Democrat Joe Kear and Republican Paul Harris are vying for the seat in the Washington State Legislature in the Nov. 8 general election
The candidates for state representative, 17th District, position 2 in the Nov. 8 general election took part in a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County Monday at the Camas Public Library.
Joe Kear, who prefers the Democratic Party, and Paul Harris, who prefers the Republican Party, advanced from the August primary election and are on the ballot for the general election. Harris has served in the position since 2010.
Kear spent most of his professional career as a truck manufacturer. He has been an elected precinct committee officer in the Skamania County Democratic Party for the past 10 years and has also served as vice-chair and secretary for the party.
In addition to serving in the state legislature since 2010, Harris’ professional experience was as a business owner.
To view the video coverage of Monday’s candidate forum, go to cvtv.org.
Here are the questions and each candidate’s response in Monday’s event:
Why do you want to be a legislator? What issues are most important to you? And what skills and abilities will you bring to the position?
Kear: I want to help working families and help bring good jobs to our area. I was elected in 2005 by the members of the machinists and aerospace workers to be their union representative. I know how to listen and effectively promote the interests of the people I represent. I know how to come up with solutions to problems in a collective manner. And through my experience in negotiating, how to align priorities so that we can come up with agreements that will work for everyone. For example, in 2009, Daimler and Ford announced that they were closing their truck plant but I led negotiations and the plant is still open. I’ve always been about helping people. In the 70s, I helped organize support for school desegregation. I helped organize for women’s rights in the very first LGBT marches. I’ve worked personally with the homeless and took an interest in a homeless person during the pandemic and took him in. I live on forest land. I know issues in rural areas. I want to see us invest in opportunities for working families, small business and local jobs and public safety for everyone. And, in the new generation of jobs that will come from moving from fossil fuels to renewables.
Harris: I’ve had the privilege of being the state representative in the 17 District for 12 years. I think one thing that I’ve really learned is to listen to everyone. I’ve realized that no one party has all the answers for sure. I have a very open door policy. I listen to everyone. And I think I make really sound decisions. When I make a decision, I listen to everyone and then try to make a very informed decision. An ability to listen to everyone, I think is really important. I think my priorities is this session are clear. As I’ve knocked on doors and talked with people, it’s pretty clear what the people want to talk about. Public Safety, which I find odd is not any of the questions, has actually been the number one issue. And I’ve experienced, as many have in our public, I had my truck stolen. We have about 650 trucks stolen every month in Clark County. I was one of those. So I think public safety is extremely important. I think the abortion issue is extremely important. The homeless issue is another important issue that is not addressed in any of the questions. I hope we have a time to discuss that.
How would you like to see the legislature proceed regarding climate change?
Harris: I’d like the legislature to proceed with climate change very carefully. We’re very fortunate to live in a state that gets the bulk of its power from renewable resources. We’re a state that is very careful about its air. Some states are not so fortunate. We have passed some very stringent laws in the last legislative session regarding climate change. We haven’t seen those fully impacted us yet. And come this January, we will see increases again in our fuel tax. Because of that, I think we need to be very careful. Because these laws tend to hurt, not the majority of us who can afford it, but there are those that these really put a lot of pressure on. And those who are less fortunate who can’t afford it. So I think we need to be very careful. And I think we need to really look at what the endgame is, what are we achieving? What are we actually acquiring or doing when we implement all these? Are we really getting a much better environment? So I think that’s really important.
Kear: I want to see our state invest in helping us move to the future with renewables and away from fossil fuels. We’re doing excellent in that direction with the new building code. I think that we have the opportunity to create lots of jobs and converting from fossil fuels to clean electric use in transportation, in home HVAC, and even in industrial settings. And I also think that we need to be very careful to do things that are going to help everyone benefit from this and not just those that can afford to do things on their own. So I think it’s really important, the state being involved in that way. I know that we had a (bill) that was attempting to address that issue that my opponent voted against, in terms of making this something that would help everybody and not just those that could afford it. I think that’s a very important issue.
Would you change our state laws regarding abortion? If so, what changes would you seek? If not, why not?
