Election 2020: All eyes on the race for 18th District Senate seat

Incumbent Sen. Ann Rivers challenged by Democrat Rick Bell and Republican John Ley

One of the most talked about races in Tuesday’s primary election is for the state senate seat in the 18th District. Today, Clark County Today takes another look at the issues the candidates would like voters to focus on when they make their decision. 

Rick Bell • Ann Rivers • John Ley
Rick Bell • Ann Rivers • John Ley

Sen. Ann Rivers is being challenged by Democrat Rick Bell and Republican John Ley. Rivers and Ley haven’t been shy about scrutinizing each other during the campaign. Things first got heated up when Rivers’ husband Fred unleashed a profanity-laced barrage of late night texts to Ley, who revealed the messages on his campaign website. The texts included the threat to expose Ley’s past legal charges, which he was exonerated of earlier this year.

Then, a complaint was filed by Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad President Eric Temple alleging that Sen. Rivers attempted to pressure him into designating part of a political contribution to her campaign.  The Public Disclosure Commission dismissed that complaint Friday.

Naturally, Rivers’ challengers are campaigning on the need for change.

“In this election, the voters will decide that they are satisfied with our current elected officials or that they are looking for a fresh perspective and new priorities in addressing their issues from the legislature,’’ said Bell, a healthcare professional and small business owner. “Front and center will be the approach to be taken to address the economic impact of COVID-19 … That issue aside for the moment, I would hope that voters would find my approach to several other issues appealing.’’

“First and foremost, this race is about the record of the incumbent,’’ said Ley, a retired airline pilot. “Does she represent her constituents and their views well? Has she delivered on her promises?’’

Specifically, Ley challenged Rivers’ record on the following issues:

• 1. Reducing the burden of government on the people.

• 2.Taxes. 

• 3. Accountability. 

• 4. Open, honest representation. 

• 5. Transportation — wise spending of transportation dollars; fighting Oregon’s outrageous tolling scheme; fighting for traffic congestion relief.

Rivers believes her experience is an asset.

“I think the most important thing voters should consider is whether or not they’re willing to elect someone who needs on-the-job training in a political year where the state is faced with hundreds of thousands of job losses and a $7-9 billion budget gap that needs to be closed, both caused by COVID-19,’’ Rivers said. “In 2010, we were faced with an unprecedented recession, and at the time, I didn’t think things could ever be worse financially for families and for the state.  COVID-19 blew all of that out of the water.  But going back now, I have historical knowledge of how we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps as a state and how our legislature helped facilitate unprecedented growth.  That required people willing to work together.’’

Addressing COVID-19 (Rivers)

“We have to be able to safely reopen our state, and I’m not sure the ‘phases by county’ tactic is working,’’ Rivers said. “We should instead consider other ways to make sure businesses meet safety standards so that even if a business in one county can’t make necessary adjustments, others who can and are ready to safely reopen should. If that means we need to invest in more support for training small businesses and retraining state officials that work with industries (like Department of Agriculture in food growing/processing) so that we can reopen by industry type as an alternative, that could be a key to reopening.  

“It’s too soon to discuss vaccines and mandates, and we need to be really careful about how we engage in that dialogue, but it’s on the horizon, and I’m not comfortable forcing our residents to go first, so to speak,  if we were to unilaterally lay down a mandate for unproven vaccines,’’ Rivers said. “When a vaccine is available, our state must work to ensure costs are low and consumers who do want one aren’t being gouged. We also must protect our most vulnerable – we know who is most at risk with regard to COVID and now is not the time to pull back from the measures that keep folks safe.

“And then we have to figure out schools,’’ she added. “Too many kids are going to be bereft of the interpersonal wellness of being engaged with students and teachers.  As a former educator, I know we run the risk of creating serious gaps in learning that if prolonged, will be extremely difficult to make up.  It will impact those students not just as they seek to get through K-12, but as they advance to higher ed and into their careers. The hot lunches, the interaction with mandatory reporters who can report child abuse, and even access to the internet – all lost if kids have to dial it in for school. As policy makers, we’ll need to think creatively and partner with local school boards so that kids are engaged in a meaningful way.’’

Addressing COVID-19 (Ley)

“There is an incredible amount of confusing information being circulated about COVID-19. But we must restore the freedom for people to make informed choices for themselves,’’ Ley said. “From what I understand, there is almost no risk of children dying of COVID-19. We therefore must open our schools back up. The choice to have children attend school, should be left to the parents. Teachers should assess their own personal risks. As educators, they can consult with their doctors, and decide how best to protect themselves. Broadly speaking, teachers under age 50 without other health impairments, should be okay. Older teachers and those with additional health risk factors can work with their doctors and their administrators, to find ways to continue teaching. But the decisions and choices should be left up to individual school districts, individual teachers, and local families. Overall, I believe the children and their education will be harmed if we keep schools completely closed this fall. There is no substitute for the learning that takes place between a child and their teacher. But we must let parents make the choice for their child; not bureaucrats from Olympia.

