Election 2020: 17th Legislative District House of Representatives, Position 1

Rep. Vicki Kraft and challenger Tanisha Harris go head-to-head once again

Rep. Vicki Kraft and Democrat Tanisha Harris are not strangers. The two participated in a tight battle two years ago for the 17th Legislative District’s Position 1 seat in the Washington State Legislature and they’re back to do the same in the Nov. 3 general election.

In 2018, Kraft retained her seat by defeating Harris by just 859 votes, 50.63 percent to 49.17 percent. The two were the only candidates on the ballot for the Aug. 4 primary election and Kraft received 53.28 percent and Harris had 46.72 percent of the votes.

Kraft and Harris were among the candidates who participated in Wednesday’s League of Women Voters of Clark County virtual candidate forum. Here are the candidates’ responses to some of the questions asked in the forum. To view the entire (Sept. 30) forum, go to cvtv.org.

Opening statements

Rep. Vicki Kraft
Rep. Vicki Kraft

Kraft: “I’ve been serving for two terms, and was very thankful to just win the recent primary election held in August. At this stage, for the last two years, I have been the ranking member on the local government committee. I have also been serving on the Appropriations Committee as well as the College of Workforce Development Committee. My background has primarily been in the private sector. I’ve worked as an account manager for companies including Dell, Pillsbury, Richard Eyre, as well as small businesses. I also own my own small business, and did grant writing for nonprofits. Nonprofits are great because you’re helping those who are most in need.’’

Tanisha Harris
Tanisha Harris

Harris: The 17th LD has been my lifelong home. I grew up here and am proud that my father and mother’s families have been here in Clark County for over 75 years. I attended Evergreen High School and after that I went to Clark College and earned degrees from there and Washington State University Vancouver. I spent 10 years in the Evergreen School District working in the field of multicultural diversity education. And I spent the last eight years as a CASA program specialist at the YWCA Clark County as an advocate for foster care youth. I’m proud of the work I’ve done in the family treatment court system here in Clark County. I serve as a member of the Vancouver City Task Force for council representation and also was a co-chair of the Evergreen Citizens for School District facilities bond and levy in 2018 and 2019. I was proud to be a member of the Clark College presidential search, Presidential Advisory Research Committee. This past year, I ran because it is most important this time in our community in our country that we have real representation that matters, and that we have somebody in Olympia who speaks for the voices of all the members and families and individuals we have here in the 17th LD.’’

Question, what are your top two priorities for the 17th Legislative District that should be addressed in the legislature in the next two-year session? How would you promote those priorities? 

Harris: “My top two priorities for the 17th Legislative District is one public education, and particularly special education and mental health services. Our state needs to work with our local school districts in building partnerships in finding the resources and funding for more school nurses, counselors and psychologists for elementary, middle, and high schools. My second priority would be economic development. Our local economy was growing in Clark County until COVID-19. But many of our families continue to feel left behind. We need to work on building an economy that works for working families, fair compensation, safe working conditions, strong retirement benefits and protections, and a thriving local economy that supports our small businesses.’’

Kraft: “My top priority is making sure that we promote recovery from these last six months as quickly as possible in the state and in our 17th Legislative District. So, my top priority is making sure that we ensure the overall health and well being of all of our individuals, families and our community, and making sure we continue safely reopening our businesses, our schools now and as quickly as possible, doing it safely. But, we also need to make sure that we are not increasing taxes, on families or on small businesses, and making sure we do everything we can to reduce taxes and regulations on our small businesses who create jobs, and certainly on our families and individuals. Secondly, I will be prioritizing, again, prioritizing the support and funding of our law enforcement, to ensure that our families and our communities are safe. I voted for supporting law enforcement in the past and will continue to do so. And I have concerns with Tanisha’s positions on her website a week ago, she said, we need to rethink the way we do law enforcement, and re-envision the way we fund public safety. I do not want to see chop or Chaz up in Seattle, or Portland riots, anywhere near our communities. So I will continue to prioritize supporting law enforcement. 

Question: Data shows that police traffic stops happen disproportionately to people of color, how should we address this issue? 