Kear: I want to tell you that I was involved in the very early abortion rights movement before the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. I actually organized childcare for a women’s forum that was hearing issues about some of the horrors of illegal abortions. And I believe that we have been very good in terms of protecting the freedom to choose in our state. I am one that believes that we need to codify that in our constitution in order to protect it so that it’s not going to be disrupted by any initiative or future legislature. And also, I want to make the point that my opponent has, on many occasions voted to restrict or not expand access to abortion rights, in terms of allowing health care programs to cover it. And in terms of state programs.
Harris: I actually believe we need safe legal and limited abortions in our state. Absolutely. I will do nothing to overturn that. Mr. Kear just said I voted for our schools to actually have health clinics in them. I was a proponent of that. And I actually worked with Representative (inaudible) to get that passed. So I don’t know what Mr. Kear is talking about. I’ve expanded it in our state, and have offered those services to our high school students so that they can make an informed decision. So I would be one that would do nothing to overturn that. And I think we will see that it will be codified in this legislative session, because I’ve already heard from many of the Democrats that they will propose that.
Does the state Growth Management Act provide sufficient direction to address housing and climate change? If not, what changes would you call for? What is good about the law as is?
Harris: The Growth Management Act protects the environment extremely well, and it will continue to do that. I believe that there is a lot of need right now to expand it to get more affordable housing. And affordable housing to me is very important when you’re very careful. And talking with the Democrats, the majority of them agree that we need to open this up. We need to be very careful in how we do it. But if we want to address affordable housing, the more limited real estate we have to build housing on, the more difficult and the more expensive housing will become. It’s a real catch 22 that we’re put in. So I think we do need to expand it, we need to be very careful as we do it. We need to protect the environment when we do that. So yes, we need to expand it. And yes, we need to do it carefully, and we need to address affordable housing with it.
Kear: I agree with Mr. Harris. It’s very important that we do what we can to incorporate affordable housing as part of the growth management process. And I, I also believe that we have to be very stringent in terms of protecting the agriculture, forest land and mining resources and other natural resources that we have to protect. It’s a conflict because Clark County has a lot of good, flat land that builders want that it’s good for agriculture and industry would like as well. So it’s a conflict. And it’s also something that’s really important for the whole Portland Metropolitan Area, because Clark County is the largest area of growth for the whole Portland Metropolitan Area. My point is, we need to do everything in a process that incorporates all the public, that everyone’s voices are heard. And that we do this in a cooperative way. I was involved in the sub area plan where I live, doing a new comprehensive plan. It took four years and lots of community meetings. I believe that kind of process can resolve some of our conflicts, and at least get community agreement on what is the way to move forward. But in general, I believe the Growth Management Act is successful and important in our state.
The incoming legislature will adopt a budget for 2023 through 2025. What philosophy guides you as a lawmaker as you approach this task? What should be done with our budget surplus? If you were to increase funding for the coming period, what areas would be your top two priorities for those dollars?
Kear: My philosophy is that if you have a surplus, it’s the obligation of the government to work for people. To sit on a surplus is not fulfilling that obligation. We should be using it to help people now. We have people in crisis. We have people in crisis with housing, exploding costs for child care and health care. We have costs that are out of hand for higher education. We have a homelessness issue that’s out of hand. I believe we should be putting money into programs that address these issues. Public safety is another area that we really need to address. My top two, I’m hard pressed to come up with two. But I think housing is a definite issue. I think that public safety is an issue. I believe we should have community policing, encouraged by the state and funding to help with that if people feel safe, and that’s everyone in the community, those in minority communities that feel somewhat protected by law enforcement need to be feeling safe, and the community policing idea will help us move in that direction. Everyone should be feeling safe. We should be doing things like the Eugene program where you send mental health professionals out, dispatched from 9-1-1 instead of law enforcement to help people in crisis. So, there are a lot of things that we could be doing. But, I believe that we should be doing it if we put money into these issues now and we’ll save money in the future.
