In hourlong conversations with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, candidates running for federal, state and county offices tend to bounce between many topics, from the Interstate 5 Bridge to sex education curriculum to gun control laws.
The virtual meeting with the candidates running for Senate in the 49th Legislative District was distinct in that, for the vast majority of the conversation, they remained laser-focused on two topics: COVID-19 and policing.
The incumbent, Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland, and Republican challenger Rey Reynolds diverge in how they see both issues.
Cleveland was critical of Reynolds for appearing maskless at Republican Party events and fundraisers that violated COVID-19 social distancing rules.
“We now have a public health crisis that we are navigating worldwide, and the science there has been very clear about what we need to do as individuals to help stop the spread,” Cleveland said. “I’ve been very disappointed to see pictures on Facebook of my opponent without a mask at large gatherings.”
Reynolds said that decisions to wear a mask and avoid crowds should be left up to individuals.
“We social distance when we can, we wear a mask when we must, but the issue has to be what is really best for the person at the time,” Reynolds said. “We must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap that we should be like lemmings.”
Pressed on whether Washington’s aggressive early action to slow the spread of coronavirus contributed to its relative success — the state remains in the bottom 10 in per capita infection and fatality rates — Reynolds said he wouldn’t speculate.
“Is there a correlation between it? I don’t think we can say,” Reynolds said.
Cleveland said the state should continue to base its COVID-19 policy on the best practices as laid out by scientists, not politicians.
“I believe that our CDC, our public health experts in this state, have laid out the steps that we need to take as individuals to keep one another safe. It’s clear what guidelines we need to follow, and it’s a matter of life and death,” Cleveland said. “I do feel passionate about this … passionate about being an example to others as a leader, and working to ensure that everyone is clear about the guidelines and everyone follows them.”
Reynolds said the state should prioritize reopening its economy, citing a common criticism of Gov. Jay Inslee for refusing to convene the Legislature in an emergency session.
“If the Legislature had been called, I think we would be moving quickly to open up our state,” Reynolds said. “More people are suffering from this shutdown than from the virus itself.”
Cleveland said she believes a major investment in infrastructure — broadband internet access, bridges and other public works projects — will be instrumental in moving the economy forward once the pandemic eases.
“That’s how we’re going to address the economic downturn and get people back to work,” she said.
Racism and policing
On policing and systemic racism, Reynolds brings a unique perspective. As an officer in the Vancouver Police Department, he’s the only police officer and the only Black man running for a state legislative office in Clark County.
He disagrees with assertions that policing is systemically racist, he said. He promotes internal reform within police departments, like increased bias awareness training, rather than sweeping policy changes.
“The implication is that officers are out there murdering Black people, and as I’ve indicated, that is not the case,” Reynolds said. “Training is always excellent. We need to have more training.”
Cleveland said she supported the policing reforms laid out by anti-brutality organization Campaign Zero, which emerged from the protests in Ferguson, Mo. Their list, referred to as “8 Can’t Wait,” includes requirements for de-escalation and more comprehensive reporting, as well as bans on chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles.
She, like Reynolds, doesn’t agree with calls to defund the police.
“I want to keep the focus on what it is we need to address. We need to address systemic racism, and that begins with an acknowledgment that it exists,” Cleveland said. “I support adopting the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ strategies.”
The candidates also took a moment to identify other politicians they admire. Cleveland tapped longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
“Today, she’s the exact same person as she was when she entered the U.S. Senate in 1992,” Cleveland said. “She doesn’t necessarily seek the spotlight. … She wants to do the right thing and get work done.”
Reynolds pointed to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. He also said he admired Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the Republican from Battle Ground who’s represented this region in Congress since 2010.
“She has done a fantastic job of remembering where she came from,” Reynolds said, adding that he’d keep the same local focus. “What is good for the 49th? What is good for Southwest Washington? That’s where we have to focus.”
Reynolds and Cleveland appear on the general election ballot in the 49th District, which represents west Vancouver. Election Day is Nov. 3.
“I’m marveling at the fact that we’ve just apparently gotten through an entire editorial meeting together without talking about the I-5 Bridge,” Cleveland joked in her closing remarks.