Election 2020: 17th Legislative District state senate

Sen. Lynda Wilson challenged by Democrat Daniel Smith in race for state senate seat

The League of Women Voters of Clark County began a series of four candidate forums that will offer area voters a view of the candidates running for elected office in the Nov. 3 general election. On Wednesday, candidates from the 17th and 18th legislative districts participated in a forum held in virtual format.

In this report, Clark County Today provides a look at the candidates in the race for the state senate seat in the 17th Legislative District. Republican incumbent Lynda Wilson is being challenged by Democrat Daniel Smith. The forum was televised by CVTV.org and responses in this story are courtesy of Clark/Vancouver Television. This story does not include the candidate’s responses to every question asked in Wednesday’s forum. To view the entire candidate forum, go to CVTV.org.

The two candidates were also the only candidates on the ballot for the August primary election. Wilson received 55.53 percent of the votes and Smith received 44.47 percent.

Opening statements

Sen. Lynda Wilson
Sen. Lynda Wilson

Wilson: “I’ve lived in Clark County here for 50 years and attended the Evergreen School District right here in the 17th District. I am running for the same reasons that I ran the first time, to work on public safety issues and veterans issues, law and order and to ensure regulations around businesses are not hindering economic growth. This next session will be vitally important to the economic health of our state. And I think that my voice at the table from a private sector viewpoint will be very important with my position on the Ways and Means Committee as we deal with the budget shortfall.’’

Daniel Smith
Daniel Smith

Smith: “First, I am a dad of two amazing daughters. I’ve been a social worker for over 20 years and my wife Bethany Rivard is an amazing award-winning teacher here in the Vancouver School District. We had our first daughter in 2007 and another daughter two years later, while also caring for my wife’s high school-aged sister who lived with us after her mom passed, and she had really nowhere else to go. But at the same time, the 2008 financial crisis hit and it hit us hard. And we struggled to pay the bills, pay for child care, medical bills and had to make very difficult decisions. And eventually, our family lost our home. But through hard work, dedication, we’ve dug out and got back on our feet. And just like others, I understand firsthand what families are facing. And especially in the midst of this pandemic, my wife and I have dedicated our professional lives to supporting our community. I spent my career counseling children who have been abused, helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities reach their full potential and creating innovative programs to help those suffering from mental illness and addiction and have built coalitions across Southwest Washington to address the needs of our families and most vulnerable. If I’m elected to be your state senator, I will be the voice for families, those who are most vulnerable and provide the leadership we need.’’

Question: What are your two top priorities for the 17th Legislative District that should be addressed in the legislature in the next two years session? How would you promote these priorities? 

Smith: “I have been talking with a lot of voters, I think we all agree that the number one and number two priorities for this upcoming legislative session is going to be the economy and healthcare. When I listen to voters and we look at the budgets and shortfalls that are projected, I think it’s very important that we make sure that we have all parties at the table addressing where we need to come to terms with our budget shortfall. There’s a lot of options that are going to be on the table. I think we need to make sure that we listen to all of them. When it comes to health care, I think that, of course, is the number one issue that people are trying to understand and grapple with and have been for quite some time. You know, my experience as somebody who’s worked in healthcare for over 20 years, I really understand that system. And when I talk about how we’re going to reduce costs for healthcare, how we’re going to increase outcomes that are positive for people, we’re going to collaborate with our primary care providers and our mental health providers and their substance abuse providers. Those are experiences that I really bring to the table. There’s a lot of options, I think we’re going to have to address as we get closer to understanding exactly what our budget situation is. And we should get some more of that information later on. But right now, I think folks are really interested in making sure that we have the health care and the resources we need, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Our Medicaid population is increasing. And we’re really going to need to address our social safety net system.’’

Wilson: “One of the most important issues this session will be getting our economy thriving again and getting our people back to work. I think finding ways to better help our business community to be back to 100 percent so that they can hire back the employees they have had to let go, will be a main answer to so many other issues that we have to deal with in Washington we’ll need to address. Much of that will need to be to allow business to continue to adapt as they have in the beginning of this pandemic. We are continuing to see many innovative ways that businesses have responded to this pandemic. I think that government needs to allow them to keep doing this as well as not creating any, or increasing any, new taxes on struggling businesses. And a second priority for me is continuing my work with domestic violence victims as I did when I worked on the Tiffany Hill Act. Domestic violence is all too prevalent in our world today. And in the course of my interactions with these victims, I have learned of so many other vital issues that need to be dealt with. This is obviously a nonpartisan issue, it hits all walks of life, and I plan on working with those domestic violence victims to get this done.’’

Question: Are you satisfied with our state’s COVID-19 response? If so, why? If not, what should the state do to improve its response? 

Wilson: “I think in the beginning, when we first understood what the virus is, didn’t understand the virus itself, the original response was expected. As the time has gone on, I’m quite unsettled as to the lack of any input that’s been allowed from our entire legislature since I was appointed to the governor’s business recovery committee back in March. I was excited to be included in that group. It started in March and it ended five weeks later. There was one meeting a week and that really only lasted for five weeks and then it disbanded. In those meetings early on, I suggested that we look at other states as to the research and the data that they were finding out there. Every state reacted differently. And so to date, I don’t believe we’re gathering that and we could be and getting that back to the entire legislative body for its input. It’s time to get back to a special session and that’s so that all of Washington can be represented.’’

