Seven candidates sat behind a table at Friday’s get-to-know-you forum hosted by the Christian Chamber of Commerce of the Northwest. The -table was level.
It would be tough, though, to fault Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, if he took an extra-long glance after the two-hour roundtable, in search of an invisible tilt to the right.
“I was a liberal in a sea of conservatives,” Moeller said afterward. “I knew this was a very conservative crowd when I walked in the door.”
Seven candidates, including Moeller, who’s running to retain Position 2 in the 49th District, delivered introductions and responded to prepared questions posed by audience members as the Christian Chamber dipped its toes in the political waters to host the early-morning gathering at Vancouver Christian High School.
About 40 voters paid $5 each to make up the audience that listened as the lone incumbents on the panel — Moeller and Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who’s running unopposed for the 18th District, Position 2 — presented fundamentally different stances on the Legislature’s passing of a budget that included a nearly $800 million tax package.
“I’m sorry that we ended up passing any taxes at all,” said Orcutt, the ranking minority member of the House’s tax-writing finance committee.
Standing up for budget
Moeller, forced to play defense by Orcutt and four other conservative panelists, said Republicans “took a walk on the (budget).” He challenged claims that the state government is growing.
“We have shrunk the government by $12 billion over the last biennium,” said Moeller. “Probably the only area that government is growing is unemployment. We need to concentrate on getting people back to work.”
The budget, which included 20 separate tax increases expected to generate almost $800 million, was joined by $750 million in cuts from state programs. It also transferred money among state funds and an expected infusion of federal Medicaid dollars to bridge a $2.8 billion budget shortfall for the current biennium.
“If we want jobs, and we want our state to improve, don’t do what our Legislature just did,” said Paul Harris, a Republican businessman and Evergreen School Board member running for the open 17th District, Position 2 seat.
Harris, along with Brian Peck (17th, Position 1), Ann Rivers (18th, Position 1), Bill Cismar (49th, Position 1) and Dennis Kampe (18th, Position 1), is vying to be involved in the Legislature’s next round of budget decisions.
Peck, a Vancouver gas station owner, introduced himself before and then during the panel as “your next representative from the 17th District, Position 1.” He’s challenging incumbent Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, who did not participate Friday.
Peck said the state is in “real trouble” and only “conservative, Republican values will get us out of it.”
“I will always make it crystal clear where I stand on every issue — just ask me,” said Peck, who advocated privatizing liquor control operations and stood firm against raises for public employees.
Harris and Rivers, the top fundraiser in the race to share the 18th District with Orcutt, said they’ve both visited thousands of homes campaigning door-to-door. She said she decided to run “because, like you, I’ve seen that things have gotten terribly off-track in Washington state.”
When she has crossed paths with residents who were home during the day, Rivers said they told her, “I wouldn’t be here today if I had a job.”
She’s running for the 18th District, Position 1 seat against Washougal City Councilor Jon Russell, a Republican, independent Richard Carson and Democrat Dennis Kampe, the director of the Clark County Skills Center.
Kampe said he’s a “concerned citizen,” buoyed by plans to improve education, stem the shrinking of the middle class and limit taxes on small businesses. He said the government is stretched too thin helping people who are “not unable, but unwilling to help themselves.”
Cismar, who introduced himself as being unemployed the past two years, is trying to wrest away Democratic Rep. Jim Jacks’ hold on the 49th District’s Position 1.
A military veteran, Cismar said he has worked in the technology industry where he oversaw the implementation of government regulations.
“Regulation is a big job-killer,” said Cismar, who wants to decrease government’s imprint on the private sector.
Nearly the entire forum circled close to the issue of jobs — not surprising in a county where June’s unemployment rate stood at 12.4 percent, one of the highest rates in the state. Discussions reached a climax when Harris and Moeller again put on display the ideological differences between their respective parties. “Government does not create jobs,” Harris said. “We need to spend less money.”
Moeller called the jobs assertion “silly,” and returned to his defense of the budget approved for the current biennium. “I’ll leave it up to the voters to determine whether, over the past six years, I’ve done the right thing,” Moeller said.
Today marks the beginning of the one month sprint to the Aug. 17 primary elections. The general election is Nov. 2.
Bob Albrecht: 360-735-4522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.