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Obama, McCain snubbed for Whidbey politicians
The economy was on the minds of more than 100 residents who decided to forego the presidential debate Tuesday night in order to listen to local candidates at an Oak Harbor forum.
It was also a popular topic for the candidates, many of whom predicted hard times ahead.
“The economy, nationally, is job No. 1,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.
The League of Women Voters event featured 14 candidates for county, state and federal offices. All of the levels of government are facing sizable — even astronomical — budget deficits in the coming year, but they offered few specific solutions.
They promised to tighten belts, find efficiencies and to prioritize spending based on community values. They promised to make the hard decisions, but to protect the most vulnerable. Nobody said, “I’ll raise taxes.”
Democrat Patricia Terry, who’s challenging state Rep. Barbara Bailey, took some heat when she suggested a way to find money. She proposed that the state should audit large corporations that received tax exemptions to see if they actually provided jobs or helped the community in ways that were pledged.
“We should make sure promises given were kept,” she said.
Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor, was not in favor of the idea.
“If you take away tax exemptions, they become tax increases,” she said, adding that government should undergo more audits instead.
Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell, who represents much of North Whidbey, bragged about his handling of the budget, touting the fact that the portion of property taxes that the county collects is the lowest in the state. When county revenues shrunk in the past because of a voter-approved initiative, Republican McDowell said commissioners were able to cut spending without impacting residents.
“We spend your money wisely ...” he said. “I’ve delivered services in the past and I think I can deliver them in the future when it’s a tough time.”
Angie Homola, a Democrat running against McDowell, pointed out that the county spent over $1 million on a consulting land use attorney over the last five years. She said it was work that employees could have done, adding that jobs should be given to people who live on the island.
“We need to take a good look at how we’re spending money,” she said.
Beyond the economy, the incumbents and appointed officials seeking to keep their seats defended their records and the challengers offered criticisms.
Homola went on the attack, arguing that the county isn’t open to public input and that county commissioners don’t look after the common folks.
“We need to restore the needs of the many over the pockets of the few,” she said.
McDowell chose not — or perhaps didn’t get the chance — to respond to the criticisms. He spent more of the forum talking about how well the commissioners manage spending.
“Our budget has consistently been, I think, one of the most conservative in the state,” he said.
Homola accused the commissioners of promoting a “build-or-bust” policy and adopting a wetland ordinance that isn’t enfoHomola accused the commissioners of promoting a “build-or-bust” policy and adopting a wetland ordinance that isn’t enforceable.
McDowell, however, defended the ordinance, pointing out that state agencies have called in a model in the state — a assertion Homola challenged.
“We haven’t had a net loss of wetlands,” he said.
Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke, a Republican, faced Democrat Helen Price Johnson. They are both vying for a seat that covers Central and South Whidbey. They expressed similar opinions about several issues, including the need to take a close look at the budget. Neither were in favor of the idea of hiring more deputies in the Sheriff’s Office in the near future.
Price Johnson explained that one of the reasons she is seeking the office is that the county needs to be “more responsive and transparent” with the public.
“The attitude has been, let’s put out a legal notice and hope nobody comes to the meeting,” she said.
But Bakke said he, as a trained land use planner, puts a great deal of value in public input.
“I believe in public participation and I encourage it,” he said.
Two Oak Harbor Republicans discussed their campaigns to be Island County auditor. Appointed incumbent Sheilah Crider got a last-minute challenger as a result of a a write-in campaign for Jim Palmer.
Crider spoke with knowledge and passion about her position. For example, she agreed with an audience member that the privacy of ballots was vital.
“I support that with my entire life,” she vowed.
Palmer did not bring up the errors that led to the reprinting of 40,000 ballots and 40,000 voters pamphlets, but a member of the audience alluded to it.
“I took the responsibility for that,” she said, adding that policies have been changed to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In a race for state representative, Rep. Norma Smith, a Republican from Clinton, and Tim Knue, a Skagit County Democrat, presented similar thoughts on the value of vocational education, the importance of local agriculture — though Knue emphasized small, sustainable farming — and the economic opportunities of the green industry. Both refused to take a position on the Whidbey PUD issue.
A member of the audience asked the candidates whether they felt health care was a privilege or a right. Smith didn’t answer the question, but said the state needs to educate families about help that’s already available.
Knue said it is “a right of citizenship.” He said there should be a single-payer system that’s fully competitive. “I’m willing to look at all ideas,” he said.
In the other state representative race, Rep. Bailey politely sparred with Terry.
Terry focused on health care and how the government can help people. Bailey emphasized that she is against raising taxes.
“And we need to be more accountable with what we are receiving,” she said.
In response to a question, Terry said she supports comprehensive sex education in the classroom.
“If for no other reason, consider it an owner’s manual,” she said. “People have the right to know about their own bodies.”
Bailey said she also supports comprehensive sex education, but she said local school districts should decide how to deliver it.
Bailey was questioned about some of her votes. Terry pointed out that Bailey voted against a bill that would have forced landlords to disclose mold. An audience member asked why Bailey voted against 2008 Senate Bill 6809, which provides for a sales and use tax exemption, in the form of a remittance, to lower-income working families. She said she didn’t know what bill they were referring to, but then promised to be frank about how she voted “on any bill” after the forum.
Long-time state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Democrat from Camano, wrangled with her challenger, Republican Linda Haddon of Oak Harbor. Transportation was definitely the focus.
Haddon questioned why new ferries for the Keystone-to-Port Townsend run weren’t already built since money was allocated in 2003. She asked where the money went.
“Why does it take five years to get a boat?” she said.
Haugen, the senior senator and chair of the transportation committee, said the money is still in the budget but it simply wasn’t allocated, partly because of a lawsuit.
“I am pleased we are now moving forward with this new boat,” she said. She pointed out that if she’s not reelected, the chair of the transportation committee will be a senator from Spokane.
“He doesn’t have any ferries in his district,” she said.
Haddon spoke favorably of roundabouts, but Haugen said she’s not a fan.
“They work well in some situations,” Haugen explained.
Finally, Democratic U.S. Rep. Larsen and his challenger, Republican Rick Bart of Snohomish County, discussed national issues. Larsen defended his vote in favor of the Wall Street bailout bill, emphasizing how serious the crisis is. He said he’s received calls from business owners who can’t get the loans they need.
“I’m here to tell you, this fiscal rescue plan was necessary and it was needed to be done now,” he said.
Bart, the former Snohomish County sheriff, was opposed to the plan.
“I would have voted no on the bail out,” he said. “I would have called it a buy out.”
On the question of drilling for oil, Bart said he supports drilling everywhere, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Larsen was against drilling in ANWR, but he said there’s other places in Alaska and the Rocky Mountains that should be explored.
“Most importantly, we should be making investments in alternative sources of energy,” he said.