Both candidates for state representative on the Nov. 8 ballot are familiar to many voters in the 49th District, which includes Vancouver west of Interstate 205 and Hazel Dell. Although Democrat Sharon Wylie is running for this office for the first time, she’s well-known in the district because for six months she has served as the incumbent appointee replacing Democrat Jim Jacks. And although Republican Craig Riley also has not served in this role, many voters remember him from last year when he ran impressively but unsuccessfully against Democrat Jim Moeller.
Both are high-quality hopefuls who heavily research key issues, carefully craft their stances and have built significant support bases. Wylie has earned The Columbian’s endorsement because of two compelling advantages: experience in the legislative arena and a political posture that parallels the traditional character of this legislative district. More bluntly, she’s been there and done that, and she’s a better fit for the 49th.
Riley is making the same strong run for this post that he made against Moeller, when he drew 46.4 percent of the votes. His business acumen and extensive background in the health care field makes him a viable candidate. But when it comes to track record and fit for the 49th, Wylie is the top choice.
In addition to her brief tenure in the Washington Legislature, where she quickly demonstrated a collaborative spirit among members of both parties, Wylie also served two terms in the Oregon Legislature during the 1990s. Her policy-making experience transcends elected office, though. She also has worked as a lobbyist for Clark and other counties. She knows how counties work, and that’s important for a legislator.
Wylie also can accomplish more in the 49th because of her party affiliation. The district has long been a Democratic stronghold, and already Wylie has formed an effective team with two fellow Democrats in her district, Moeller and state Sen. Craig Pridemore, not to mention with others of her party in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Wylie insists, “People who know me know that, to a fault, I’m nobody’s rubber stamp.” Perhaps, but there’s no denying that clout in a caucus is crucial.
Her opponent counters those advantages energetically. On the major issues, Riley boasts the keen insight into health care issues one expects of a successful businessman in that field. He understands budgets and believes the Legislature should have used “a carving knife on the budget, not a scalpel.” He supports the push for more federal support of a new Interstate 5 bridge, but “phase in light rail at a later stage.” Riley wants to focus on deregulation. “There’s a lot we can do to get out of the way of business,” he explains. He wants to move state workers toward a defined-contributions retirement system.
Wylie said she “will go to the bargaining table and say ‘No,’” but she added: “I believe in honoring contracts … Historically, there has been a reason for the state worker pensions, but that might not be valid anymore.” On budget cuts, Wylie is concerned about “the unintended consequences of shredding our social services safety net.” Regarding jobs, the state government should take “a complementary role, not a primary role,” Wylie said. She strongly supports the Columbia River Crossing and says building the bridge “without light rail makes no sense … do it right for the future.”
This showdown is good for the 49th District. It pits a capable appointee incumbent whose strengths are magnified by a capable, qualified and spirited challenger. Our recommendation is a vote for Sharon Wylie.