Candidates vying to be San Juan County’s representatives for either a Washington state Legislature seat or U.S. Congressional seat introduced themselves at a forum on Thursday, July 12, at the San Juan Island Grange. Both races will be featured in the Aug. 7 primary election for San Juan County voters, and the top two candidates from each race will head to the Nov. 6 election. Similar forums were held on July 11 on Orcas and July 18 on Lopez.
U.S. Congressional candidates team up against incumbent
Only two out of the six candidates competing for the U.S. Congressional District 2 seat attended the forum, but both had the same goal — to replace the district’s incumbent.
Stonewall Jackson Bird, a Green Party member from Bellingham, and Collin Richard Carlson, a Democrat from Marysville, agreed they would support each other to remove Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, from the U.S. House of Representatives seat he has held since 2000.
“The incumbent is not representing the values of the people of the district,” said Bird. “We need the expression of progressive values and we need it … to throw out the incumbent.”
Bird explained, several times, that Congressional representatives no longer have to answer to their constituents of any political affiliation because of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process where political parties create district boundary lines that help elect their candidates, or, as Bird said, “where the politicians choose the voters, instead of the voters choosing the politicians.” A Republican, noted Bird, wasn’t even running for the district seat.
Bird read a list of what he called easily accomplishable actions that constituents in Washington’s 2nd District would like Congress to achieve, but elected officials have yet to carry out. These items included allowing the government to negotiate pharmaceutical drug prices; creating fair trade that supports workers, the environment and jobs; and ending gerrymandering.
Carlson expressed his interest in a universal, single-payer health care system at the federal level, tuition-free public higher education and investing in low-income state public housing to control rent prices and prevent homelessness.
“I ran because the values of this district need to be heard and they need to be heard right now,” said Carlson. “Not in 2020, not in 2022, but right now.”
Rep. Larsen did not attend the forum because Congress is in session but submitted a statement that was read by a member of the forum’s sponsor, the League of Women Voters of the San Juans. The statement addressed how Larsen is “strengthening the middle class” by supporting such resources as technical trainings and apprenticeships; addiction treatment; and education for veterans to easily move into civilian life.
U.S. Congressional candidates who did not attend were Brian Luke, a Libertarian from Lynnwood; Uncle Mover, a moderate GOP Party member from Mill Creek; and Gary Franco, an Independent from Lopez Island.
Legislature candidates stay within party lines
Five of the six candidates competing for a seat in the Washington state House of Representatives attended the forum and answered audience questions about state income tax, gun control, climate change, government transparency and housing.
Two of the present Democratic candidates, Alex Ramel of Bellingham and Debra Lekanoff of Bow, were in favor of a state income tax. Ramel said Washington state needs more stable revenue to achieve the goals of its citizens, and Lekanoff agreed, adding that tax reform should be fair for all Washingtonians, especially since property taxes keep rising. In Washington, taxes are collected on sales and property, but not income.
Democrat Rud Browne of Bellingham said he does not support an income tax that would “add more cost to the citizens without relief elsewhere.” Instead, he said, the tax system should be overhauled to “redistribute the burden.”
The Republican candidates, Michael Petrish of Anacortes and Daniel Miller of Friday Harbor, said they would not endorse a state income tax if elected. Petrish noted that the state “does not have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.”
Neither Republican candidate was in favor of gun control, while all the Democrats called for reform. Miller explained that he had “to support Second Amendment rights.” Petrish said he was not in favor of gun control because he witnessed the negative effects of such reform on “a defenseless society” when he served as a civilian contractor and consultant for the military and CIA in Bosnia from 1995-2001.
Browne explained that he was in favor of the same gun control regulations instituted in his home country of Australia, where weapons training and background checks are in place. “I don’t understand why we don’t do the same thing here,” he said.
Ramel called for “common-sense measures” against gun violence and said he backs, and has even collected signatures for, Washington state Initiative 1639, which is a citizen-led initiative that, if passed, would create such laws as raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles in Washington state to 21. Lekanoff, who grew up in southeast Alaska, said she learned how to responsibly hunt with guns at a young age and that “sensible gun control is very important.”
All of the Democratic candidates agreed that the Legislature should address climate change, while the Republican candidates disagreed. Petrish noted that sustaining a healthy environment should be a collective effort by individuals, but not necessarily mandated by the government. Browne, who serves on the Whatcom County Council, said he “sees climate change as a fundamental issue we have to address” and that he is interested in backing the creation of new technology to support such efforts. Lekanoff, who has served as the government affairs director for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, explained that she helped them create an “adaptation plan” for sea-level rise, which she said is the first of its kind in the nation. Ramel said he has worked against climate change for most of his career, including helping local homeowners and business owners save money by improving energy efficiency in buildings.
All candidates agreed that elected officials should be transparent, in response to a question about the current Legislature passing a bill last fall to exclude representatives from public records requests, which the governor ultimately vetoed.
They also agreed that housing availability was one of the most important issues in this election. Petrish called for a private-public partnership, while Miller suggested that revenue from the state marijuana tax could fund housing solutions. Ramel, a single dad, said he had difficulty finding an affordable apartment within his son’s school district, while Lekanoff said she “would love to be a homeowner” for her and her daughter. Ramel said he’s had experience working with land trusts and preserving existing affordable homes through weatherization. Lekanoff noted that housing solutions should come from the local level, while she would implement the plan and find funding at the federal, if elected. Browne suggested implementing a tax on vacant homes and using the revenue for housing solutions, like in Canada, where he previously lived.
Candidate Tom Pasma, a Democrat from Burlington, did not attend but presented a statement that was read by a league member. The position’s incumbent, Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, is retiring and therefore not running in this race.
Local primary ballots will be mailed on July 18. For more information, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1221/Elections-Office.