“There are many lessons to be learned from the shutdown. It was supposed to be about not overloading our healthcare system,’’ Ley added. “Instead, the Inslee shutdown starved many healthcare providers, as far too many healthcare procedures were restricted by decree of the Governor. Our hospital beds were not overloaded. We can handle any additional cases of COVID more responsibly going forward. We also have the examples of states that closed down much less than Washington state, doing much less damage to their economies and still keeping many of their citizens safe. The main concern should be protecting the most vulnerable. That means our senior citizens, those above age 65, and citizens with additional health impairments. We can do this responsibly with much greater knowledge this coming fall.

“We know more about hydroxychloroquine, Ramdev Sivir and many other drugs today,’’ Ley said. “More appear to be safe and work when administered by a doctor for a significant number of patients. We also have significant numbers of ventilators available for hospitals if people need hospitalization after getting COVID. Vaccines are under trial, and offer additional hope. We have created the time needed to safely handle patients who do get the virus. For people under age 65 who have no underlying health issues, getting COVID is more like catching the seasonal flu. For those people with multiple health conditions, they need to make informed choices by consulting with their doctors and healthcare specialists. They don’t need the government to be dictating choices for them. While there is much more to be learned and researched about COVID-19, I believe that we must do our best to inform the citizens, and then let them make personal choices that best suits them and their families health situation.’’

Addressing COVID-19 (Bell)

From the public health standpoint, we have to take the best approach informed by our scientific experts to limit the spread of the virus as we work towards a vaccine and other treatments,’’ Bell said. “Safety should be the highest priority as our elected officials decide how to proceed.  The fundamental tools of testing, monitoring, and contact tracing are central to dealing with the pandemic.  We have to make rational responses to data and other evidence that we are receiving.  The re-opening process is leading to a level of virus spread above acceptable targets, therefore we are pausing the re-opening process.  If the level of virus spread continues to increase, we may have to take additional action.  All the while, we monitor the data and respond accordingly.  On the horizon, we can be cautiously optimistic about progress toward a vaccine, but we have to maintain clear judgement and maintain safety as the highest priority.  We will get through this together as fast as possible keeping safety first.

“From the economic standpoint, the forecasts indicate that there will be a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall over the next few years,’’ Bell said. “The Legislature will be tasked to represent the public in addressing the budget.  As I’ve said before I will prioritize defending services that help people and protect us from the deeper and lasting negative impacts of housing instability and services for children.  I believe that cutting funding to important social programs may prove to be more costly in the long term.  I also believe that in more difficult economic times, it is appropriate to take a sharp pencil to tax loopholes that benefit big business.  Big businesses have very intelligent, tough leaders who are well prepared to navigate tough times.  They will be okay.  Bloomberg reports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the bill would provide up to $4 trillion in liquidity through broad-based lending programs operated by the Fed.  Our priorities should be focused on helping small businesses and working families navigate these tough times.

“I believe that reducing healthcare costs could be a major part of the budget solution that our legislature will need to deliver next session,’’ Bell added. “Fixing Healthcare is a tall order in good economic times, but it is a necessity for the times ahead of us.  A penny saved is a penny earned, and Fixing Healthcare is an economic stimulus. Like other challenges, there are already many solutions to address the challenge of healthcare costs: value-based care; dealing with prescription drug prices, improving primary care; Tele-health and mobile health for rural communities, and a host of other solutions.  In Washington state, the payer claims database shows that 5 percent of the population generated 72 percent of claims.  We can take a population health approach and more directly address the challenges of this segment of the population.  There is no shortage of good ideas for healthcare; the challenge is electing officials ready to engage.’’

Other priorities (Ley)

“Economics — pocketbook issues — are the primary concern of citizens,’’ Ley said. “The governor has shut down our state’s economy, with his never-ending ‘emergency orders’ and all too numerous decrees and dictates. He has caused record unemployment. He has chosen winners and losers, while giving away hundreds of millions of the people’s unemployment benefit money to Nigerian scammers. He’s done this without the input of the elected representatives of the people. The governor has usurped the individual rights of the people, he swore an oath to protect.

