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Feb. 27, 2021

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Candidates find common ground at forum

18th District hopefuls share disdain for power of federal government

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BATTLE GROUND — Five candidates for the open 18th Legislative District seat — three Republicans, one Democrat and one independent — submitted to a barrage of questions regarding their views on constitutional issues at Battle Ground High School on Wednesday.

On topics from illegal immigration to “Obamacare” to the use of red light detection cameras, they agreed far more than they disagreed — and the common thread was disdain for the power of the federal government.

“We need to find all the ways we have entanglements with the federal government and cut them,” declared Republican Jon Russell of Washougal, answering a question about whether the federal or state government should have more control over our daily lives.

“Both those answers make me cringe,” quipped Republican Brandon Vick.

The forum was sponsored by the newly formed Southwest Washington chapter of the Washington Campaign for Liberty, which has its roots in Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.

It describes its mission as “to promote and defend the great American principles of individual liberty, constitutional government, sound money, free markets, and a noninterventionist foreign policy.”

Also taking part were Republican consultant Ann Rivers of La Center; independent Rich Carson of Hockinson; and Democrat Dennis Kampe of Brush Prairie.

The sprawling 18th District covers Ridgefield, Battle Ground, Camas, Washougal, Felida, Salmon Creek, north Clark County and south Cowlitz County. Six candidates, including Anthony Bittner, a Skyview High School senior who did not attend the forum, are vying for the seat, which opened when Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Camas, announced she would run for Congress to succeed U.S. Rep. Brian Baird. Two other candidates have dropped out.

Russell, Washougal’s mayor pro tem and owner of a community health clinic in Camas, said the first place he would cut is the Department of Social and Health Services, which administers the Medicaid health care program for the poor, because he believes giving people medical care for free breeds abuse of the system.

Asked whether health care is a right or a privilege, Rivers said, “I don’t believe health care is a right. … I don’t see anything in the Constitution that says, ‘You will have health care.’”

“Our rights are outlined in the state and U.S. Constitutions,” Vick said. “There is no way that one group has the right to come to us and take something we worked hard for and take it for themselves.”

There was near-unanimity on the view that the Washington Growth Management Act has “been harmful to individual liberties.”

“The biggest problem is that the law creates density targets and pretty much decimates the rural lifestyle,” said Carson, a consultant who formerly headed Clark County’s Department of Community Development.

“It is actually not constitutional,” Rivers declared.

All candidates agreed that the federal government must step up and pay more toward the cost of a new Interstate 5 bridge. All candidates opposed the inheritance tax.

But there was disagreement over whether the state prisons should be privatized. Kampe, Carson and Russell said providing public safety is a fundamental role of government, but Vick said, “I believe privatization is a good thing whenever and wherever we can.”

The candidates were asked whether they have taken special-interest money from any group, including labor unions. Carson has declared that he will not accept any special-interest money.

But Rivers, who has raised by far the most money of any candidate in the race, turned the question on its head. “Special-interest money? Absolutely, and let me tell you why,” she said.

She said she has taken private money to fight the Cowlitz casino and “to get rid of oppressive regulations,” but would not take money from unions.

Kampe, the lone Democrat in the race and the longtime director of the Clark County Skills Center, parted ways with the others on that issue.

“I have a special interest in career and technical education,” he said. “I will go to the mat for it. I am a product of labor. I will take money from labor and I will represent them.”

Vick said he would follow the example of President Ronald Reagan and fight to make Washington a right-to-work state.

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