The 17th District state Senate race between incumbent Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, resulted in a Benton victory on Wednesday, after Clark County election officials finished a hand recount. The 17th District House race between Monica Stonier and Julie Olson also will be recounted by hand.
City of residence: Vancouver.
Occupation: Former budget analyst and former CEO of a job training organization, the Washington Workforce Association.
Major endorsements: League of Education Voters, Biotechnology Industry Organization, International Association of Firefighters, Sierra Club, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik.
Money raised in campaign: $230,142.
City of residence: Vancouver.
Occupation: Founder and CEO of the Benton Group, a media consulting company.
Major endorsements: Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, National Federation of Small Business, Washington State Farm Bureau, Stand for Children, Public School Employees of Washington.
Money raised in campaign: $386,576.
Voters in Clark County's 17th District get to make a choice this fall in one of the state's most competitive legislative races.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is defending his seat from another state lawmaker, Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver. Rather than seek a third House term, Probst decided to take a shot at the Senate, where he said he hopes to have a greater impact.
Known for his fundraising abilities, Benton has raised $150,000 more in campaign contributions than Probst, and combined, the two candidates have raised more than half a million dollars. Just two other legislative candidates in the state have raised more than Benton, and fewer than a dozen have raised more than Probst.
Benton, an outspoken conservative elected to the Senate in 1996, and Probst, a moderate when compared to many Democratic legislators, have similar fiscal priorities. Both oppose tax increases. They have different stances, however, on other political topics, including same-sex marriage, expanding Medicaid in the state, and a ballot measure that would allow charter schools in Washington.
Benton remains a critic of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, which would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, extend light rail to Clark College, and rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River. He said he supports eventually replacing the bridge, opposes extending a light rail line from Portland into Vancouver, and opposes tolls to pay for a new bridge.
In response to The Columbian's 2012 candidate survey, Benton wrote: "After over four years of research and millions of wasted dollars the CRC's proposed bridge is expensive, inadequately expands traffic capacity, brings light rail into Vancouver against the will of most Clark County residents, would exact a toll from users, and, incredibly, does not meet U.S. Coast Guard height requirements."
Probst said he will support the CRC only "if the people get to vote on the toll beforehand."
He also said: "The bridge can create thousands of new jobs, but the people deserve the chance to know exactly what the toll will be, what the discount will be for Clark County residents, consider the pros and cons themselves, and vote."
Last year, Probst and Benton sent a letter to Clark County commissioners asking that the public participate in an advisory vote on the CRC. They both voted this year against legislation allowing the state to establish tolls on the bridge, but that bill ultimately passed.
A vote on tolls should go before the people in Clark County who would be affected by the bridge, Probst has said, meaning a larger group of people than those living in the C-Tran voting district, but not the entire county.
"I voted against the C-Tran district because I thought it was drawn a little narrowly," Probst said.
Probst also said the CRC should have a mass transit component, but that he doesn't feel strongly one way or the other about including light rail on the new bridge. Buses are another option, he said.
"I just want to make sure people who can't drive, or can't afford to drive, or just don't want to drive, have an option," Probst said.
Probst and Benton are both opposed to C-Tran's Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would increase sales tax in the C-Tran district by 0.1 percentage point (one penny on a $10 purchase) to operate light rail and help build a bus rapid transit system in Vancouver.
Benton and Probst both listed low taxes and improving the economy as some of their top priorities.
Probst is proposing five reforms to get the economy back on track. One aims to streamline regulations on business. Other reforms would build a research park at Washington State University Vancouver for industries that create exportable goods such as computer chips, and provide a tax credit for those industries if they create middle-class jobs.
Another reform would make sure middle and high schools inform students about technical degrees and skilled trades, not just university degrees. This reform, dubbed the "Careers Pathway Act," passed in the House during this year's legislative session but died in the Senate.
"Each student has their own unique talents and goals, all work has dignity and value, and our economy has skill gaps at all levels," Probst said.
Benton said he supports providing more training and education for the unemployed, and reducing taxes on small businesses, such as the state's business and occupancy tax. The B&O tax collects money from businesses based on their gross income, rather than their profits.
Benton said he opposes excessive regulations that "drive up the costs" for businesses.
"Southwest Washington has been hit particularly hard by the downturn in the economy, and I believe we must do more to help those who are struggling," Benton said. "As a small-business owner myself, I know how to create jobs."
Health care reform
Probst supports the expansion of Medicaid in the state as outlined in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently to mostly uphold the health care reform act, but it also ruled that each state can decide whether to participate in the law's Medicaid plan. Medicaid is a health insurance program that provides coverage for low-income people and the disabled.
"I believe implementing the Medicaid portion will save the state taxpayers money," Probst said. "We currently provide medical care to uninsured people through our hospital emergency rooms, which is incredibly expensive. The state taxpayers and health insurance premium payers are poorly served by this system."
Benton said he opposes the Medicaid expansion, and made it clear that he believes the federal health care reforms were the wrong way to go.
"Our state simply does not have the money to pay for (the expansion)," Benton said. "Our current health insurance system -- with its skyrocketing costs and inadequate services -- is unquestionably broken. We have to fix it. But the Affordable Care Act is only going to make health insurance more expensive and less personal."
Benton and Probst both support Initiative 1185, which would require lawmakers to pass any tax increases with a two-thirds yes vote instead of a simple majority
Benton is opposed to a ballot measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry, while Probst supports it.
Both candidates oppose a ballot proposal that would make recreational marijuana use legal for people who are 21 and older.
The candidates are split on Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools in Washington. Benton supports the measure while Probst does not.
The initiative "gives a greater diversity of options for parents wishing to provide a quality education for their children," Benton said. "I have a firm belief in the concept that competition makes for a better end product."
Probst said: "I have trouble getting fired up in either direction about charter schools. They have been tried in over 40 states, and the research shows they made little to no difference on student performance. … It allows multiple organizations to grant charters, which can lead to people 'shopping around' to find the least rigorous organization to grant them a charter."
Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to voters Monday. State legislators earn an annual salary of $42,106, plus a $90 a day allowance to cover expenses such as food and lodging while on state business.