Kraft: “I personally believe that based on some law enforcement people that I know, and what I’ve seen in our community overall,  law enforcement work in good faith to try to protect our community. Certainly, no one is perfect. What I would do is, first of all, in law enforcement training, they need to state and make it very clear that law officers need to be making sure that they are responding and making decisions, not based on a person’s color, background or race, specifically on the circumstance in the situation. That is what needs to happen and law enforcement needs to be doing that. Secondly, my understanding is that there needs to be probable cause in order to make a traffic stop. So again, that needs to be made clear during the training process of law enforcement, on making sure that law enforcement makes sure there’s probable cause if they stopped someone, again, regardless of color. If someone is found in blatant violation of the law, I mean, a clear and blatant violation, then yes, the law enforcement agency should take action. But, what I do not want to see, however, is where law enforcement literally becomes hamstrung and they freeze, because they’re trying to do so many different things in their mind that they don’t act in an instant to protect the public, or communities, and that there’s inaction that occurs.’’

Harris: “I’m a proud woman of color. I’m a sister of a police officer. And I’m someone who works with law enforcement and within our court system, and I would ask anybody who has any questions about my position when it comes to rethinking, reimagining every form of police, please visit my website electtanisha.com, there is a full explanation. And I think it would be a great service for people to look at that. So they can clearly see where my position is on these issues and not being said by somebody else who doesn’t know me. We need to build a relationship with our community. Our police should know us and we should know them. That’s why I’m very much supportive of community policing. This builds trust, and we know our police are trained and set the expectations that their job is public safety. We need to increase and work with our law enforcement officers across the state in terms of implicit bias training, and de-escalate Leyshon training to. We, here in Vancouver, Clark County, we don’t have some of the issues that Portland or Seattle has. And I think people are very grateful for that. And that’s because you’re seeing our community, our communities of color, law enforcement, city, and yes county, coming together to try to work on solutions and listen to each other, acknowledge that we do have systemic racism throughout our county and throughout the system, too. So it is about working together, coming together and having creative solutions that can be satisfying to everybody. So we do not have issues that Portland, Seattle, and other major cities across our country does.’’

Question: The COVID-19 pandemic adds an extra dimension of danger to both those who are homeless and to service providers who support them. What can the state do to reduce the danger?

Harris: “In my work with families who are homeless and have been homeless, the main causes of homelessness have been affordable housing or lack thereof, unemployment, poverty, mental illness and the lack of services, substance abuse issues and major life events such as what we’re going through right now with COVID-19. There needs to be more resources to put towards treatment and prevention and mental health services. One thing that we can do immediately to protect our homeless population and those service providers is be manufacturing more PPEs. And, we should be doing that right here in Southwest Washington. That can create more jobs and get these critical PPEs to our service providers who are working with a very vulnerable population.’’

Kraft: “Well, I was just recently on a call talking about this topic as far as the efforts of Clark County local government, and how they are helping on the homeless front. And one of the interesting, I think positive facts in particular, was that currently in the motels that were purchased to try to help the homeless population in our community during this COVID crisis, there are 65 that are being housed and none of them actually have COVID right now, which is great. I do believe that one of the key elements needs to be the funding that the state was supposed to be providing, in CARES Act funds that were supposed to be transferred to the Clark County government, as well as all our local governments. The state is holding on to some of those funds, and they shouldn’t be and so I have sponsored a letter on behalf of Clark County government and all local governments to get that money transferred down to the local government. Several of our Southwest Washington legislators signed onto that. Clark County, right now, would be owed about $16 million still.’’

Question: Should there be tolls on either of the two bridges we now have to Portland? How would it help or hinder transportation issues? 

Kraft: “No, we should not have tolls on either I-5 or I-205. Our Washington commuters already pay income tax to Oregon just for the privilege of working in Portland. I actually used to pay those income taxes, so I know firsthand what that’s like. So, our Washington workers do not need to be paying any more money in the way of a toll or fee or anything else to Oregon. In my opinion, tolls are a punishment on those who choose to drive their vehicles. That’s really what it is. It will make things worse, it will divert traffic onto local streets and will give us congestion in more areas that we don’t have today. And the bottom line is, I think more of our public transit dollars should be going, instead of public transit, into new highway infrastructure and a third bridge is one of those. And the reason I say that, for example, TriMet. The recent 2021 report comes out and it says that $436 million in revenue, basically about 10 percent of that is paid by riders, so that is $380 million is paid by taxpayers.’’

Harris: “I do not believe anybody likes the idea of having tolls either on the I-5 or I-205 Bridge. If it comes down to funding options for our highways and bridges, my belief is that tolls should be a last resort resort in that funding option. I have many family and friends who for many years now cross that bridge and work in Oregon to pay those income taxes and that’s why I’m not in support of income tax. And so, I wouldn’t want our workers to have to be paying double to travel into someplace where they work so I am a “no” on tolls.