“We must get people back to work. That is job one,’’ Ley stated. “We must reopen our state economy. We must give individuals the freedom to choose. They know their personal health risks. They know their family situation. They can make informed choices for themselves, for their family, and for their businesses. We must reduce the burdens and obstacles placed on our job creators. Far too many of our small- and medium-sized businesses have been forced to close, due to the impositions of government. We need to reduce or eliminate obstacles for small businesses. Let’s give these job creators a holiday on paying our state’s Business and Occupation taxes for the next 18 months. The people who go back to work will reduce demands on our broken unemployment system, and be allowed to support themselves and their families. The money they spend will generate sales taxes, which will help our cities and counties. But most importantly, it will help the people. That is who the government is supposed to serve.

“The incumbent crafted the McCleary ‘solution’ regarding education funding,’’ Ley said of Rivers. “Citizens were promised ‘long term tax relief,’ a 30 percent reduction in their property tax levies for schools. The state has doubled its K-12 education funding. We must now help homeowners by delivering the property tax relief they were promised … If the voters believe they were poorly served by the incumbent’s failure to deliver on her promised ‘long term tax relief,’ then they should look to one of the two alternatives. After all, she was one of four legislators who created the McCleary ‘solution’ that now burdens homeowners.

“The incumbent has reversed her position on the Columbia River Crossing,’’ Ley said. “She now supports it’s resurrection, including tolls, and a path for light rail. What the people want is reduced traffic congestion. That means new transportation corridors and new bridges across the Columbia River. The voters need to consider one of the other two candidates, if they truly want traffic congestion relief and a fierce warrior in opposing Oregon’s outrageous tolling scheme.’’

Other priorities (Bell)

“First, the cost of housing and homelessness is one of my top priorities,’’ Bell said. “Housing is a significant ‘social determinant of health.’  That is, housing is a significant factor in health outcomes in that people with unstable housing or are homeless will struggle to manage their chronic conditions or regularly be seen by a doctor.  Their conditions will worsen, and they will seek treatment in emergency departments.  Healthcare providers will typically be able to stabilize their conditions.  But after being discharged into a poor housing situation, their conditions will again deteriorate until they seek care in the emergency department.  Housing and Healthcare are connected such that resolving housing issues could reduce the overall cost of healthcare.

“Second, defending early childhood education is another key priority,’’ Bell said. “Studies have shown that every dollar spent on early childhood education delivers seven to twelve dollars in return on investment.  Parents can return to the workforce sooner and earn their way into the middle class.  The benefits to childhood include better health behaviors, lower grade repetition, lower rates of early parenthood, and lower rates of incarceration.  In a difficult economic climate, defending funding for these efforts is where I will focus.

“Third, continuing to make progress on addressing climate change has to be another priority,’’ Bell said. “There are economic growth opportunities and jobs to create in fixing our infrastructure, optimizing our energy grid, and being better stewards of the land.  The effects of climate change are beginning to be felt, but if we fail to address this challenge, what’s in store for our children should be terrifying.  And this is the moment for the younger generations of voters to engage and demand action, because they will suffer the impacts caused by the lack of action from prior generations.  There are a myriad of solutions to address climate change.  The real problem is the absence of legislators ready to push back against special interests and set the right course for the future.’’

Other priorities (Rivers)

“All roads in 2021 lead back to COVID-19 response,’’ Rivers said. “We have to get people reemployed; we have to get our economy back on track and fill budget gaps; and we need to ensure federal dollars from CARES ACT funds are spent wisely and fairly distributed across the state, not just Seattle. So voters should ask themselves if now is the time to by electing hyper-partisans or people willing to cross party lines to solve problems.  I’d like to think I’ve earned a reputation as the latter.’’

“As your state senator, my first priority and greatest reward comes from listening to your feedback and helping constituents navigate problems and issues dealing with state government,’’ Rivers said in her campaign statement in the voters’ pamphlet. “Washington is facing unprecedented budget cuts and job losses due to COVID-19. Having been first elected in the Great Recession, I’ve been successful in leading us through tough times and into prosperity. It’s critical that representatives in Olympia have solutions. 

“The legislature must review the extraordinary powers Governor Inslee has taken and protect our individual freedoms,’’ Rivers said. “I’ll ensure budget cuts don’t impact our ability to get kids back to school or maintain critical human services Washingtonians rely upon. Bills that don’t help create private sector jobs or preserve core government functions should be tabled until everyone is working again. Most importantly, I’ll advocate to ensure federal disaster dollars are equitably distributed across the state where they are urgently needed, not just in Seattle. When it mattered most, you put your faith in me as your voice in Olympia. There are times, like now, we’ll need to make difficult decisions for the betterment of working families and seniors.’’