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Candidates for 17th Legislative District state representative participate in forum

League of Women Voters of Clark County sponsor candidate forum

VANCOUVER — Candidates for state representative, position 1, in the 17th Legislative District were among those who participated in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clark County Saturday at the Clark Regional Wastewater District office.

An overflow crowd showed up Saturday at the Clark Regional Wastewater District office for the second of a series of three candidate forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz
An overflow crowd showed up Saturday at the Clark Regional Wastewater District office for the second of a series of three candidate forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz

Incumbent Vicki Kraft, who states her party affiliate preference as Republican, and Tanisha Harris, who states her preference as the Democratic party, answered a series of questions from a moderator while also offering opening and closing remarks to the registered voters who gathered for the event.

Current state representative Vicki Kraft (Position 1, 17th District) answers a question Saturday at the League of Women Voters of Clark County candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz
Current state representative Vicki Kraft (Position 1, 17th District) answers a question Saturday at the League of Women Voters of Clark County candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz

James Tolson, who states a preference for the Democratic party, confirmed to ClarkCountyToday.com that he has taken his name out of the race for the position. Tolson did not participate in Saturday’s forum.

Kraft and Harris will advance through the top-two primary election in August and will square off in the general election in November.

Tanisha Harris, one of two candidates for State Representative Position 1 in the 17th Legislative District, is shown here Saturday at the League of Women Voters of Clark County candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz
Tanisha Harris, one of two candidates for State Representative Position 1 in the 17th Legislative District, is shown here Saturday at the League of Women Voters of Clark County candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz

Here are some of the candidate’s responses to the questions they were asked on Saturday (more of their responses can be viewed on video):

Question 1 — What volunteer service have you contributed to your community?

Vicki Kraft: “I’ve been really fortunate to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, specifically in Hazel Dell. Kids are one of the key reasons I decided to run for this office.

I have been contemplating this for years … all the way back to the early 2000s I’ve had a burden for youth. As I got more involved in politics, I realized government affects our youth and it affects all of us as we grow older as well. I’ve been very thankful to volunteer there at the Boys and Girls Club. I picked them because they impact a really unique section of the student population. I’ve also gotten really involved with Teach One, Lead One … They also help with mentoring students in some of our schools here locally.’’

Tanisha Harris: “I’ve been involved in many different local organizations during my time here in Clark County. I currently work at the YWCA Clark County but before that I was a volunteer. As you know, YWCA Clark County has a social justice program. But, one  thing I’m very most proud of in terms of my community involvement throughout the years is being the co-chair of the Evergreen Citizens for Schools school facilities bond this past February. We passed the largest school bond in Washington state history, $695 million that goes to replace schools, build new schools and improve technology for our students in the Evergreen School District. It was a joint effort, it was a community effort, we had support from labor, from business, from our elected officials who were not afraid to put their name on something that said ‘yes we believe in our schools, we believe in our kids.’ I’m very proud of that community involvement. I’ve also been involved in the Southern Poverty Law Center, which promotes the civil rights of all individuals, voting rights, civil rights and our immigrant community too. So, my community involvement has centered around children, kids and also our civil rights community as well.’’

Question 2 — In light of Clark County’s rapid population growth, what specific changes in the state growth management law would you support?

Harris: “It’s an important question that not only Clark County is facing but many counties around our state are facing. I appreciate the emphasis on local control. It’s important that our cities and our counties have a voice when it comes to the state (Growth) Management Act. I would also like to see, especially here in the 17th, we have both an urban and suburban and rural populations too so it’s critical that the voices of Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Vancouver have a voice on that. I can’t really say specific issues because I would want to focus in on what each of those cities and areas what it entails to. We also need to keep in mind what the intent of the act is, to promote healthy, thoughtful planning for our communities and also helping our business community as well. As our population is growing different businesses are going to be coming in and out. So, we need to understand how does that affect business predictability as well too. So, again, it’s going back to focusing on the cities and the communities within the 17th and what role do they play in coming together both as county, city and also state officials to do what’s best for our community.

Kraft: “When you look at the state Growth Management Act, you are looking at it at a state level. It will literally impact the entire state so you have to keep that in mind as a starting point when you look at this policy issue. I would definitely be in favor of looking at potentially easing some of those urban growth boundaries because we do have some challenges that we are facing as a result I believe of that right now. I definitely want to make sure we are protecting our rural communities. I was just talking with someone the  other day. It was at their house in a beautiful rural area of Hockinson. So, I’m absolutely mindful of the fact that we are in the 17th and it’s not all downtown and it’s not all rural. We do need to realize there are some nuances we are going to have face in looking at this policy. I think we saw some of that play out here at the county level about two years ago. But, the reality is when we’re looking at making these kind of policy changes it’s impacting the state. I do think we need to look at some easing there and make sure the management is appropriate.’’

