RIDGEFIELD — Only half of the six candidates running for positions in the 17th Legislative District who were invited to an Oct. 13 candidate forum in Ridgefield attended and participated in the event.
Hosted by the Neighborhood Association Council of Clark County (NACCC), the Thursday night forum was the third of four similar forums that the NACCC is hosting this year. This one, held in the meeting room at the Community of Christ in Ridgefield, included candidates running for positions in the 17th District.
Both Republican Vicki Kraft and Sam Kim, who is running as an independent Democrat, were present at the forum. They are running against each other for state representative position No. 1. The third candidate present at the Oct. 13 event was Republican Paul Harris, who is running to keep his seat as state representative position No. 2.
The three candidates who did not attend the event included Democrat Martin Hash (running against Harris for state representative position No. 2); and independent Democrat Tim Probst and Republican Lynda Wilson, who are running against each for the position of state senator.
A small group of citizens gathered Oct. 13 to hear some of the candidates views on a variety of issues, including how they intend to fully fund basic education, how they plan to reduce traffic congestion between Oregon and Washington, funding for mental health and more.
Vicki Kraft: http://vickikraft.com/
Sam Kim: http://www.gunsamkim.com/
Paul Harris: http://electharris.com/
Martin Hash: http://martinhash.com/
Tim Probst: http://electtimprobst.com/
Lynda Wilson: http://electlyndawilson.com/
In order to help reduce traffic congestion between Oregon and Washington, Harris said there needs to be multiple crossings on the Columbia River, meaning there needs to be more bridges. He said his hope is that the state starts funding these types of projects with the gas tax and other funds that are supposed to be used to fund transportation issues.
Kim said he feels the traffic congestion every day, even though he works in downtown Vancouver and doesn’t need to cross any bridges. He suggested that there needs to be more lanes put in on Interstate 5, and also that the state needs to create more jobs in order to make Washington more attractive so people don’t need to commute to and from Oregon.
Kraft echoed thoughts that a new bridge needs to be built, saying that needing to reduce traffic congestion, to her, means expanding capacity and adding a new bridge before looking at fixing the current bridge. She said she likes to idea of a west side bridge, as cities like Battle Ground, Ridgefield and La Center are continuing to expand.
When asked what their top budget priorities are and how these priorities would help the community, all three of the candidates listed education as one of their top priorities.
“My top priority is to fully fund K-12 basic education,” Kim said. “I want the state to fulfill their constitutional obligation.”
Harris said he believes education will be one of the major focuses during this upcoming legislative session.
“Education is important, we’re not funding basic education throughout the entire state,” Harris said.
Kraft also emphasized that education will be a priority, and said that she’s asked teachers and others who work in education to be on an education committee that she’s putting together who will be looking at basic education needs.
Kraft, Harris and Kim expanded on the topic of funding basic education when they were asked if it is possible to fully fund education without raising taxes.
“Absolutely,” Kraft said. “Currently, 48 percent of the state budget goes towards education. The legislature has made some strides to meet some of McCleary’s requirements already. More will need to be addressed.”
Kraft stated that she is not at all in favor of a state income tax (which has been proposed to help fund education), and said she supports the idea of a “levy swap.” Basically, in a “levy swap,” the legislature would increase the state property tax for public schools, then take money people pay now in local school taxes and redistribute it statewide, according to an analysis on the Washington Policy Center website.
“We’ve put 20 percent more into education over the last two years,” Harris said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s a hole that we can’t fill. We need to know how much money is being spent in each district for basic education. The levy swap will not get me fully there, maybe 90 percent of the way there. I do know I’m not going to raise your taxes.”
Kim emphasized that he will not, nor as he ever, supported an income tax or raising the 1 percent property tax increase cap. He talked about the use of the phrase “education first funding” and said he does not fully agree with this phrase as it often times means “education only funding.” He said the state needs to continue to fund other needs, as well as basic education.
“If we can’t even agree what basic education looks like, that is a problem,” Kim said.
The candidates were also asked how they would fix problems with mental health funding in the state. Kim said funding for mental health needs to be a priority, and suggested that he would push to raise taxes on things like cigarettes, liquor and marijuana in order to help fund mental health.
Kraft addressed the need for adequate pay for those working in the mental health field, so those who are mentally ill can continue to receive consistent quality care.
“Jails are not the answer,” Kraft said. “We need to get more focus on mental health care.”
Harris addressed the mental health question by saying it is not a simple problem. He said there is a shortage of psychiatric doctors and said that the state needs to take a better look at taking better care of regular employees at mental health facilities.
“When you look at what we put into basic education, (what we put into mental health) is a miniscule amount,” Harris said. “We need more psychiatric care locally.”
In closing, Kraft stressed that throughout her career she has been successful in working collaboratively with teams on many different things.
“I’ve always had to be a collaborative worker,” Kraft said. “I have brought elected officials together before for our citizens.”
Kim said that his decision to run for this position was not because he needed anymore years of public service, but because he “had to step up.”
“We can fund the things that are critical for our community here if we can be more efficient,” Kim said.
Harris said he looks forward to hopefully being re-elected again.
“I work for you, for the people,” Harris said.
The Neighborhood Association Council of Clark County will hold one more candidate forum for those running for positions in the 49th Legislative District on Thu., Oct. 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Fort Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver.