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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

17th District candidates Harris, Kear split on taxes, gun control, climate policy

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 13, 2022, 6:00am

Two of the four candidates running for Legislative District 17 House Position 2 recently met with The Columbian’s Editorial Board to argue why they would be the best aspirant to represent east Vancouver and its neighboring unincorporated areas.

Republican Rep. Paul Harris faced off with Democrat Joe Kear during the virtual July 7 meeting and spoke about major issues spanning from improving community safety to implementing statewide gun regulations. Republican Earl Bowerman declined the invitation to participate, and Independent Republican Justin Forsman was disinvited for past misconduct and violating The Columbian’s policies.

The incumbent, who has held the position since 2011, said he is seeking reelection to continue making what he called “common sense choices” and to lower the cost of living and improve public safety. Harris outlined his work as a Republican state legislator who has often worked and collaborated with Democrats, remarking that he is able to advocate for everyone regardless of party ties.

This is Kear’s first time running for office, but he has been active in community service and politics for decades, primarily with labor and county Democrat groups. He said he opted out of running for the district’s open Position 1 seat because the area needs a representative that is part of the majority.

Harris and Kear shared similar perspectives on general issues. They emphatically rebuked the idea of a state ban on abortion and endorsed the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, with both candidates saying there needs to be a third connector in the future.

Yet Harris and Kear diverged on other regional topics.

State funding

Washington’s revenue forecast exceeded expectations in its last session, and the candidates had different approaches to how the Legislature should use the money.

Kear said money should be invested in infrastructure, child care and mental health programs. Although these areas were addressed by the Legislature this year, he said more needs to be done.

“We need to put the investment in people now so that they will have good jobs and be secure in the future,” Kear said. “There will be more revenue available for the state in the future.”

Harris argued that the recent session yielded money that hasn’t been expended and is already dedicated to these programs. Instead, he said, there needs to be more money allocated into a rainy-day fund and taxes need to be reduced for a short period to alleviate the cost of living amid surging inflation.

Law enforcement, guns

Kear wants to invest in training for equitable law enforcement and community policing, while also removing certain responsibilities. He said mental health professionals need to oversee crisis intervention rather than officers, and traffic stops for minor offenses should be excused, such as broken taillights.

“At what point do you say what is lawlessness and what is not?” Harris contended, saying policing must remain consistent.

The candidates’ views on gun regulations contrasted, as Kear asserted that restrictions have a direct correlation to minimizing mass shooting events. Specifically, he claimed the expiration of former president Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban – signed into law in 1994 — led to an uptick in gun violence.

Harris said there isn’t a solution to neutralizing mass shootings other than investing more in comprehensive mental health programs.


Climate change is not a state problem rather than a world problem, Harris said, and the government must act accordingly — it shouldn’t be required to intervene more than it must. He pointed to Washington’s clean air and water as indicators that the region’s environment is healthy.

“What little we can do in our state will make a miniscule change if we really want to make a difference,” he added.

Kear argued the effects of climate change are rampant in the Pacific Northwest as droughts become more common and fires sweep through the region, scorching and destroying forests in the process. In response, the state must contribute to conservation by supporting the clean energy industry, which would expand the local workforce.

Columbian staff writer