Question 3 — Lack of affordable housing is a pressing issue. What should be done on a state level, such as rent control and eviction regulations? Should developers be required to include affordable units in their projects?

Kraft: “This is perfect because it builds on what we were just talking about. To me affordable housing, one of the dynamics that is causing that in my opinion is the lack of supply that we have and some of that has to do with the lack of land there is available to build (on). We obviously have been through a really dry season here in the 2009-ish time frame. There wasn’t a lot of building going on but now it’s booming. We in Clark County are seeing a tremendous amount of building going on and wherever there is a plot of land it gets snatched up quick and there is houses or home communities going up on that quickly. When it comes to affordable housing I think there are a few of things we need to look at. One is the urban growth boundary, as I mentioned before. Two, is permitting, the fee to developers and the process. The longer the permitting process is that’s more cost to the builders. In 2016, if you would look at the Builder’s Industry Association website of Clark County it literally said $71,000 of every new home price is directly related to government regulations or fees. That’s a lot. When we talk about a young couple trying to get into a home, you talk about somebody with a good working wage job trying to get in their first townhome, those are real costs that go in so those are some of the things we need to work on and change.’’

Harris: “In dealing with affordable housing so many of us are at different income levels depending on what type of jobs we have and depending on what income level we are at determines what type of house we can afford. We’re not just talking about McMansions or $400,000 or $500,000 homes. We’re talking about apartments are considered affordable housing. We’re considering housing such as townhomes and condominiums but also single family homes too. There should be some incentives given to developers to include affordable housing units in developments … We have to look at everybody this affects when it comes to affordable housing. There was some legislation this year in Olympia about rent control. It died in committee so didn’t make it to the floor but it may be something we need to look at too. Also, eviction notices too. Twenty or 30 days is not acceptable for so many of our families who do live paycheck to paycheck who do get that eviction notice for no fault of their own. So, there’s a lot of things that we can do but we need to keep in mind that this affects all families and all income levels.’’

Question 4 — The Washington Supreme Court has declared that McCleary requirements have been met. In your view, does anything else need to be done to ensure the full funding of education in our state? If so, what are the needs and what should the legislature do to address them?

Harris: “I think a lot of us were glad to see us deal with McCleary finally. It’s been going on for a number of years but there is still a lot of work to be done. One area I would like to see when it comes to funding public education is that emphasis on special education and pre-kindergarten. We can even look past high school and go post-high school and our technical community colleges as well, our apprenticeship programs. That’s something those in Olympia are going to have to look at. Are we truly funding public education? Are we funding every single type of program that can benefit all of our children at all levels of learning? We also need to look at it what it’s doing to our staff, our teachers, our administration, our classified staff. That’s all part of funding public education. We might have to have a McCleary 2.0 coming up too. That includes getting input and feedback from our teachers, from our administrators, from our school board members, from our PTOs and PTAs. We also are looking at upcoming bonds and school levies across the state as well. How will McCleary going forward affect those school districts? Especially those school districts that have more means and a higher tax value and those school districts that are struggling as well. There is a lot more that we can do.’’

Kraft: “As probably know many of you in this room know, McCleary … is a very complex issue, it was not easy, and that is why legislatures prior to me, I just served my first term, kicked the can down the road for 10 years roughly. So, the good news is, because the state Supreme Court said you have to fully fund education at the state level, we addressed that. In 2017, and even in the prior term, you had significant additional monies to the tune of about $7 billion go into K-12 education over that period of time from about 2015, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, so the bottom line is there has already been a significant amount of money that has been put in to specifically address McCleary. With McCleary now, essentially, 52 percent, 52 percent of your taxpayer dollars in the general fund in this state go specifically to K-12 education. That is a result of McCleary. So, it has been addressed. According to the Washington State Supreme Court, as of the 2017 session, they said ‘yes, you have met the McCleary mandate. You have satisfied it.’ They wanted more money sooner to his this year so that actually did get approved. But, at this point, you don’t want McCleary 2.0 because it will cost you more money.’’

Question 5 — As the incumbent, Ms. Kraft, what have you been working on, and why? If elected as anew legislator, Ms. Harris, what kinds of legislation have you been keeping an eye on, and what issue are most important to you?