Harris: Our state has a balanced budget. It is a four-year outlook that was put in while I was a legislator that we have to look for years out to make sure it continues to balance. I think that’s very important. When you write a one-year budget, it’s pretty easy. And you can kind of fudge it but four years is really difficult. It’s really important. So I have a four-year outlook. We have been very blessed in our state that we had a $15 billion surplus last session. We just had a revenue forecast come out two weeks ago. The revenue forecast was not as good as we anticipated, but it was still up. So we will have increased revenues, just not as much as we thought. And so we will have more money again. What I would look at is, I serve on the Board of Columbia River Mental Health. We have a very similar program to the (Eugene) program that has just started in Clark County. Columbia River Mental Health is doing that. I think mental health would be one of the areas that I would look at for increased funding, but I gotta be honest with you. I would also look at giving back to the taxpayers of the state of Washington. We have inflation that is rapid. As I knock on doors, it’s probably the third thing that people are concerned about is property tax. And especially my seniors, can I make it, they’re not seeing the increase in the revenue that we’re seeing, with costs going up. So we could offer some property tax relief to them. We could offer a small reduction in sales tax. But if our revenues continue and continue and continue to increase, we need to offer some back to our constituents and try to help them.
Are there changes you would like to see in the state voting laws? If so, what are they? If no, why not?
Harris: I’m really happy with the election laws in our state. I’m not a conspiracy theorist that believes that any election was stolen, ever. I want to be very clear with that. I believe Mr. (Greg) Kimsey is doing a phenomenal job. And I believe that. We have been doing mail-in ballots for some time. I enjoy opening my ballot and in the sanctity of my home, casting my ballot and sticking into the U.S. mail. And I believe it actually gets where it’s supposed to go. I have no problem with elections in our state at all. I believe anybody that’s lost, actually lost. And anybody that won, they won. So I have no problem with it. So I would continue to do what we’re doing. And let us move on.
Kear: I would do what the legislature has been doing, which is looking to see that there are any things that we could be doing now to expand access to voting, and the legislature has been really good about doing that. But my opponent voted against extending the time period for voter registration in 2013. He voted against more ballot drop boxes in 2013. He voted against extending the time period for voter registration in 2013. There are a lot of things that he is voted against in terms of expanding access to voting. I think that it’s our obligation to let everyone vote and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote. This is what democracy in America is built on.
Area communities are struggling with K-12 school financing, partly because bonds require a supermajority of votes to pass. Would you support a change to a simple majority vote for school bonds? Why or why not?
Kear: I would, and I think it’s something that would have to be taken up with amending the Constitution. But, the simple majority does reflect democracy in action. And I believe that we also have to look at state support for schools. Just relying on local bonds is not really the answer. I think that we have the ability on a state level, to look at supporting rural schools and many, many different parts of our state, where the local area is probably not really financially equipped to support the increased costs of supporting bonds. That aside, I do believe that we should be voting by majority to do things like bonding.
Harris: I’ve had an opportunity to vote on that, actually two. So I have voted against. I voted in favor of the supermajority. I did actually sign though a bill that did not pass which was 55 percent last session and I would do that again. It is a compromise bill that would require 60 percent for a bond. I offered 55 percent. And at 55 percent, about 85 to 90 percent of all of our school bonds would have passed. Five percent would have not. So, I would be willing to do that compromise. And we do that a lot in the legislature. There are a couple other areas, though, that we could work on. If we cannot get in that, that’s going to take a constitutional amendment. That’s going to take a lot of votes and probably won’t happen. So, I would like to take a look at our small district modernization program. We could have about $100 million we’re gonna put into that. We could put more, which would help some of these smaller schools that are having difficulty. There’s also a program that we could take a look at, which is a school construction system program. Those both could be augmented to help the schools.
Tuition continues to rise at state colleges. Should Washington provide more financial support to colleges, or should schools be required to trim their costs?
Harris: I think there’s lots of alternatives for our kids if they really want to go to college. We have a community college here locally that is very reasonable. I went to a junior college first before I went to my four-year college so I think tuition just depends where you want to go, I guess, and what you want to do or what you think is important, because I got a very good education. It was very reasonable. And I went on to a four-year degree that would have cost me a little more my last two years, but my first two years were very cost effective. But, I also want you to realize that I really think it’s really important that we direct kids, maybe in some other directions. We have a serious work shortage in our state in a variety of different fields that don’t require a college education. They can make a very good living wage and they can move on if they want. My daughter was a CNA. She liked the field and after a while she became a nurse. And now she’s in the process of getting her Master’s (Degree). So I think there’s other areas we can look at rather than just college.
