Riley, Wylie worlds apart in 49th race

Democratic incumbent faces Republican investment counselor to retain appointed House seat

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer



Craig Riley


Occupation: Insurance and investment counselor

Age: 60

Political and community involvement: Legislative candidate in 1990 and 2010; soccer coach and referee; board member, National Alliance on Mental Health.

Endorsements: Building Association of Clark County, Regence BlueShield, Primera Blue Cross, Association of Washington Business

Money raised: $42,684


Quote: “I will work with anyone who is

willing to get the job done.”

Sharon Wylie


Occupation: State representative

Age: 62

Political and community involvement: former two-term Oregon legislator; former legislative lobbyist for Clark, Kitsap and Jefferson counties; board member, Council for the Homeless and Affordable Community Environments.

Endorsements: Clark County Realtors, Vancouver Firefighters, IBEW Local 48, Washington Conservation Voters, Equal Rights Washington

Money raised: $68,343


Quote: “I think there’s a real growth of people who think of themselves as independents. I put myself in that category.”

Their last names rhyme. The similarities stop there.

Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie, the appointed incumbent in the 49th Legislative District, faces a robust challenge from Republican Craig Riley, who ran in the 49th last year and lost to veteran state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, by just under 7 percent of votes cast.

Clark County commissioners appointed Wylie in April to fill the vacancy after the resignation of Democratic Rep. Jim Jacks.

Because she is an appointed legislator, Wylie must win the Nov. 8 election or forfeit her seat to Riley immediately upon the final vote tally. With the Legislature scheduled to go into a month-long special session Nov. 28, the winner will be headed to Olympia as soon as the vote is certified.

Riley is the owner of Riley Financial Inc., which counsels families, retirees and health providers on changes in the Medicare and Medicaid programs and offers longterm investment and insurance planning.

He’s making his third run for the Legislature (he ran against Democrat Joe King in 1990 , losing by 3.5 percent) primarily because he worries that Washington state and the nation as a whole are not prepared for the wave of baby-boomers and low-income families who will soon flood the health care market and may be unable to find care.

“What’s coming down the pike is a tidal wave, whether health reform is implemented or not,” Riley said in an interview. “Health care reform is not the same as insurance. It doesn’t guarantee access. We have people who are in crisis. They get on Medicaid and they can’t get anyone to see them because it pays 20 cents on the dollar.”

He says the federal government should send the states the money it would otherwise spend to implement health reform and let each state design its own program. He also favors establishing medical clinics in every community to serve the poor, using vacant buildings if necessary.

Wylie, a 30-year veteran of state politics, served two terms in the Oregon Legislature before moving to Clark County 14 years ago. She lobbied the Washington Legislature on behalf of Clark County until three years ago, when she shifted to volunteer work with agencies focused on helping the homeless.

In the 11 days she served during the regular 2011 session and in the month-long special session that followed, Wylie showed herself to be an independent voter. She voted with minority Republicans and against her own party, at least four times in the special session’s waning days, opposing the state operating budget, a workers’ compensation bill, and a bill changing state tax law, among other measures.

As a newcomer, Wylie said, she felt it was appropriate to be skeptical of bills that made sweeping changes in state law. “People who get to know me know that to a fault, I’m nobody’s rubber stamp,” she said.

As a lobbyist, she worked both sides of the aisle on a regular basis to get things done for Clark County.

“The last chunk of funding for the Center for Community Health came from a bipartisan legislative coalition” led by Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli, she said. “I worked with (former Republican state Rep.) John Pennington to make sure our crime lab didn’t end up in Spokane.”

“When you run for office it’s a competition,” Wylie said. “ When you need to get something done, it’s collaboration. You have to know how to do both jobs.”

Legislators are paid $42,106 annually.

On the issues

• The projected $2 billion state budget shortfall:

Riley: The 2011 Legislature “should have dealt with this more aggressively. They should have taken a carving knife to the budget, not a scalpel. … We can’t be overbudgeting with less revenue. “Lawmakers cut the growth in spending but failed to make actual cuts in current spending levels.” It’s so important that we have a balanced budget and that we get closer to a middle ground.”

Wylie: “I think we will have to fight harder for education, jobs and the social safety net. We have to be very strategic. My inclination is to try to have some open mic sessions. I want to know what people in the district say. In this legislative session there will be very little time to communicate.”

• What the Legislature can do to create jobs:

Riley: Favors reducing the number of environmental and other state regulations. “There’s a lot we can do to get out of the way of business.”

Wylie: “Government has a complementary role, not a primary role, in job creation. … One thing we haven’t looked at closely is, how can we create new housing? Construction has tumbled the deepest and has not come back. I’ve talked to companies that would double their employment if they could find the right location.” Allowing credit unions to lend money to real estate investors would help.

• State employee compensation:

Riley: The state needs to work toward defined pension contributions in place of defined benefits for workers, though it can’t “just cut off people” who are already in the system. “In a crisis the governor has the right to call unions back and renegotiate their contracts.”

Wylie: “I believe in honoring contracts. We don’t go back and change contracts unilaterally.” State employees have been under a pay freeze since 2009 and have been required to take unpaid furlough days since 2010. “Historically there was reason for public employee pensions. That reason may not be valid anymore.”

• Columbia River Crossing and light rail:

Riley: “We need to lobby the feds to put the money into the bridge and phase in light rail at a later date. I will go to D.C. on my own nickel and lobby for the bridge” without light rail.

Wylie: “We definitely need a bridge. … It’s sitting on earth that will become liquid in an earthquake.” Assumptions about costs and timing will change over time. There are ways to alleviate the cost of tolls for people. “Light rail is what we need to do for the future. Building the bridge without light rail makes no sense.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523;;