Question: School bonds used for new buildings currently require a supermajority of 60 percent to pass. Where do you stand on this issue? 

Harris: “I was proud to serve as the co-chair of the Evergreen Citizens for Schools, which passed the largest school bond, $695 million, in Washington state history just two years ago in 2018. What has been disappointing is seeing other school districts in the 17th, such as Ridgefield and Battle Ground, get over 50 percent but not the required 60 percent. This is still a majority of our voters and people in our community saying “yes” to our students, saying “yes” to new schools and buildings. We need equity when it comes to our school districts, school buildings and classroom learning environments. So we need to do away with the 60 percent supermajority and go to a simple 50 percent majority like we have for school levies.’’

Kraft: “There’s a lot of people hurting right now. I mean, a lot of people hurting right now, especially with what we have just gone through the last several months. They are financially hurting, which is causing hurt in a lot of other areas, as we certainly know. Right now, at this time, especially, I am not in favor of reducing the rate of majority to pass the school bond. There’s strong support for schools. Obviously, the McCleary Decision helps with that. These are capital funds. They typically are well funded. The bottom line is at this point, there’s too many that are really hurting and I’m not open to reducing this majority. I think schools that have strong projects, they make a strong solid case, and they’re able to get the support. So at this time, no, I’m not in favor of reducing it.’’

Question: A lot of people have lost health insurance during the pandemic. Should the state play a role in this issue? 

Kraft: “I was probably one of the first legislators, if not the first legislator, to actually call for a special session around the end of March. We saw COVID hitting. The governor shut everything down, which at that time, given we didn’t know what was going on, was okay. At that point, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the financial impact this was going to have on people, families, businesses or community. So at that time, I wanted to come back so we could address real needs by people. But no, the governor nor the Democrat majority wanted to do that. So they just sat and waited for the federal government. The federal government did step up and they went ahead and they instituted $600 extra a week in unemployment benefits and $1200 per person stimulus checks. Those are the types of funds that people could use to go ahead and offset medical costs, whether they lost their job, if they had to pick up Cobra, that was a good chunk of money to put toward that or other medical needs. So, those monies are in play, there’s still $300 extra if people aren’t employed. Good news, though our unemployment rates have been dropping here in Clark County as well as our state and people are going back to work, the governor needs to safely reopen our economy now. If he would do that, more people could get back to work, get good health care, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.’’

Harris: “During a time of global health crisis, we as a state should be doing all that we can to make sure everyone has access to health care, Medicaid and our Apple Health Care System programs is what is needed at this time, until we can safely and responsibly open back up our economy and people are going to work and can access their employer health care. The state also needs to support funding for foundational public health services. Public health programs ensure adequate local public health infrastructure, promoting healthy communities. Healthy, progressive spread of communicable disease, protects against environmental health hazards and allows the community to prepare and respond to emergencies.’’

Closing statements

Harris: “Thank you to the League of Women Voters for hosting this format allowing the voters and families of the 17th LD to learn a little bit more about the candidates running for this position. I would be honored to be the next state representative and represent my hometown and Clark County that is so special to me. Over the past six months, I’ve learned to appreciate family and friends and be grateful for the things that I do have in my life and the work that I do advocate for, foster care youth, and also the promotion of social justice programs and racial justice for all of our families. I think right now in this time in our country, especially what you saw last night on the presidential debate stage, we need representatives who reflect a diversity that we have here in our community and will stand out for all people, no matter how that God created them. We need better representation. We need somebody who can bring results, real results back home to Clark County we can be proud of.

Kraft: “Now, more than ever, we need proven leadership in Olympia. By my votes and my action. I have demonstrated proven leadership to stand up for you and your voice. I have stood consistently to stand for your constitutional rights and freedoms no matter who you are, as long as you’re within the law. I have stood consistently and voted to support our law enforcement so that individuals, families in our communities can be safe. I have stood consistently and voted against new taxes so you can keep more of your money and decide where you need to put it. I have also been consistent to stand for parents’ voices in Olympia. I stood very strong against Comprehensive Sex Ed and expanding graphic, very graphic sexual material for students into our elementary populations, lending my legislative voice against that and I just voted for and also sponsored legislation for our veterans.’’