Election 2020: 18th Legislative District Representative, Position 2

Republican incumbent Larry Hoff challenged by Democrat Donna Sinclair

Republican incumbent Larry Hoff is being challenged by Democrat Donna Sinclair in the race for the Washington state representative Position 2 seat. The two candidates recently participated in the League of Women Voters Clark County candidate forum.

Hoff and Sinclair were the only candidates on the ballot for the August primary election in the race for the position. Hoff received 56.37 percent of the vote and Sinclair received 43.63 percent.

Last week’s forum was streamed live by Clark/Vancouver television and can be viewed in its entirety at CVTV.org. Below is a transcript of the candidate’s opening and closing statements as well as their answers to a few of the questions they were asked during the forum.

Opening statements

Larry Hoff
Larry Hoff

Hoff: “I currently serve on the Appropriations Committee, the Consumer Protection and Business Committee as well as the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. Also, I’m a member of the State Building Code Council as well as the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee. I grew up in a small farming community in North Dakota. After high school, I joined the Navy and served off the coast of Vietnam for a couple of tours. Following the Navy, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Accounting and moved to Vancouver in 1977. My credit union employment started at Columbia Credit Union as their accounting manager included a period there as interim CEO.’’

Donna Sinclair
Donna Sinclair

Sinclair: “I’m a teacher, a mom, a former Army wife and a community and regional historian. My family has deep roots in Clark County, and in this district, I grew up here and I graduated from Evergreen High School. I started bussing tables at 11 years old in our family restaurant, and I later became a sole proprietor myself. I raised my children here and then worked my way through school as a single parent to get a master’s degree in History and a PhD in Public Policy. I remarried in 2008, to Bud Harris, who grew up in Camas, and I’m now an adjunct History professor. I’ve worked for nonprofits like the Confluence Project, and the Center for Columbia River History, and state agencies for over 20 years. I served on the Washougal Planning Commission, and I’m on the Washougal School Board. I’m running for office, because I care about our communities and I want Washington to thrive. I want to help create a better future for all of our children. I’ll go to the legislature ready to get things done, like advocating for affordable health care, strengthening our public schools and creating an economy that will work for all of us.’’

Question: What are your two top priorities for the 18th Legislative District that should be addressed in the legislature in the next two-year session? How would you promote these priorities? 

Sinclair: “Obviously, the budget and the economy are top are the top priorities, but education and affordable health care are tied into that. And they’re part of my priorities. I’ll bring experience and education at all levels, and I’ll work toward innovations for the future to strengthen Career Technical Education and apprenticeships. So education is 52 percent of the state budget. And people need people who know about the decision making at the district and school level and people who know how to ask the right questions.

“One of my main priorities is to invest in vocational technical schools in North Clark County, where we need economic development and expanded opportunities. A school like that would actually work with private businesses and union state agencies and tribal entities, possibly even federal organizations. And we could focus on green construction and lead technologies, manufacturing, balancing regulation with zoning and watershed restoration, and possibly even wildland firefighting. So during the two-year session, I’ll focus on developing the needed partnerships with WSU Vancouver, our community college and K-12 system.’’

Hoff: “This next legislative session is going to be interesting. Of course, the budget is right at the top of the list. We have to figure out how to get our economy recovered. And that would obviously involve some small business considerations. However, supporting our children’s education remains the paramount responsibility of the legislature. And that certainly is one that we need to pay attention to in the next legislative session. And in fact, the next session may even be virtual, just like this forum. So, it’s going to be even more critical to stay on top of these particular issues. Another priority is small businesses, as I mentioned a little bit earlier. They need help. The regulatory burden on them is tremendous. And indeed, within this virus cloud that we’re currently operating, they can use some relief. So those would be my priorities.’’

Question: In creating a post-COVID state budget, what budget categories would you fight for? Which categories do you think are less important and maybe reduced? 

Hoff: “Obviously, no agency wants their budget gored. And that’s gonna be a difficult discussion, certainly on the Appropriations Committee, but again, our paramount responsibility is K through 12 education. So, we would have to pay close attention to that and make sure that our children get the quality education they deserve and demand. We can do this through a zero-based budgeting objective. We can talk to all of the agencies and have them take their organizations down to the studs, for example, we need to build that from the bottom, take a look at the entire structure of our government and really start from zero. Have those folks within all of the agencies, discuss their priorities, justify their expenditures, and then make the hard decisions that we need to.’’

