’s budget “down to bare studs … look at the entire structure of our government and start from zero, discuss their priorities, justify expenditures and make the hard decisions we need to.”

Sinclair countered, saying she believes “the job of government is to protect people and ensure common welfare.”

Cutting entire categories in the budget, she said, “could be harmful.”

“We need legislators who will do their homework to not make the system more unfair,” Sinclair said. “We need more bipartisanship addressing complex issues. That has been part of my job for the past 20 years.”

On reforming police departments in the wake of sustained, national calls for a reduction in police use-of-force and brutality against Black people and other people of color, the candidates offered their views on police reform in Washington state.

“I support law enforcement and recognize that officers are overstretched and overburdened,” Sinclair said. “We don’t need more legislation … but we do need data collection so we know precisely where the problems are and how we can address them.”

Hoff said he believed calls to “defund the police,” taken literally, are “a very bad idea,” but said he found merit in community policing models.

“We need a forum with open dialogue from folks in law enforcement and people within the community, where we can understand the issues surrounding policing,” Hoff said. “If we step out and make decisions before we truly understand the issues, we’re going to lose.”

Hoff said he believed police use-of-force disparities based on race are “more than tragic and unacceptable.”

His solution to addressing systemic racism was to focus on education: “Working on children to be change agents of the future may hold some hope,” Hoff said.

Sinclair said she understood systemic racism is not the same as individual bigotry, and called for more data collection at state and local levels to find the types of disparities that show action is needed.

“We need to fund our police (and) make sure they have the training they need so they …. get cultural competency training and implicit bias training,” Sinclair said. “We need to bring police and communities together rather than letting it divide us. That’s key.”

Asked to address ways the state legislature might help decrease the number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness in Washington and in the 18th District, the candidates both touched on affordable housing and mental illness.

“I’ve met with several groups advocating for our homeless citizens, and there are indeed several different facets here, (including) housing and mental illness,” Hoff said. “We need to increase thes supply of affordable housing … it comes down to giving builders the available land and opportunity to build more housing types.”

Sinclair said she believes helping those experiencing homelessness is a three-prong issue, with a need for greater public health services for people in need of mental health and addiction support as well as a need for more affordable health care and more affordable housing.

“We need a more accurate index about what constitutes affordable housing, and we need to increase our housing stock,” Sinclair said.

To watch the candidate forums and hear more from the 18th District candidates, visit cvtv.org.

Other Clark County League of Women Voters candidate forums impacting Camas-Washougal voters include:

* County Charter Review Commissioners (held Oct. 3) — Commissioners, At-large, Position 1: Rainy Rau, Doug Lasher and Tom Meilke; Position 2: M. Kirby Ware and Eric Holt; Position 3: Mike Dalesandro, Stephen Sechrist and Justin M. Forsman

* 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 — County Councilor, District 4: Gary Medvigy and Matt Little. County Charter Review Commissioners — Commissioners, District 3, Position 2: Parker Davidson, Nena Cavel and Terri Niles; Position 3: Jeff Angelo and Jess Mahan. Commissioners, District 4, Position 1: Thomas Hernandez, Dave Stiles, Deanna Rusch and Chuck Miller; Position 2: John Latta, Brent D. Boger and Glenn Kincaid; Position 3: Liz Pike and Greg K. Anderson.

All candidate forums will be aired live on CVTV, streamed live on cvtv.org and available for viewing at cvtv.org.

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