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News / Politics / Election

17th District candidates differ over issues

Incumbent Kraft, challenger Harris talks schools, more

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: July 3, 2018, 6:05am
3 Photos
Challenger Tanisha Harris, left, and Republican state Rep. Vicki Kraft face off during a meeting of The Columbian’s Editorial Board in July.
Challenger Tanisha Harris, left, and Republican state Rep. Vicki Kraft face off during a meeting of The Columbian’s Editorial Board in July. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

State Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, said that while the school funding package passed by lawmakers last year had positive elements, it could be setting Washington up for another protracted legal battle.

The school funding package was passed in response to the McCleary state Supreme Court case that found the Legislature had failed to fund basic education, creating inequities across the state. But speaking before The Columbian Editorial Board, Kraft said the funding school districts will receive varies by region and their teachers’ level of experience. She said it could create new inequities between Washington’s west and east side, as well as north and south.

“So we essentially fixed something in 2017, and now we’ve potentially created those inequities again, and it could set us up for a challenge,” said Kraft, calling the situation “McCleary 2.0.”

Education funding was among the topics discussed with the board by Kraft and her Democratic challenger Tanisha Harris, a program specialist for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

A lifelong resident of Clark County, Harris unsuccessfully ran for Clark County Council in 2016 and co-chaired a campaign earlier this year that helped pass a $695 million facilities bond for Evergreen Public Schools. So far, she’s raised $53,676 to Kraft’s $52,688. She’s also lined up endorsements from party heavyweights, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, as well as Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and various labor groups.

Now seeking her second term, Kraft said her priorities remain the same and she will continue to sponsor legislation aimed at improving the state’s business climate. During the interview, Kraft touted her experience in the private sector, including writing grants for nonprofits. She also said she relies heavily on constituent feedback for the bills she sponsors.

Democrat James Tolson, an activist long involved with homeless issues, has suspended his campaign but will appear on the August primary ballot.

Funding education

Both candidates said it was positive that the Legislature approved the McCleary funding package. Both added that now the state needs to work with school districts to implement the funding package.

The funding package relied on an increase in the statewide property tax from $1.89 to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, which has sharply increased property tax bills this year.

When asked about the increase, Kraft said that the package fulfills a constitutional mandate, which she said lawmakers have long put off addressing because of its difficulty. She also partially attributed the tax increase to voter-approved local levies and the rise in property values.

She pointed out that taxes should decrease in 2019. Kraft said that with the state receiving an unexpected $1.2 billion in revenue, the Legislature should have given taxpayers a break this year.

Harris also mentioned that taxes depend on local voters and called for clarity in how the state approaches taxes.

“What maybe works in King County, Puget Sound, doesn’t always work down here in Clark County, also maybe does not work on the east side of the state as well,” said Harris.

Bridges

The candidates were split on addressing the congested Interstate 5 corridor. Kraft has called for more crossings across the Columbia River to help relieve commuter and freight congestion. Harris said that replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge should be a priority.

Kraft said that building a new bridge won’t ease congestion unless Oregon increases capacity on its side.

“The truth is we can build a 10-lane, one-way highway on our side, and it goes right back to the parking lot on the other side,” said Kraft.

Kraft acknowledged it wasn’t clear where a new bridge would be built and that building through existing neighborhoods or a wildlife sanctuary are unpalatable options. She said that a consultant’s study could answer these questions.

“The I-5 Bridge is the corridor of the West Coast,” said Harris. She said after the I-5 Bridge is replaced, it might make sense to look into a west-side bridge for freight.

Kraft said that the replacement I-5 bridge could have a light-rail component, which she said voters have opposed. Harris said she was more comfortable with light rail, saying she would gladly ride it herself if it was built.

Western State Hospital

The candidates were asked what to do with Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital that recently lost its federal certification and $53 million.

Harris said the troubled facility has value and the Legislature should commission a study to look at its issues. Kraft said that the state has already received a specific assessment of what improvements the facility needs.

“At this point, how long do we kick the can down the road?” asked Kraft. She said that the state should be looking at privatization, even though she acknowledged that might not solve all the problems. Harris was more hesitant about the idea.

Carbon tax

The candidates were also split on a tax on carbon emissions. The idea has long been pursued by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Kraft opposed the idea, stating that Washington is already one of the most environmentally friendly states in the country and that a tax would hurt business and consumers. She also said she questioned some of the scientific data regarding climate change.

“Climate change is real,” said Harris. “This is 2018, we’ve seen environmental disasters. We have seen rising ocean temperatures.”

She said that climate change will particularly affect minorities and vulnerable communities, adding, “we should reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can.”

She stopped short of embracing the governor’s tax. But she said that Initiative 1631, which would place a fee on carbon emissions, will likely be on the November ballot. Harris said she would vote for the measure. Kraft said she wouldn’t.

Gun control

In the last legislative session, Kraft voted against legislation banning bump stocks, but also voted for a bill restricting the gun rights of individuals convicted of domestic violence.

“I’m going to stand to protect those 2nd Amendment rights along with every other right that people have in the Constitution,” said Kraft, who said she was comfortable taking money from the NRA. She said there should be a “high bar” for restricting the gun rights of mentally ill people.

She expressed support for making it easier for students to report potential threats using an app. She said she was also open to arming teachers who volunteer and undergo training. She didn’t support a ban for so-called “assault weapons.”

“We do need to reassess the gun culture in the country,” said Harris.

Harris touted her endorsement from gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. She said she did not support arming teachers. She said that having metal detectors in schools should be considered and called on putting more counselors and nurses in schools.

Although she’d likely be receptive to an assault weapon ban, Harris said that the 2nd Amendment is staying put and that she knows people who own guns for hunting.

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Columbian political reporter