10th District representative race

Help wanted: Person to help the state through a budget crisis by slashing spending, angering constituents and possibly raising taxes. Must be able to take the heat.

Who would answer a help wanted ad like that? Well, in the 10th Legislative District that includes Whidbey Island, two major candidates are seeking Position 2 in the Washington State House of Representatives. Although fabricated, the above advertisement pretty well describes the job ahead for whomever voters pick to fill the position.

The position was left open with Rep. Kelly Barlean’s decision not to run for a third term. The Republicans are hoping to retain the seat with Barbara Bailey, an Oak Harbor resident who owns her own business and is active in community affairs.

Representing the Democrats is Eron Berg, an attorney who is the elected mayor of LaConner, the tourist-oriented town on the banks of the Swinomish River.

Bailey plugs her wisdom and business world experience, while Berg pitches his youthful enthusiasm and extensive experience in local government for one so young.

Both realize that they’re seeking a tough job. Washington’s Legislature will be dealing with a projected $2 billion shortfall when it starts budgeting for the next biennium in January, and this comes after the budget was balanced last year with mirrors and magic tricks, such as selling future rights to tobacco settlement money.

Polite, neat and petite, Bailey is making her first run at political office after long years of raising a family, working in the hotel industry and running her own business, all while following her husband around the country during his Navy career.

“I really, sincerely care about what’s going to happen,” Bailey said in describing why she decided to run. “I’ve got experience to make the hard decisions tempered with good judgement — wise decisions.”

For Berg, running for the Legislature appears to be part of the natural progression for a young person interested in politics. He started with appointed positions in LaConner, then won election to the city council and mayor. Deeply involved in local issues, he hopes to help make policy in Olympia.

Berg speaks with enthusiasm that reveals his mid-20s youth, but notes that he has seven years’ involvement in government. As another sign of maturity, he sometimes points to his receding hairline.

Both know their political cliches. “Everything’s on the table,” Berg said last week. In a separate interview the next day, Bailey said, “Everything’s on the table.” Both were speaking of possible budget cuts.

Conservatives looking for a “no new taxes” pledge won’t hear it from either Berg or Bailey, although Bailey comes closer than her Democratic opponent.

“At the moment, my position is not to increase taxes,” Bailey said. “We need to find a better way to budget and spend the taxes.” She said state departments should do more to generate revenue, and she supports the plan to charge for parking at state parks, for example. As for a general tax increase, “it’s not my focus but I won’t say never.”

“I’m not campaigning for a tax hike,” Berg said, but he described as “irresponsible” talk that the state won’t need to increase revenues to deal with the budget deficit. Neither candidate is specific on where budget cuts can be found. Berg talks about making government more efficient and protecting “core services” such as education and basic health care. He doesn’t like the idea of a wage freeze on state employees, preferring instead to eliminate state jobs so those who remain can be fairly compensated.

Bailey said the state budget needs to be subject to “corporate decisions,” in which costs are studied and decisions made. “That includes people,” she said. “Cuts, freeze, I don’t know what it’s going to take.” Her top priorities are education and taking care of people “who are no longer physically able to take care of themselves.”

Berg thinks his experience in local government makes him the better candidate. “There are profound differences in our ability to represent the district,” he said. “It’s important to have people who understand the process. I’ve done this for seven years. We don’t have time for a steep learning curve.”

Bailey counters that she has plenty of relevant experience in the private business world and through her service with community boards and organizations.

If you’re looking for a point of agreement between the two candidates, look at Referendum 51. The proposal to raise the gas tax, sales tax on cars and trucking tax will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, and both candidates support it.

“It’s not the best plan but it’s a starting point,” Bailey said. “We don’t have the transportation dollars we need.” If voters approve Ref. 51, the money will be used for highways, ferries and some mass transit.

Berg describes Ref. 51 as “not the ultimate solution,” but “we’re a decade behind where we should be” in addressing the state’s transportation needs.

Both candidates see Ref. 51 as a way to not only improve transportation for citizens, but also to retain and attract businesses.

To contact News-Times editor Jim Larsen, call 675-6611 or e-mail editor@whidbey

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