Kear: I believe that we should be supporting investments in trades and also in apprenticeships, and community colleges. And that still brings us to the question of state universities and tuition. Our Washington State University was founded as a land grant college in 1890. Lincoln started land grant schools in 1862. Washington State University started with no tuition at all. And the first tuition was $22 a year in 1921. It got up to $40 in 1950, and $60 in 1960. Currently, it’s $12,000 a year, and with fees and books, room and board, it’s $30,000. For someone to get their education, employment, that’s $120,000 over four years. That’s ridiculous. We should be going back as much as we can to what the purpose of the schools is, to provide an educated smart workforce for a state without costs for the people who are getting their education.
What do you like? Or what would you like to change about the modified locally preferred alternative to replace the interstate five bridge?
Kear: I believe the Interstate 5 Bridge has to be replaced. It’s lifespan is over and it’s dangerous. I think that, like our Position 1 candidate Niles said, we should be doing what we can to support light rail on that bridge. But I also believe that the Interstate 5 Bridge is not the only bridge we need. This is the one we have to work on now. But our metropolitan area has two crossings. If you look at St. Louis, there are eight crossings across the Mississippi River. For a metropolitan area, we are really hamstrung by the fact we don’t have good transportation. And, at heart, it’s harmful to a lot of our industry. So I believe that in the future, we’re gonna have to look at expanding the ability to cross. But this bridge needs support right now. And I believe that it’s progressing in the right way.
Harris: I sit on that beautiful Bridge Commission myself. So it’s an interesting discussion. I believe we need an I-5 Bridge, a new I-5 Bridge. What that mode of mass transit will be, it will be interesting to see if it’s light rail, or if it’s bus rapid transit, I honestly don’t know at this point. I know that the state of Washington has put in $800 million, and the state of Oregon hasn’t put in a dime. And I know that our financial structure is much better in our state than it is in the state of Oregon. Oregon does not have near the money we do and is struggling, to be quite frank. So, I’ll be interested to see if they pony up their money. And I hope they do. I believe that they will. But, there are issues, just to say ‘let’s drop light rail.’ And I thought it was interesting just this last week, if we all followed C-TRAN, we have people who are handicapped, or have difficulty. That light rail better be at ground level, or we’re going to have a lot of problems. So don’t just say, ‘yeah, we need light rail,’ because I need light rail and I need it at ground level. I need people that have easy access to that and not difficult, especially for people who are having difficulty to begin with. So, that’s what C-TRAN was saying, It cannot be that high. We need to make sure we get that down to ground level.
Harris: Mr. Kear brought up a couple of things that I’d voted on. So I think it’s important that you understand that when you take a look at my voting record, especially on voting itself, the county actually weighed in on whether or not they could afford the drop boxes so the state didn’t fully fund all the drop boxes to drop your ballots in. So it’s never as simple as just looking at a vote because money needed to follow that and money did not follow that. I have three priorities that are very important to me. And they are public safety, homelessness and inflation. And I really want to work on those issues. As I have knocked on doors and talked with people, those are the issues they’re very concerned about. And the abortion issue comes up to those for public safety and that was not addressed much here. I want to make absolutely sure that our police are fully funded, and to get adequate funding and are properly trained. The homeless issue and how we deal with mental health is extremely important to me. I serve on the Board of Columbia River Mental Health and Share. And I want to make sure that we give them adequate funding and that they can do their job.
Kear: I think there are clear differences here. I want to invest in affordable, accessible childcare, affordable housing, (having) workers rights protected. I want to protect the environment and prepare for moving from fossil fuels to good jobs and clean energy. I want to protect a woman’s access to reproductive choice as well as pregnancy services. I want to protect everyone’s right to vote. Mr. Harris has voted against all of these things on occasion. We have a surplus. We should be obligated to put it to use. People are in crisis. We could put funds into affordable housing, in dealing with homelessness, a comprehensive approach to drug addiction and mental health, into public safety including things like community policing, where people can feel respected and valued in their own community. We need mental health teams responding. We can jumpstart local jobs with funds for converting from fossil fuels to electricity for HVAC and transportation. And I want us to listen, instead of listening to big money interests. We should elect someone who can make investments in working families, small businesses and local jobs. That someone is me.
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