Kraft: “I introduced 14 bills just this legislative session in 2018. I don’t recommend that. That’s a lot for a freshman legislator. Some of the key issues I feel you should know about specifically … my first bill passed in the legislature, I was very thankful, was to help our disabled veterans with a sales tax credit for adaptive housing. It was a way to say ‘thank you’ for those who have served us, been willing to put their life on the line and for these people, specifically, they paid a cost. Part of their body came back missing. As a freshman legislator, in 2017, I came in wanting to work on sex trafficking prevention. That was something going into the legislature was something I wanted to work on. I was thankful I got to connect with Representative Tina Orwall, who is the champion in the house on this issue. She is a Democrat. I said, “Tina I really want to work with you on this issue with you.’ She said if you start the group, I will run on that with you. So, we have about 10 bipartisan members, Democrat and Republican, working together to tackle this issue. Reducing I-5 congestion, I’ve been working on that. I think that is something we need to move ahead on.’’

Harris: “I think both Representative Kraft and I have different backgrounds. Because of our backgrounds we come knowing what we want to work on. What we feel is best for  the community, our neighborhoods too. For me, my background centers around education, children’s issues, health care, mental health, mental health services, therapy services. Working at the YWCA, we have a lot of emphasis on prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. A lot of the programs and monies we receive from the state, we are grateful for those, but it’s about the programs and the laws around that. This past year I’ve been able to have a number of conversations with Representative Paul Harris, who is in position 2, him being very supportive of mental health services. I work with children in foster care. That is a crucial piece in their healing is mental health services.’’

Question 6 — How should we gauge the effective value of tax breaks given to companies in Washington state? Should such companies lose these breaks if they do not follow up on their responsibilities? What does a good corporate citizen look like?

Harris: “I think everybody is probably thinking of the Boeing contract. When you enter a contract, and you sign that contract, that is your word. There is specific conditions within that contract that you need to follow. You’ve given your word to your employees. You’ve given your word to those employees’ families. Those are jobs, those are livelihoods on the line too. I feel if you break that contract, it’s back to the negotiation table to get that contract back to where it needs to be, for it to be effective. If you can not do that, you can pull those incentives that are given to those corporations, to those companies. What makes a good corporate citizen? One who puts people over profits but can still have those profits for their company. Can still see their stocks rise, but always putting the people first above those profits. That’s what makes a good corporate citizen.’’

Kraft: “You ask this question in Washington and everyone goes ‘Boeing, bad, bad player.’ I actually took a tour there for the first time ever over this past year … Here’s the reality. Yep, we give them tax breaks … I ran through in that (Facebook) post the thousands of jobs they create and have created over years in our state. One of the top employers. The community hours, volunteers, monies donated back that they give, it’s millions and thousands of hours. The things they are doing are tremendous. In some cases, if we don’t offer those incentives, Boeing is gone. Can I say Amazon for a moment? … Seattle just decided to thump them on the head and make it not attractive for them to be here and guess what? They are leaving … Labor needs to be a good player also … so both partners have to walk that well and have to not try to uncle each other. If somebody else doesn’t stay to their side of the bargain, you bet, if we don’t have a good economy here, they’re gone.’’

Question 7 — Would you support campaign finance reform to reduce both the cost of elections and the involvement of special interest groups?

Kraft: “I was just named ranking for state government elections and IT committee and have been serving as the assistant ranking member so I see many, some, amount of these type of bills that are coming through. In this question, specifically, I think it comes down to what type of reform. A lot of people talk about corporate finance, get that out of there. I go back to what I just said. Labor money, labor money, taxpayer labor money then that needs to go too. If I’m sitting here as a candidate, all the labor money is going to help my opponent, which good for her. This is a two-sided coin. If we’re talking about reform, we need to get real about this conversation. I will be hearing some of these bills. It depends on the type of reform. I think the initiative process is somewhere we really have to look. There’s a ton of out-of-state money that comes in and dumps into, whether it be the initiative process or an election, there are special interests groups on both our sides. They dump in. Is that really fair to us as citizens here in Washington? It’s influencing elections and outcomes for us with people who don’t live here.’’

Harris: “I do support campaign finance reform. As Miss Kraft said that labor money would be supporting my candidacy I can say corporate money would be supporting her candidacy. And, we would be back and forth as to whose money is better, but whose money represents what? Whose money represents whom? Who does that money represent? What type of families does it represent? What type of communities does it represent? Is it local? Is it here in Clark County? Does it come from the 17th? Does it come from people within our state who know we are making important decisions in Olympia, not just for our communities but for our state too? … We always hear about citizens united, but also too, do we go to publicly-funded elections? There’s many options and many choices out there. We’re going to have to decide for ourselves. As a lifelong resident of the 17th LD, I’ve seen millions of dollars poured into 17th LD races just in the last three election cycles and we will probably see it again in this election cycle as well. I would ask that both myself and Miss Kraft rise above whatever that money that might be coming and those special interests and stay focused on those people that we want to represent for our 17th (district).’’

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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