Different approaches to priorities

Republican Norma Smith and Democrat Tim Knue each prioritize education, the economy and small business development in their bid for state representative, and promise their political influence, and ability to reach across party aisles, is needed in Olympia.

Smith, the appointed incumbent, and Knue are vying for the Tenth District Position 2 seat in the House of Representatives.

As a retired agriculture teacher, Knue entered politics when he realized students were often more affected outside of the classroom.

“We need to make sure education is the backbone of working us out of this economic grief,” Knue said. “And like I tell my students, I don’t care where a good idea comes from, a good idea is a good idea.”

Smith, a Republican with a background in communications, said her leadership was shaped by living in the politically diverse community of South Whidbey. Passing legislation sometimes requires her to reach out to Democratic colleagues.

“It’s helped me to listen and measure other viewpoints carefully,” she said.

Along with seeking solidarity with groups, the candidates agree on other issues, such as prioritizing spending and changing the culture in Olympia, but where the candidates differ most is experience.

Smith was appointed in January to replace former Rep. Chris Stow, who resigned to work for Puget Sound Regional Council’s Prosperity Partnership. Beginning in 1992, she worked as the late Congressman Jack Metcalf’s special assistant for three terms and served as a liaison for military commands on issues important to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Knue’s resume is centered on community organization and 32 years of teaching high school, mostly in Skagit County. He served as a Future Farmers of America adviser and spent six years as the Washington State Professional Educators Standards Board. In 2006, he narrowly lost the Position 2 race to incumbent Rep. Barbara Bailey.

Knue said he has worked to solve the failings of our educational system and lobbied to pass state legislation concerning the state’s lack of career and technical training. He would like to see more options for technical education starting at junior high. But considering the current economy, he said he will need to look at the budget’s efficiency.

“In the initial report for the legislature, it doesn’t say where to find the money, but how to spend it. We need to look at a hiring freeze, cutting travel and performance audits and make some tough decisions,” he said.

Smith would also look at the fundamentals of funding. She supports fully-funding education, and is a proponent of career and technical education.

“The school districts are in real trouble,” she said. “But we need to work towards giving students opportunities to develop skill sets and grow toward achieving jobs.”

Both candidates are also critical of the ferry system after the Keystone-Port Townsend ferries were pulled from service last year, amid concerns over cracks, leaks and corrosion.

“I think we had an extraordinary failure of leadership,” Smith said. “There was not an effective program for maintenance and no budget in place for boats.”

Knue cited Initiative 695 passed in 1999, which lowered motor vehicle registration charges, which was a major funding source for ferries.

“When that funding source went away, the culture didn’t change,” he said.

As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Smith said she will continue efforts to build replacement ferries and restore full service.

“If we don’t change the way ferries does business, we won’t ever be able to speed the process.”

In this region, each of the candidates said they would protect farming and improve small business.

Knue is a proponent of a natural resource-based economy. In his teaching days, he lead an agriculture program at Mount Vernon High School and was active in 4-H. He said he would like to reinstitute an agriculture program at Skagit Valley College and proposed that state agencies provide resources, such as processing facilities, for farmers.

Smith said she understands the need to have open spaces for farming and would focus on local protection and conservation easement taxes.

For small business, she would like to see a culture that has a customer service focus. Businesses have asked her to help with the regulatory climate, she said.

“I think we can bring new, creative businesses into Island County and make it profitable for current businesses,” Smith said.

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