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Foes experienced in different Washingtons

In the race to fill Rep. Barry Sehlin’s seat in the Washington State House of Representatives, voters have a choice between a Democrat who stresses her local, grassroots connections and a Republican with impressive experience in Washington, D.C.

Nancy Conard, mayor of Coupeville, said she decided to run for state office because she understands and can represent the small communities within the district. She points out that her rival, Republican Chris Strow, has spent “the last ten years in Washington D.C.,” while she’s been active in her community.

“I love public service,” she said. “It’s what I do well. I believe in the grassroots process.”

But Strow, former senior staffer for U.S. Rep. Jack Metcalf of Langley, sees all his work on the national level as an advantage. One of the biggest issues facing Whidbey Island in the coming year is the possibility of base closure, and Strow has connections in the other Washington.

Moreover, Strow said he understands how one level of government affects another, which is why he will fight unfunded mandates and unnecessary regulations.

Strow also has local ties, having move here with his family at age 12. He attended middle school and high school in Oak Harbor.

But even though they come from different professional backgrounds, Conard and Strow have some similar priorities, such as health care.

“The cost of insurance is one of the biggest challenges to our economy,” Conard said. She wants to work to decrease the cost of health insurance by getting the state involved in negotiations and pooling for drug purchasing.

Conard said another major challenge is keeping doctors in the smaller communities. The key, she said, is working with the federal government to increase Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians in the state.

Conard also supports medical tort reform, but Strow argues that it would be the most important step government could take to solve the health care crisis.

Strow, the son of an Island County District Court judge, said putting a cap on the non-economic amount juries can award in medical malpractice lawsuits will lower “skyrocketing” malpractice rates. The decrease in rates, he said, will trickle down to consumers.

As a state representative, Strow said his main role would be to ensure “government isn’t an impediment to creating jobs.” He’s opposed to tax increases and said that the state’s B & O tax should be reformed, even in the face of a predicted $1-billion state budget shortfall.

The budget will have to be cut, Strow said, according to the “priorities of government” and some “out-of-the box thinking.” Strow said he wants to see “real performance audits” in state government “backed up by legislative action.”

Conard agrees with many Whidbey Island residents who are unhappy with the $5 parking fee at state parks. If the money can’t be found for state parks, she suggests closing the parks one day a week — or once a month — instead of charging a fee.

In Coupeville, Conard solved a budget problem with a similar solution: She closed town hall once a week and “never got any complaints.”

Strow said “a $2 park fee would be vastly preferable,” but that he would have to take a closer look at the budget.

In contrast to Strow’s pledge against raising taxes, Conard said she’d vote to raise taxes “only as a last resort.”

“We need to focus on growing the economy,” she said.

She said the state can save money on education by eliminating the redundancy in administrative work required. “It would get money down to teachers and kids a little quicker,” she said.

When it comes to transportation, Strow said he will work to bring more accountability into the funding process. Conard said she wants to see a greater emphasis on public transportation.

“Building more highways just paves more land,” she said. “I love to get people out of single occupancy vehicles. It’s partly a matter of education and incentives.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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