Friday, August 7, 2020
Aug. 7, 2020

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League of Women Voters of Clark County forums look at economic recovery, police reform

By , Columbian staff writer

Police reform and COVID-19 recovery dominated back-to-back candidate forums hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County last week.

As with most of the election activities during the 2020 cycle, the coronavirus outbreak derailed forums from their usual format. Instead of meeting in person, candidates answered questions via videoconference, a hurdle that led to some technical difficulties over the course of the broadcasts on Clark/Vancouver Television on Wednesday and Thursday evening.

During the first forum, a recording glitch meant that the candidates’ opening statements and answers to one question weren’t recorded. The moderator, League member Amy Lodholz, at one point joked that she’d committed “the ultimate Zoom fail by being on mute.”

Still, the forums went on, with each candidate given between 60 and 90 seconds to answer seven questions about their vision and priorities if elected to serve their district.

“I know it’s not ideal, but we still are enabling our voters to have more information,” Lodholz said.

At the legislative level, voters heard from candidates seeking the 18th District Senate seat and both 49th District House seats. Candidates for the Clark County Council District 3 seat — incumbent and newly independent John Blom, Republican Karen Bowerman and Democrat Jesse James — also participated.

Three candidates are seeking the 18th District Senate seat. The incumbent, Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, will run for re-election against Democrat Rick Bell and Republican John Ley.

The three spent much of the forum Wednesday discussing their vision for law enforcement reform, as protests against police violence continue to rattle the country.

Rivers said she’d like to drill down into the data surrounding de-escalation training using the framework approved by voters with Initiative 940 in 2018.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we pass legislation that forbids, unless there are extreme circumstances, impeding an individual’s airway in any way,” Rivers said.

Ley, in a call that contrasted with demands from some protesters to funnel money away from law enforcement, said that local police need more resources in order to do their jobs effectively.

“First and foremost, I’d love to see police in every one of our schools,” Ley said. “I’d also love to see an increase in funding for community policing.”

Bell said he would push for stronger penalties against financial and white collar crimes but more leniency among other nonviolent offenders.

“I’m all in favor of diversion approaches, especially for drug-related offenses,” Bell said. “Our big focus needs to be on dismantling the school-to-prison pipelines.”

Among the three candidates seeking the 49th District Position 2 seat, there was disagreement on what the state’s next steps in coronavirus recovery ought to be.

The incumbent, Democratic Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver, urged those calling for a reopening of the economy to pump the brakes. She also said she’d prioritize more support for the state’s unemployment office.

Stonier cautioned that without a slow, deliberate opening process, “we’re going to end up sliding backward.”

Her Republican challenger, Park Llafet, said he disagreed, and that the priority should be restarting the economy with precautions. The next step, he said, “must get people back to work. It must do it safely, it must do it with all the correct health guidelines.”

Troy Potter, an Independent candidate also seeking Stonier’s seat, emphasized that the state badly needs more support from the federal government in order to reinforce its unemployment system. He also urged the importance of compromise during times of crisis, pointing to his lack of party affiliation.

“I don’t have a party, so who I have to answer to, is you,” Potter said.

For the 49th District Position 1 seat, three candidates are seeking the spot, though only two took part in the remote forum.

The incumbent, Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie of Vancouver, went up against Republican challenger Justin Forsman on Thursday. The third candidate, Independent Kelli Danielle Fiskum, did not participate.

Wylie said that these were unprecedented times, pointing to her years of experience in public service as an asset in navigating COVID-19 recovery and the related budget shortfall.

“We are coming to a point where we are going to need to deal with some really complex issues,” Wylie said. “In all of my years as an adult being interested in politics, I don’t think we’ve ever had a moment that we have right now.”

Forsman, who has in the past sought multiple local seats on an anti-government overreach platform, called mask requirements aimed at slowing the spread of the virus “ridiculous.”

“We’re being lied to about COVID-19, our freedoms are being taken away from us,” Forsman said. “Our government is rampant, it’s authoritarian. We need to clean house.”

The candidate forums can be viewed in full at The primary election will be held Aug. 4.