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Thursday, September 21, 2023
Sept. 21, 2023

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Four candidates vie to fill 17th District seat Kraft is vacating

3 Republicans, 1 Democrat seek seat in redrawn district

By , Columbian staff writer

As state Rep. Vicki Kraft runs to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District — leaving her seat open in the Legislature — four hopefuls are campaigning to fill the role.

Democrat Terri Niles and Republicans Anthony Ho, Hannah Joy and Kevin Waters are vying for House Legislative District 17, Position 1, which Kraft, a Republican, has held since 2017. The newly redrawn district now runs from east Vancouver into Skamania County, where Joy and Waters live.

The candidates met virtually with The Columbian’s Editorial Board Monday to dive into local issues. Ho entered the conversation late due to technical difficulties, but was able deliver an opening statement and answer all questions.

Despite none of the candidates having previous involvement in the Legislature, they all have a degree of experience in local commissions, boards or agencies. Niles was a former Clark County Charter Review commissioner. Joy is a current Skamania County Republican Central Committee member.

Waters currently serves as economic development manager for Skamania County and is the director of the Skamania Economic Development Council. Ho, a retired a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, leads a union local representing federal court officers.

Budget surplus

Washington’s revenue forecast is exceeding expectations, and the candidates unanimously suggested that the Legislature should place a portion of it into a rainy-day fund. However, their perspectives diverged related to how money should be spent.

Waters said the excess revenue should be reinvested into communities, including police, mental health and infrastructure, which was loosely reiterated by the other candidates.

Money should be set aside for emergencies, Ho said, because there can never be enough funding when a disaster unfolds. Niles said she is concerned that cutting taxes wouldn’t be wise because inflation has remained high while consumer spending is trending lower; as a result, there may not be enough revenue being collected by the state.

Conversely, Joy said lowering taxes could help families during inflation. Specifically, she would like to see a 1 percent cut from sales taxes and a temporary reduction in gas taxes, noting that the latter can be the “bread and butter” for those who must commute to their job.

All candidates also suggested that excess funding should be directed toward education but provided different reasonings.

Joy said Washington’s education system isn’t up to par because she sees a push for sex education and critical race theory in its curriculum, although the state schools superintendent denies that critical race theory is taught in Washington schools. Waters said he doesn’t subscribe to the social component of the conversation, but rather points to poor test scores as a driver for improvement.

Ho believes that parents see a dissatisfaction with the state’s current curriculum, which is causing a decline in enrollment and a subsequent crisis in schools. Niles rebutted this argument and said there are a variety of reasons for reduced enrollment rates that don’t relate to curriculum woes, such as dangers presented by the pandemic.

Interstate 5 Bridge replacement

All candidates agree the I-5 Bridge needs to be restored.

As a co-owner of multiple businesses, Waters said he recognizes how a simple bottleneck on the river crossing can disrupt a product’s distribution if a truck misses a dock time. He elaborated further, saying a stable bridge is an integral part of economic prosperity. Although Southwest Washington eventually needs a third bridge, the current one needs to be tended to, Waters added.

Niles supports the bridge replacement, noting that it’s long overdue. She added that including transit options, such as light rail, are critical for its longevity and expanded use.

Joy and Ho support efforts to improve the crossing but said the process is skewed against the public’s preferred outcome. They vehemently opposed light rail and tolling. Ho said the absence of alternatives to light rail was an affront to voters, while Joy questioned how much money Clark County wastes on providing public transportation.

Addressing gun violence

All Republican candidates focused on mental health as the primary link to gun violence.

Ho, a retired federal law enforcement officer who currently leads the Oregon Court Security Officers Association, said more should be invested into law enforcement and mental health programs. He supports involuntary commitment of those who may exhibit worrisome qualities — while also stating that gun restrictions harm people’s rights.

Joy said law enforcement is prevented from doing its job by state regulations. To reduce mass shootings, police need to be better funded, she added. This solution was echoed by Waters, who admitted he doesn’t know how to clearly address gun violence.

In contrast to the Republican candidates, Niles was unequivocally supportive of implementing gun restrictions, such as red flag laws and limited magazine capacities. The candidate, who worked as an intensive care nurse, relayed that she saw patients with gun-related injuries that weren’t always rooted in a mental health crisis.

Abortion rights

When the editorial board asked whether the candidates would support a state ban on abortion, Niles stated her position simply: no. However, the remaining individuals had more elaborative responses.

Two of the candidates, Ho and Waters, pointed to their Catholic background as a reason for their own anti-abortion convictions. However, the former said he would not support imposing a complete abortion ban because he recognizes his belief is religiously based, which should remain out of politics. Waters, on the other hand, said he would support a statewide restriction on abortion access. When pressed, Joy said she is also a proponent of a statewide ban.