A Republican candidate with defiant — some would say extreme — ideas about COVID-19 is seeking to unseat a mild-mannered, moderate Democrat who is seeking a second term as a state representative in the 10th Legislative District.
Rep. Dave Paul of Oak Harbor, an administrator at Skagit Valley College, is facing a challenge by Bill Bruch, a Skagit County property manager from La Conner and a self-described fiscal conservative.
Bruch is straightforward in his critique of state government.
“There’s too much expensive taxation and over regulation coming out of Olympia and it’s hurting families and businesses,” he said.
He is an opponent of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-related mandates and describes them as too restrictive.
Bruch is in favor of letting businesses decide their own safety protocols.
He has also advocated for the immediate return of children to school buildings and in-person learning.
“Essentially I really feel that there’s enough data and evidence right now that we should be opening all our schools and small businesses,” Bruch said.
Paul said his challenger’s views present a “strong contrast” to his own about the virus.
Paul is a proponent of the public health response to the pandemic and said Bruch has “downplayed” the seriousness of COVID-19.
He pointed to a large outdoor gathering that Bruch was a part of that he said put the community at risk. Before the outbreak struck, Paul was working to fund public health.
“Voters can trust that I value public health,” Paul said.
Education has long been a priority for Paul, who is the current director of community relations at Skagit Valley College.
Some of his accomplishments during his first two years in office include legislation supporting Running Start, a dual credit program for high school students taking classes at community and technical colleges within the state.
As part of that legislation he helped craft, Skagit Valley College has become part of a pilot program that will aid Running Start students in paying for their tuition fees and textbook costs.
Paul also helped pass a bill during the last legislative session that will allow high school students to take Running Start classes during the summer.
Bruch said he is a supporter of parental choice in education.
“I think it’s good for parents to be directly involved in how their children are educated at local levels,” he said.
If parents don’t like online learning, he said they should have the financial resources to educate children, whether that be homeschooling or in private, charter or Christian schools.
He is advocating that parents receive the funds to do this if they don’t want to send their children to public school and insisted that the current state education budget currently has money that could be reallocated in this way.
Bruch has also been highly critical of the state’s comprehensive sex education bill, which Paul helped sponsor. Bruch has referred to the bill as “graphic” and “terrible.” He has claimed the bill will “promote abortion and teach high-risk sexual behaviors to the youngest of children.”
Paul said he is proud of the work he has done on the bill and that there is a lot of misinformation out there about it. As vice chair of a committee for the legislation, he worked with fellow lawmakers across the aisle in improving the bill.
The Republicans he conferred closely with shared concerns that the bill’s language was too vague, so the committee worked to strengthen it and emphasized that there would be no discussion of human reproduction for children in kindergarten through third grade.
Instead, the emphasis for those grades is put on establishing personal boundaries and keeping a safe environment for children.
Paul said there was also concern about making sure each school district could control its curriculum.
“We trust our local school board directors and our districts and our teachers to develop a curriculum,” Paul said.
Each school district’s curriculum will be required to be posted online, so parents will be able to read them and decide if they want their child enrolled in the classes.
Paul said one of the goals of the sex ed mandate is to help children recognize and prevent sexual abuse.
Paul said he has heard many “gut-wrenching” testimonials from survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
He also heard from students in the LGBTQ+ community who were looking for a more inclusive curriculum.
The 10th Legislative District covers southwest Skagit County, northwest Snohomish County and all of Island County.
Primary election results showed Bruch has a narrow lead ahead of Paul, with just 1,033 more votes, or 1.66 percent more of the vote.