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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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17th Legislative District candidates Harris, Kear differ on issues

Longtime Republican state legislator faces Democratic opponent

By , Columbian staff writer

State Rep. Paul Harris is seeking his seventh term in office representing the 17th Legislative District Position 2. Harris, who first took office in 2011, will face challenger Joe Kear for the seat in November.

During a League of Women Voters forum held Oct. 3, Harris said he still has a lot to offer to his district and work to do in the Legislature.

“One thing I’ve learned is to listen to everyone. I’ve realized no one party has all the answers,” Harris said.

Harris has backed bipartisan legislation, and his voting record shows he occasionally bucks the Republican Party line. In 2019, he successfully sponsored a bill to raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21, a move many Republicans voted against.

Kear said he decided to run after looking at Harris’ voting record and his 27 percent lifetime rating from the Washington State Labor Council .

“I looked at his record and thought I could do a lot better,” Kear said.


Harris has frequently cited Clark County’s growing homeless population at the top of his concerns. He also lists lowering taxes, supporting law enforcement and education as his top priorities.

While meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, Harris said the Legislature allocated money to programs during the last session to address homelessness that have not yet been spent.

“We have got to stop this. We have to clean up our community,” Harris said.

Harris said he worked with local businesses and law enforcement to remove a homeless encampment near his office in Vancouver because of pervasive health dangers it posed.

“If we’re going to set up an encampment and allow it, I’m OK with that, but you provide services. You provide a bathroom. There is no dignity in sleeping in your own you-know-what,” he said.

Kear is also focused on homelessness as well as affordable housing, environmental issues and helping working families. Kear said navigating the current system is too difficult, especially for those already experiencing mental health or addiction issues.

“I think working people and working families are in crisis right now,” Kear said. “We have a crisis of community where people are not listening to each other and respecting and valuing each other.”

Kear said addressing that crisis means taking action on affordable housing, supporting different models of education and reducing health care costs.

“One thing I think is particularly affecting the labor force is the lack of affordable child care,” he said.

17th District-Position 2

Paul Harris

  • Preferred Party: Republican
  • Age: 69
  • Residence: Vancouver
  • Education: Associate of Arts, Ricks College; Bachelor of Science in business administration and accounting, Brigham Young University
  • Occupation: Business owner and Washington state representative
  • Experience: 17th District Position 2, 2011 to present
  • Online:https://electharris.com/

Joe Kear

  • Preferred Party: Democrat
  • Age: 71
  • Residence: Washougal
  • Education: Certified Mechanical Inspector, University of Oregon Labor Education LEAD Program
  • Experience: Precinct Committee Officer; vice chair/secretary Skamania County Democrats
  • Online:https://www.joekear.com

As the need to address climate change grows, Kear said Clark County’s economic future will depend on what the Legislature does now.

“I think we can really prepare for the future by doing things like supporting conversion to electrical transport, where we can, and charging stations and supporting HVAC conversions, too,” Kear said.

Harris said the Legislature needs to proceed carefully when considering climate bills because it puts a lot of pressure on those who can least afford it. One example, Harris said, is the Climate Commitment Act.

“We are very fortunate to live in a state that gets the bulk of its power from renewable resources,” he said. “We have passed some very stringent laws in the last legislative session. … We haven’t seen those fully impact us yet, but they will in January where we will see increases in our fuel tax.”

During the forum, Harris said public safety is the No. 1 issue voters talk to him about. He said he understands the concerns about rising crime because he was a crime victim when his truck was stolen.

“We need to make sure we have police that are trained, and we need more police. If we want to put social workers with police, I am fine with that, but that takes more money, not less,” Harris told The Columbian’s Editorial Board.

Harris also said he would support creating a law enforcement training center in Clark County.

Although it may be more expensive now, Kear said developing community policing models with law enforcement will save taxpayers money down the road.

“People can get to know the law enforcement officers in their area … and have confidence (the officers) are trained in equitable law enforcement,” he said.

Kear said he expects addressing previous legislation that restricted police pursuits to be front and center during the 2023 legislative session. He also suggested decentralizing law enforcement in Skamania County to help reduce response times that have grown longer over the years.

Harris was unavailable to be interviewed for this story, so his comments were drawn from previous interviews and events.


The two candidates are worlds apart when it comes to fundraising: Harris has raised $171,000; Kear has raised $27,536.

The majority of Harris’ contributions have come from political action committees, 41 percent, and businesses, 47 percent. Just over 8 percent of Harris’ contributions were from individual donors.

Major donation sources for Kear were individual donors, 66 percent, the Democratic Party, 15 percent, and unions, 9 percent, among others.

Although Kear raised far less than Harris, he received more contributions from individual donors. Kear received $18,070 from donors, including former 3rd Congressional District candidate Carolyn Long. Harris received $14,453 from individual donors.