Fireworks few as candidates air their views
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:00 PM
"If Ralph Nader had shown up, they'd have probably let him in.The League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women held a full-roster, pre-election forum Wednesday night at the Oak Harbor Senior Center and most every candidate put in an appearance. That included candidates for Congress, the state Legislature and both District 1 and District 2 Island County commissioner seats. Democrats, Republicans and Libertarian candidates had all been invited to attend and nearly everyone did. For the most part, the evening came off with more political politeness than fireworks, but it did give voters a chance to see opposing candidates together on the same stage. Candidates were allowed time to introduce themselves and to sum up their qualifications. In between, audience members were encouraged to ask questions.Judging by the patchy bursts of applause following various candidate comments, the attitude, and political bent of the audience seemed well mixed. Their questions to the candidates ranged from teacher salaries and taxes to gun control and abortion. The audience included several students from Oak Harbor Middle School.Here's a quick overview of the evening.U.S. Congress, District 2Arlington Republican John Koster made a brief appearance at the beginning of the evening and drew some pointed audience questions about his voting record on education and his stance as a pro-life candidate. He defended his votes against more education funding, saying he has consistantly voted against budgets that go over the spending cap and on laws that intrude on peoples' lives.When one audience member called him anti-choice on women's issues, Koster said he was not anti-choice but pro-life.Koster's opponent, Democrat Rick Larsen, did not attend the forum.State House of RepresentativeThe three-way debate was lively mainly because of the straight-forward approach of Libertarian candidate Dean Brittain, who described himself as the only candidate who will reduce government. Democrat incumbant Dave Anderson defended his record and spoke about his background as both an environmental-minded scientist and a small businessperson. Republican challenger Barry Sehlin focused on his leadership abilities and criticized Anderson for his inability to get things done.We need to demand more than good ideas, Sehlin said. We need results.When asked about environmental issues, both Brittain and Sehlin ducked specifics on clean air and water issues while Anderson pointed to several bills he sponsored aimed at lessening pollution.The environment, Anderson said, is what I'm about down there.On the property tax issue, Sehlin said he supported a Republican plan to lower all property taxes based on an overall percentage while Anderson said tax breaks should be aimed at homeowners. Do you want Bill Gates and Boeing to get a $100,000 break ... while you only get a $19 decrease? Anderson asked.We need to get working on (decreasing taxes) and quit arguing about who it is we want to shift the property tax burden to, Sehlin said.Brittain said he would work to reduce as much government as he can, which would inevitable result in less taxes.On the health care insurance issue, both Sehlin and Brittain said the government should stop interfering and remove state-imposed requirements on insurers. Anderson, on the other hand, said he supports a state-run, one-payer health insurance system. District 10 HouseThe debate between Republican incumbant Kelly Barlean and Democrat challenger John McCoy was marked mainly by agreement between the two men who have similar military backgrounds.They both agreed that teachers need higher pay, that lottery money should go directly to education - as it was originally intended - and that there needs to be a more stable source for educational funding.They both said said they were against Tim Eyman's Initiative 745, which would require most transportation funding to go to road-building. Barlean said that the initiative process is simply not the right process.It's almost like two guys in a bar writing down an idea on a cocktail napkin and then just dumping it in the Legislature's lap, Barlean said.While both men said they support the right to bear arms, McCoy added that the right comes with responsibility. Gun owners must be held responsible, McCoy said.District 10 SenateIn a rather polite debate, Incumbent Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen focused on her experience and her top position on two powerhouse Senate committees while Republican challenger Norma Smith argued that it's time for a fresh approach.I don't believe in wasting time with partisan politics, said Smith, who has worked as an aid to U.S. Congressman Jack Metcalf. I know how to do business in the Legislature. I know how to work with people.Smith called for annual and independent performance audits of every level of agencies in the state in order to ensure government accountability. Both woman cited education and transportation as among their top priorities. Haugen said both need a stable funding source. Smith, on the other hand, said the problem is a lack of leadership in these issues in the Legislature.In her