Smith: “The question is am I satisfied, and I just want to talk a second. You know, we here in Clark County have lost 57 people to COVID, 57 families are grieving. Thirty-five hundred people are affected by the virus to date, and we continue to see it going up. I think I’m satisfied with the fact that our state has been led by science and data and health experts, doctors, and we had really tough decisions to make. I’m pretty proud of that. I think that when we address the idea that what we see out of DC to open up, I still feel like we need PPEs. I work in behavioral health and in health care, and we are short of PPEs. I think testing is also a huge issue. It’s easier for me to go up to Seattle and King County and get a test and get results in 24 hours than it is here in Clark County. So I’m not satisfied. But I am very much trying to focus on those who have been lost. 

Question: Where do you see the state going with respect to improving community safety? 

Wilson: Public safety is an important part of the job that the government should provide. And in the last three years, I’ve delved into a segment of public safety involving domestic violence victims. As you remember, last November, there was a tragic situation where a young mother and a former Marine was murdered by her estranged husband. I’ve been working on a bill to help protect these victims of domestic violence. And as I mentioned earlier, there are several issues that I discovered in talking with the other victims about that. And these issues need to be addressed and fixed. That segment of our population, domestic violence victims, needs our help in fixing these issues. And I intend to do that. As for public safety in general, I support our law enforcement.’’

Smith: “I think what we’ve seen over the last seven months, of course, is that there’s an emphasis on public health and the critical role that public health plays in community safety, with our health departments, with our providers, with our partners, all across the continuum of our communities. I think what I see the state doing, of course, is that they are positioning themselves and making decisions for common sense, public health and community safety improvements. This might be an area where Senator Wilson and I disagree a little bit. But I think when we talk about common sense, we talked about making sure that we don’t have guns in child care centers, making sure that we don’t have kids who are unvaccinated, making sure that folks who are charged with violence don’t have access to guns. These are all common sense solutions related to public safety. I want to take one second to address some of the other concerns that I deal with on a very regular daily basis and that’s suicide, community safety and wrapping our arms around people, those who are most vulnerable. They go hand in hand. Addressing what we are going to experience and what we are currently experiencing around suicide really has to be at the forefront of how we’re going to deal with what people are stressed out about, what people are facing right now.’’

Question: Tell us about homelessness in the 17th Legislative District. Just what is happening to address this issue? What other steps would you suggest?

Wilson: This is persistent across the entire state, in some places more than others. In the 17th District, I see the homeless camping along Fourth Plain Boulevard. They set up their tents there and they live right along that very busy corridor just feet away from the traffic. I’ve seen old motorhomes that are parked alongside the roads, and they live wherever they’re parked. And it’s a possible public safety hazard because there’s no way for them to dispose of the waste. There’s so many reasons for homelessness, drug abuse and alcohol abuse and mental illness and the recent loss of a job, which no one was expecting, It’s a very important factor right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. And, in fact, what am I going to do about it? Well, we are having a meeting of the senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee, specifically addressing these issues here in Vancouver on October 12th that I’ve committed to attend. I’m always open to more information that helps to form my opinion on all these subjects and how we move forward to address it. My door is always open.’’

Smith: “I started my career 23 years ago working on the streets with homeless youth. And I can tell you that there are so many different circumstances why a young kid ends up on the streets. But I can also tell you that kids on the street are some of the most resilient, smartest, credible youth I’ve ever worked with. Of course, we see it, you know, you can go up to Battle Ground today and talk with folks. And four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, this wasn’t front and center. I’m on the streets. I work with people who are houseless. I work with providers who are houseless. This is a solvable issue. If we all work together, we have to make sure that we lift up our providers who are doing amazing work here in our community to reduce the amount of homelessness but we also have to have a collaboration with business with the Housing Trust Fund.’’

Closing statement

Smith: “I’ve been a health care worker for a long time. And I know that this pandemic has really been a long struggle for so many families, and folks are just overwhelmed right now and they’re going to need help to get back on their feet. I’ll be a voice that we need to ensure that families and small businesses can recover because I have lived through similar periods of uncertainty. But, what I really want to talk about tonight is that we are a community that is strong, resilient, and one that cares deeply about each other. We share common values of family, faith, and community. And we’ve become connected to each other in new ways during this crisis. So as we all emerge from this crisis over the next coming months, I will never forget the feelings we had that brought us together, how we looked after our neighbors at a time of need and the compassion we showed to strangers.’’

Wilson:  “I served my district well over the last six years, I believe my broad life experiences have given me a perspective that makes me both a good legislator and a representative of my constituents. As a single mom years ago, with only $5 left in my pocket for a week and deciding if I should go put it in my gas tank or go get diapers. You never forget those times. And also as a cancer survivor, experiencing both the treatments and the process of the healthcare system and what my constituents have to deal with in the same situations. I’ve lived here for 50 years. I know my community well and my community knows me. Just last week I was awarded the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Statesperson of the Year award for my work in our community and on the Tiffany Hill Act. So many of my bills that have become law are almost all unanimously supported, or very close to unanimous. That shows how I can work across the aisle to accomplish good things.’’