Sinclair: “In creating a post-COVID state budget, one of the things I’m going to do, of course, is to fight for education and affordable health care, but that includes public health and mental health care needs. So Human Services is a key category and Human Services really protects the most vulnerable in our communities, like people with long-term care needs like our parents, and grandparents, or with intellectual and developmental disabilities who can’t care for themselves. These are the most vulnerable. It really is the job of the government to protect people and to ensure the common welfare. People are desperate right now. And we need to do all we can to avoid putting them into worse situations. In terms of what’s less important, we know there’ll be a lot of proposals on the table. So, selecting specific categories to cut or reduce isn’t practical, and it could even be harmful. So I know that we need to prioritize small businesses and sole proprietors. And we need legislators who will do their homework, ask a lot of questions, ask the right questions so we don’t make the system more unfair and so we don’t damper the economy. We need legislators who will work with others in the interest of the people, regardless of party, people who are bipartisan. Listening and doing research and addressing complex issues has been my job for the past 20 years. And that’s part of the reason I want to go to the legislature to be a problem solver.’’

Question: What can and should the state do to decrease the number of families and individuals who are homeless?

Sinclair: “This is a really important and complex issue. And there’s really two problems you have, homelessness and affordable housing. We have to deal with the causes and outcomes of homelessness. And part of that includes public health, mental health and addiction support that we really need to put into place. That’s clearly tied into issues of affordable and accessible healthcare and public health. We have some additional beds coming into the communities. I’ve been doing some research on this, and I’ve been talking with folks. I know that we need to have transition plans that actually meet the needs of the people who are homeless. There are specific circumstances that folks have and so we need wraparound services. As far as affordable housing is concerned, especially for families, we need a more accurate index of what constitutes affordable housing. There’s a disparity in the definitions between Portland and Vancouver and the communities in the 18th (District). We also need to increase the housing stock including infill for multi-family housing.’’

Hoff: “During the last legislative session, I had the honor of meeting with several groups advocating for our homeless citizens and we discussed a variety of root causes of homelessness and and there are indeed several different facets here. Housing, of course, is one. Mental illness is certainly within that structure as well as addiction. But, just addressing the housing challenge for a second, we need to, obviously, increase the supply of affordable housing. And, that’s correct, the definition of affordable housing varies. However, it’s really a supply-and-demand issue that comes down to helping the builders of the available land have the opportunity to build more variety of different housing types.’’

Question: The Clark County Public Health Department has led our community during the measles and COVID-19 outbreaks, yet their budget has not recovered from pre-2008 levels. Should something be done about this to retain our ability to care for our community members?

Sinclair: “This is a key issue for me. First of all, we need to acknowledge how serious this pandemic is, over 200,000 people are dead. And right here in Clark County, my campaign manager just a few hours ago, learned that one of her close family friends, that his father had died. So this is happening. And this is a public health crisis. Meanwhile, our public health system has been underfunded since way before 2008. It started back in the 1990s. And when I was a kid, public health included things like providing vaccines, STD testing, we don’t do this anymore. We are literally dealing with a public health crisis with private solutions, market-based solutions, and it’s not working very well. So, we’re seeing the results of an expensive health care system in which we have that public health crisis. And I just want to say that governing is about more than saying ‘no.’ It requires working with others to address these complex issues. And we need responsible, reasonable legislators who are dedicated to problem solving across party lines for public health.’’

Hoff: “Governing is more than saying ‘no.’ You just have to know when to say ‘yes.’ That’s the only difference. And ‘yes’ involves really understanding what the needs are of these institutions. There are several, actually, in addition to the Clark County Public Health Department, the disabled community also hasn’t recovered from 2008 funding levels. But short of that, these folks really need to be applauded. They’re working very hard to keep us out of this virus cloud and working every day, seven days a week. And if indeed their funding level is back at 2008 levels, they’re doing so and they shouldn’t have to do that. “This is going to be a very difficult budgeting year.’’

Closing statements

Sinclair: “No one has all of the answers. Most people have a steep learning curve in the legislature. And I’ve learned a lot from my education and by campaigning. But as I said, campaigning and governing aren’t the same thing. Revenue reports show that the budget was only half as bad as we thought that it would be in June. We need to bring resources to Clark County. Some people have wanted to slash and burn right away with the COVID crisis. That’s why we need to be cautious, because our decisions will impact people’s lives. I will be responsible in the legislature for finding the best solutions to move forward and put people first. I will align myself with people in the legislature who do that. So governing is complex, and I won’t just seek the easy answers. I don’t have all of the answers. But, I do know how to ask the right questions. I tell my students that all the time. I’m in a citizen-led legislature. Background matters. I come from a small business background. I waited tables for nearly as long as I’ve been a teacher, and I hope I have your vote.’’

Hoff: “I believe my background, experience and fiscally conservative principles are the reason why I would be a better candidate and deserve to be reelected. I’ve led an organization through recession by implementing strategic cost-cutting measures. My leadership abilities, coupled with an element of common sense, should be a plus as we guide our state out of these virus-induced challenges. Donna suggested that the learning curve is steep in the legislature. She’s absolutely right. Which is why this is really a time for experience there. And I would appreciate your vote.’’