General Election 2022: 17th District candidates speak out

Candidates for 17th legislative district share views on everything from abortion and voting rights to the I-5 bridge replacement and climate change

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Candidates running for Washington's 17th legislative district, in positions 1 and 2 include (clockwise from upper left): Democratic Position 1 candidate Terri Niles, Republican Position 1 candidate Kevin Waters, Republican Position 2 incumbent Rep. Paul Harris and Democratic Position 2 candidate Joe Kear. (Screenshots from Oct. 3, 2022 League of Women Voters candidate forum in Camas)

Camas-Washougal voters will help decide key federal, state and regional races in the midterm election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, including two seats in the state legislature’s newly redrawn 17th District. 

Candidates running for the 17th District’s positions 1 and 2 clarified their positions on several major issues — including the state budget, abortion rights in Washington state, the Growth Management Act and its ability to provide for affordable housing and climate change mitigations, and voting laws — during a League of Women Voters Clark County candidate forum Oct. 3, at the Camas Public Library. To view the candidate forum in its entirety, visit or

Following are a few highlights from the candidate forum, from candidates for the the 17th District, Position 1: Democratic candidate Terri Niles and Republican candidate Kevin Waters; and for the 17th District, Position 2: Incumbent Republican legislator Paul Harris and Democratic candidate Joe Kear. 

On the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement

Waters, who sits on the transportation committee for Skamania County, said he would “love to see an alternate lane for future growth” and for the bridge to be “not so high.” He added that he would also like to “the other side,” referring to the state of Oregon, “start to play ball with” Washington state officials.

Niles, the Democratic candidate, agreed that the I-5 bridge connecting Vancouver to north Portland “is not safe and has to be fixed.”
“It is vital to commerce and prosperity (so) getting it replaced is something I support,” Niles said. 

A registered nurse who spent 20 years working in intensive care units and another five years in nursing administration, Niles said she also understands the importance of having public transportation in the form of light rail on the new I-5 bridge. 

“I was a critical care nurse at OHSU (in Portland) and spent four hours trying to get to work in the snow and in inclement weather,” Niles said. “Nurses who were able to go to the hospital and take care of patients are nurses who were able to take TriMet (Portland’s public transportation system), so I think people don’t realize how important light rail is in providing essential services. People really need to stress (that) and talk about that.” 

The Position 2 candidates also spoke to this issue. 

Kear said the bridge must be replaced. 

“Its lifespan is over, and it’s dangerous,” Kear said. “Like our Position 1 candidate Niles said, we should be doing what we can to support light rail on that bridge.”

Kear added that he believes the I-5 bridge is “not the only one we need.” 

“For a metropolitan area, we’re really hamstrung by the fact that we don’t have good transportation,” Kear said. “We have to look, in the future, at our ability to cross (the Columbia River into Oregon). But (the I-5) bridge needs our support right now, and it’s progressing in the right way.” 

Harris said he also believes the area needs a new I-5 bridge, but that he would like to see more action from the Oregon side. 

“Washington put in $800 million and Oregon hasn’t put in a dime,” Harris said. “Oregon is struggling, to be quite frank. I’m interested to see if Oregon will pony up their money.”

Oregon and Washington’s departments of transportation this week applied for federal grant funding to help fund the costly bridge replacement — estimated to eventually cost between $3.2 billion and $4.8 billion — and both states are expected to contribute $1 billion. Washington’s legislature has already approved this state’s $1 billion share of the bridge replacement. 

On abortion rights in Washington state

Kear, the Democratic candidate from Washougal, said he has been involved in efforts to protect abortion rights since before the passage of Roe vs Wade in the early 1970s. 

“I organized childcare for women’s forums on the horrors of illegal abortions,” Kear said. “I believe we have been very good about protecting the freedom to choose in our state. I believe we need to codify that in our state so it is not (dismantled) by a future legislature.”
Kear said his Republican opponent, Rep. Harris, “has voted to not expand” abortion rights in the state. 

Harris said he would support “safe, legal and limited abortions” in Washington state, and that he has worked across the aisle, with Rep. Monica Stonier, a Democrat, to help secure school-based health centers in Washington.  

“I voted for schools to have health clinics in them … for high school students so they can make an informed decision, and I think it will be codified in this legislative session,” Harris said. 

The Position 1 candidates also weighed in on abortion laws in Washington state. 

“I’m a pro-life candidate … but I also honor the voting people,” Waters, the Republican candidate for the Position 1 seat, said. “(Washington) voters have said they want to have abortion rights as a choice. If it were up to me, I’m Roman Catholic, I don’t hide my faith. But I would stay on track and honor the voting people.” 

Niles said her opponent was not staying true to his earlier statements regarding abortion rights in Washington state. 

“He answered twice that he would roll back abortion (rights),” Niles said of Waters. “I have been knocking on doors in Clark and Skamania counties. They bring up these freedoms … and folks are worried about ‘big government,’ but this is the biggest thing big government could possibly do — impact people’s reproductive health.”
Niles said she would support keeping the government out of reproductive healthcare decisions that “should be yours and yours alone.” 

On voting rights and the voting process in Washington state

Harris, the Republican incumbent, said he is happy with election laws in Washington state. 

“I enjoy opening my ballot in the anonymity of my home and sticking it in the mail,” Harris said. 

Harris added that he does not believe in election fraud conspiracies — an idea being pushed by many right-wing candidates in 2022. 

“I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes any election was stolen, ever,” Harris said. “Anybody who lost actually lost, and anybody who won, won. They won. There’s no problem. I think we should continue doing what we’re doing and move on.” 

Kear said Harris has voted against expanding ballot box access as well as voter registration deadlines. 

“There are a lot of things he has voted against in terms of expanding voting,” Kear said of Harris. 

The Democratic candidate added that he would “look to see if there are things we can do to continue to expand voting” in Washington state. 

“Our obligation is to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote,” Kear said. “It’s what democracy is built on.” 

On making their communities safer and healthier

Asked how the candidates running for the 17th District’s position 1 seat have participated as citizens to help make Southwest Washington a safer and healthier place to live, Niles, a former critical care nurse, spoke to her work with people experiencing homelessness and with marginalized communities. 

“I have been quite engaged in my community,” Niles added. “I ran for the Charter Review Commission when I saw a need for some changes in Clark County. I have a lifetime of public service … and have worked with marginalized communities to talk to them and (see) how we can serve them better.” 

Waters said he is a fourth generation Southwest Washingtonian who has “always volunteered at church.” 

“I am involved with the yearly cleanup of Stevenson’s downtown,” Waters said. “And (helped the) Stevenson School Foundation raise over $100,000 for teacher education programs and grants for kids.” 

On climate change

Harris said he believes “we are very fortunate to live in a state that gets the bulk of its power from renewable resources” and is “very careful about its air.” 

“Some states are not so fortunate,” Harris, the Republican incumbent for the 17th District’s Position 2 seat, said. “We have passed laws regarding climate change and will see increases in our fuel taxes because of that. These laws tend to hurt not the majority of us, who can afford it, but those who can’t afford it … so we have to look at the end game. What are we achieving or doing? Are we getting a much better environment?”
Kear, on the other hand, said he would like to see the state invest in more renewable energy to “help us move toward the future.”
“I think we have the opportunity to create lots of new jobs (as we continue) converting from fossil fuels to clean (energy sources),” Kear said.