Harris, two challengers bring diverse views to race

Rockhold, McCluckey challenging incumbent in 17th

By Lauren Dake, Columbian political writer



17th District Candidates

Paul Harris

Age: 61.

Residence: Vancouver.

Party: Republican.

Past elected positions: Evergreen school board member, 1992 to 2003; Washington State Legislature, elected in 2010 to present.

Current occupation: Washington sales manager for Quick Collect, a collection company; owns Quick Meds, dispenses medications.

Education: Brigham Young University, bachelor’s in business management, accounting.

Top endorsements: U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Camas; Washington state medical/dental associations; National Federation of Independent Business; Washington Education Association; Washington Realtors.

Amount of campaign money raised so far: $41,675.

Richard McCluskey

Age: 62.

Residence: Vancouver.

Party: Democrat.

Past elected positions: None.

Current occupation: Formerly field service technician who repairs gas station equipment.

Education: Has taken several courses at a variety of colleges.

Top endorsements: Young Democrats of Washington.

Amount of campaign money raised so far: $3,275.

Chris Rockhold

Age: 44.

Residence: Vancouver.

Party: Libertarian.

Past elected positions: None.

Current occupation: Pilot with Empire Airlines.

Education: South Puget Sound Community College; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Top endorsements: Clark-Cowlitz Farm Bureau, Libertarian Party of Washington State.

Amount of campaign money raised so far: $5,536.

Two political newcomers with very different ideas, one a Democrat and the other a Libertarian, both believe they have what it takes to unseat Republican incumbent Paul Harris and represent Vancouver's 17th District in Olympia.

Chris Rockhold, 44, a Libertarian, blasts the incumbent for votes he characterized as being in favor of the Affordable Care Act. He also takes issue with Harris' vote approving tax breaks for Boeing.

Democratic candidate Richard McCluskey, 63, whose intent is to bolster the middle class, said he has lived his life as a "compassionate human being."

"I understand the needs of those who have been disenfranchised, who are unable to provide for themselves and I think that is in striking contrast to my two opponents," McCluskey said.

Defending his seat, Harris said he voted for the Boeing tax breaks to "preserve jobs in our state." And on the Affordable Health Care Act, it was either vote for a health insurance exchange run by the federal government or one by the state government. Harris said he chose to keep "local control."

The candidates do agree on one issue, however: The most pressing issue lawmakers must tackle next legislative session is how to satisfy the state Supreme Court's mandate that public schools be adequately funded.

That's where the consensus ends.

"People are so averse in increasing taxes, that would certainly have to be a last resort," McCluskey said. "But as a responsible legislator, I would not rule that out."

Harris believes a revenue windfall from recreational marijuana sales will provide a funding boost to the state's schools.

"We have marijuana money coming in and I believe we can do this without raising taxes and burdening the people," Harris said.

Rockhold doesn't see it as a funding problem, but as an efficiency issue.

"I don't think throwing money at it is solving the problem," Rockhold said, noting he also has a problem with the idea of the Supreme Court telling lawmakers to "budget a certain way."

Rockhold said it's time to scrutinize the budgets of certain state programs, including early childhood education.

If re-elected, Harris said he would work to lower insurance premiums, saying the Affordable Care Act's insurance "isn't that affordable." Harris also believes lawmakers will continue to tweak the state's laws that regulate marijuana.

"I think we'll have to address the users who go to work, who drive, who operate forklifts … We haven't addressed a lot of those issues yet," Harris said.

The Republican lawmaker said he will continue to advocate for a state transportation spending package, but won't vote in favor unless transportation spending is reformed. The reform issue has become a sticking point between the two parties.

Rockhold said if elected he would lobby the state to opt out of federal mandates, such as the Common Core standards, which outline what students at each grade level should be learning in mathematics and language arts. The standards are expected to be fully implemented in Washington next school year. Rockhold also said he would advocate for labeling genetically modified organisms.

McCluskey, the Democratic candidate, said his top priority in Olympia would be to move the state away from using coal, oil and petroleum-based energy and move toward harnessing the wind, water and solar energy that is available. He would also introduce legislation that would help the state create something akin to the federal Small Business Administration, with the aim of helping local businesses receive capital to start their own businesses.

Aug. 5 is the state's primary. The general election is Nov. 4.