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Nov. 23, 2020

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Orcutt faces challenger Rollet for 20th House seat

Campaigns focus on ‘taxpayer dollars’ in largely rural district

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LONGVIEW — Incumbent Ed Orcutt is facing Will Rollet in the race for the 20th Legislative District House seat that Orcutt has held for nearly two decades. Orcutt points to his history of running constituent-inspired bills, while Rollet’s website bills him as a voice for the working class.

Kalama Republican Orcutt, who is running for his 10th term, said in the 19 years of his legislative career that “most of the bills I run are bills that constituents have brought to me saying, ‘Look, I’ve got a problem. I need help. This is unfair. Can you fix it?'”

From a bill to let people access private, abandoned cemeteries to getting funding for a Woodland baseball field and road improvement projects, Orcutt said he’s always “trying to get some of the taxpayer dollars back into the community for our benefit.”

The 20th District includes parts of Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis and Thurston counties.

Castle Rock Democrat Will Rollet is “a driven leader who will be a voice for the future of Washington,” according to his voter’s guide statement. Rollet did not respond to several requests for interviews with reporters or with The Daily News’ Editorial Board.

According to the voter’s guide, Rollet plans to “work for affordable housing and education options, broadband access, small business development programs, health care for all and commonsense firearms safety regulations.”

Candidates for state House in the 20th District

Ed Orcutt

Age: 57.

City of residence: Kalama.

Education: Bachelor of Science in forest management from the University of Idaho.

Employment: Forest consultant for 28 years; founder of Cascade Forest Management.

Personal: Married.

Civic and political experience: Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Career Development Consortium; Board of Directors, Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts; youth bowling coach; Lions Club member. In the Legislature: Western Legislative Forestry Task Force; Natural Resources Committee; National Conference of State Legislatures; Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee; Joint Transportation Committee.

Will Rollet

Age: Candidate did not provide information.

City of residence: Castle Rock.

Education: Current Lower Columbia College communications student

Employment: Candidate did not provide information.

Personal: Candidate did not provide information.

Civic and political experience: Lions Club member; Kelso Public Library Advisory Board.

He moved to Washington in 2015, and he said he is “unique from most candidates in that he does not own a business or earn more than those he seeks to represent.” He has raised about $2,600, mostly from individuals and the Democratic Party.

“He is truly a voice from the crowd, in touch with the struggles many residents face as they work to better their environments and lives,” his election website said.

Orcutt said as he campaigns, many people he speaks with say their constitutional rights are the biggest issue they’re focused on, and he said he “stands to protect those constitutional rights.”

He also said he’s hearing more concerns about rural broadband since the pandemic started, but he’s been working on that issue for years.

“It’s more highlighted now, but it’s something that a lot of us recognized and had been working on prior to the pandemic,” he said.

Orcutt said he most recently helped pass a bill that would have allowed cities to use more of the locally collected sales tax to expand rural broadband, but “I think there’s still a lot more that we need to do.”

As far as the COVID-19 pandemic response, Orcutt said he’s “concerned” with the way Gov. Jay Inslee has handled it.

“He shut down more of that than he needed to for a longer period of time than he needed to,” Orcutt said. “It was unfair in several ways.”

As an example, Orcutt said it was unfair that government construction projects could continue but private construction was paused.

“That sector was harder hit than what was necessary,” Orcutt said. “To say the government is more important than the people the government serves is wrong and is an assault against the people, so I really think he should have done things differently.”

He said he worked to get businesses, churches and other activities “opened back up as quickly as we could and to do it in a safe manner.”

“I was constantly working with members of my caucus to try and fix when (Inslee) was doing something unfair,” Orcutt said.

The pandemic changed the campaign for Orcutt, as there have been fewer parades and festivals. He said he’s still done many of his normal campaign activities, and his strategy is to focus on his constituents.

“That’s the most important thing to be doing right now, is worrying about what’s happening to my constituents and what I can do to help them,” he said.

Orcutt has raised almost $100,000, mostly from businesses and political action committees.

As the state faces a coming budget shortfall due to COVID-19, Orcutt said the Legislature should have gone into a special session to handle the budget deficit in June. It could have made specific cuts instead of an across-the-board reduction like Inslee ordered, he said.

“Doing it sooner is better than doing it later, because the longer you wait the less time you have to reduce your budget,” he said. “Once the money is spent, it’s spent.”

According to Rollet’s website, he plans to tie the salaries of elected officials to the median wage of constituents in the represented areas, and establish efficiency evaluations of all “tax-funded projects and relationships to ensure that tax dollars are working hardest for those who pay them.”

He also said he plans to “look for existing funds to redirect before suggesting more taxes” and create a maximum tax deduction for companies generating more than $100 million in revenue annually.

Rollet also plans to incentivize hiring local people with the money saved by tying elected official wages to median wage of constituents and prohibit tax breaks that are more beneficial to large businesses than small companies, according to his website.

After his decades in the Legislature, Orcutt said he has the relationships and experience necessary to “protect taxpayers of our state.” One example is his work on various tax structure work groups. He said he wants to make sure an income tax isn’t instituted.

“I’ve had a lot of experience in the tax realm, being on the finance committee for so long, so I think I’ve got some very important background that’s important to the discussion,” he said.

According to the voter’s guide statement, Rollet “is a candidate who understands the economic hardships facing many Washington families and will work to ensure that the taxes they pay are never wasted” and “is the voice from the crowd with a choice for the future.”

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