Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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Candidates for 20th district house representative focus on collaboration


On paper, four candidates are competing to replace retiring state Rep. Richard DeBolt. But one of them says he doesn’t want the job even though his name is on the Aug. 4 primary election ballot.

Kurtis Engle, an independent from Centralia, said “my real motive for running is not winning.” Rather, it’s to bring attention to his complaints about the Lewis County bus system and to run against candidate Peter Abbarno.

The other candidates, Democrat Timothy Zahn and Republicans Abbarno and Brian Lange, are all vying to bring a collaborative approach to the Legislature.

Zahn, a youthful but articulate newcomer to politics, said he is “running to bridge the partisan divide and bring lasting progress” to 20th Legislative District, which represents most of Lewis County and Castle Rock, Kalama and Woodland in Cowlitz County. He has endorsements from the Thurston County Democrats, Cowlitz County Democrats and Lewis County Democrats, among others.

Lange said he prefers to not look at problems as Republican or Democratic, “but going to the other side of the aisle and finding common ground.”

Abbarno is the clear favorite of Republican officials, having won endorsement of DeBolt, a longtime Chehalis Republican; Republican state Senator John Braun; and Republican state representatives Ed Orcutt and Jim Walsh, among others. He is currently on the Centralia City Council, which is why Engle is running against him. Engle said that Abbarno has not addressed his complaints about the bus system.

Abbarno said he wants to revive the art of communicating and collaborating, which “is really dying on the vine.”

“People are going to their corners, digging their heels in and are unwilling to talk through issues,” Abbarno said, who presents himself as a moderate conservative who can reach across partisan divides.

“I am not afraid to talk about issues that are traditionally not Republican and finding common ground where we can find common ground. It’s surprising how many folks I talk to who haven’t voted Republican or haven’t supported conservative values understand the issues when we sit down and actually communicate as peers,” he said.

And while he said he knew that would be more difficult to do in Olympia, “you have to start somewhere and I’ve been able to do it here for many years.”

Lange, a lobbyist for a motorcycle rights group, presented broader ideas, and said he would bring to the role a voice for the working class and his years of experience working with legislators.

“That’s what the process needs, it needs someone with experience actually building coalitions to get bills done and moving,” he said.

Zahn’s passion is lifting and supporting rural voices with his plans to keep farmers on their land, make Centralia College a four-year school and get better internet access to rural areas, he said.

“I have a lot of unique ideas and I have a different approach to politics than a lot of people. These are unprecedented times going to need to change things up a bit if we want to go forward and recover,” Zahn said.

He said while he does not have prior political experience, he thinks that could be a plus.

“I think that in the Legislature we need a mixture of experience and outside influence. We need new people coming in to bring new ideas and energy and enthusiasm and we need the experienced people to mediate that. … I may not have the experience, but I have the education and I have local knowledge,” Zahn said.

Of the four candidates, Lange and Engle filed with the Public Disclosure Committee as mini-filers, meaning they don’t intent to spend more than $5,000 in their campaigns.

Abbarno leads the fundraising, with $44,500 in contributions as of July 27. His campaign had spent $19,500. The majority of his donors are individuals, according to the PDC, followed by businesses and political action committees.

Zahn has raised $1,400 from individual donations and local democratic committees. He has spent nearly $600.

To handle the looming state budget deficit, Abbarno and Lange both said cuts are in order, but said they disagreed with Gov. Jay Inslee’s 15% across-the-board reduction in state spending.

“We should most certainly take care of the most vulnerable in our community and look at programs which are investments and which are expenditures, which are necessary and which are not,” Abbarno said. “I wouldn’t use a chainsaw. I would use a scalpel.”

Lange said he would prefer to reduce top-heavy administrative positions by using a three- to five-year wage and promotion freeze and then reducing or eliminating underutilized or obsolete programs. He was not specific.

Breaking from his fellow candidates, Zahn said he preferred a temporary 1% wealth tax on people with more than $10 million in assets to address the state’s projected $8.8 billion budget shortfall through 2023. He acknowledged that cuts might also be necessary, but said the wealth tax “is our best bet” to balance the budget. State spending was set at $53.3 billion for 2019-21.

“It does not adversely affect any of Washington’s most vulnerable citizens,” Zahn said of the wealth tax proposal. “I think it’s the fairest way to ensure all our programs can be maintained for the citizens who need it most.”

On recent calls to defund the police, Abbarno, Zahn and Lange all said they do not think defunding is the answer. All three said they supported more training and education for officers.

Zahn called to expand law enforcement but also diversify it to include mental health support units and other avenues of aid, “so we don’t have a one-size-fits-all police force.”

And Lange said the law enforcement budget should be increased to allow for better training and equipment, but said it should also be easier to fire officers.

Abbarno said police have too much on their plates and they need not only more training, but the roles they fill in communities should also be re-examined.

“We have to do a better job in addressing the issues in our community like poverty, mental illness, drug addiction and how we deal with them,” Abbarno said.

Abbarno and Zahn both agree that the McCleary fix to school funding has not been fair and needs to be changed. Zahn said he would like to end school reliance on levy funding, but did not suggest how. Abbarno said the disparity between poor property districts and rich property districts has actually grown.

Lange originally told TDN he thought the funding model was satisfactory, at the July 16 League of Women Voters forum he also said it needed to be adjusted.

To create more jobs, Zahn said internet infrastructure and educational opportunities need to be improved. He suggested adding four-year degrees to Centralia College and a new agriculture school.

Abbarno also said education and infrastructure were key, but pointed to early education and making sure roads, sewer lines and other public works can handle increased business.

“I think that one of the real tragedies, especially in impoverished areas, is investment in 0-5 education. Early education, early intervention has proven to set a student forward for success,” he said. “Investment in early education is something we won’t see the return on for 10 years, but it’s going to be a great investment.”

And Lange said community should get more control to come up with plans to bring in new jobs.

Overall, the candidates said they want to improve their communities and thought the open house position was the way to do so.

“Everyone should be able to have the opportunity to succeed to grow and have a successful and happy life and I want to make sure everyone in Washington has that opportunity,” Zahn said.