closing, Haugen said that the political reality of the Legislature is that freshman do not have the kind of influence that an experienced member has, which means they may not be able to look after the interests of their district as well.You need someone who can really make an impact, Haugen said.Island County Commissioner, District 1Incumbent, two-term Republican commissioner Mike Shelton and Democrat challenger William Rowlands had a pretty easy time of it. The two candidates drew few questions from the audience and leveled few attacks on each other.Shelton brought a serious demeanor to the dais, barely breaking a smile as he used much of his introductory speech to praise the county's growth management planning process and defend its high cost which is in the neighborhood of $2 million. He explained that good growth management requires planning from the bottom up.Anytime you have bottom-up planning it costs a lot of money, he said.In conclusion, Shelton called the plan he and his fellow commissioners have put together fair.South Whidbey resident Rowlands is a bit of an unknown in the Oak Harbor area and appeared a little uneasy in the beginning as he told the crowd about his Midwest upbringing and his love of the Puget Sound landscape. He told the audience that he entered the race somewhat reluctantly at the last minute when he saw no other Democrat was going to challenge Shelton. He has still not received the endorsement of his party.But Rowlands looked more comfortable as he laid out his concerns which included low morale and high turnover among county employees, the county's apparent endorsement of a new Exxon gas station in Freeland and the county's growth plan which is still being challenged before a state board.All eight years the Growth Management Act has been on (Shelton's) plate and it's not passed yet, he said.In answer to a middle school student's question about what they would do to give kids more to do on the island, Rowlands could only offer his backing for a new park on South Whidbey.It's a problem. I know it's a problem, he said.Shelton offered more advice than solution.Don't always rely on other people for things to do, he suggested to the teen. Don't always expect that, particularly the government, is going to provide something for you to do.Island County Commissioner, District 2Though the crowd had thinned by the time the final two candidates reached the lectern, incumbent Republican Mac McDowell and Democrat Lynne Wilcox garnered the majority of audience questions and some of the most spirited debate. McDowell spoke first, saying his eight-year record in office is sound. He said he had kept his promises to lower taxes, reduce the crime rate and create a budget reserve.Don't believe new promises until you see if old ones are kept, he said.Wilcox used her opening remarks to question McDowell's role in growth planning, saying county officials ignored and even fought the state's Growth Management Act instead of following the law. She said such inaction led to the continuation of poor planning policies of the past as well as to the high cost the county has now had to pay an outside consultant to get the work done.No more stalling, she said.McDowell replied that the county's hiring of Seattle land-use consultant Keith Dearborn was in fact a wise move. He said the other option was to hire 12 more county planners who would have remained on the public payroll even after the work was done.I think people will find we actually saved money, he said.Wilcox also challenged McDowell's assertion that crime had been reduced in Island County. She said that the number of crimes has actually increased by more than 40 percent. In fact, both candidates are correct. Island County does indeed have the lowest crime rate per capita in the state. But as the county's population increases so does the actual number of crimes reported. Both candidates were asked to name some of their backers. McDowell listed the Skagit/Island Builders Association and the Whidbey Island Association of Realtors. Wilcox named the Washington Conservation Voters and the Island County employees union.At one point Wilcox was asked to clarify a comment made during her opening statement which seemed to accuse the sitting commissioners of lining their pockets while widespread development was allowed to continue. She said she had been misunderstood and was referring to developers, not the commissioners, when she made the comment.Following the forum McDowell said that dispite Wilcox's clarification he still considered her statement to be an unwarranted slam. --------------Measuring the measuresThe League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women will hold an issues forum on state ballot measures on Wednesday, Oct. 18 beginning at 7 p.m. in the Service Alternative building in Coupeville. The Building is located on North Main Street behind the GTE building. Issues up for discussion include Initiative 713 related to animal traps, I-722 which limits taxes, I-728 which redirects revenue to school funding, I-729 regarding charter schools, I-732 dealing with teacher pay, I-745 which puts more transportation revenue into roads and SJR-8214 which deals with investing money for people with developmental disabilities. "