There was plenty of drama in the 18th District Position 2 race long before the candidates’ campaigns were in full swing.
The seat is currently held by state Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, who announced in March he would not seek a third term. Four candidates filed to run, including Republican John Ley. Ley’s eligibility was challenged by Vancouver resident Carolyn Crain, who alleged Ley lives at his longtime Camas home, which is not in the 18th Legislative District.
Ley continued to campaign heavily. But in July, Superior Court Judge David Gregerson ordered that any ballots cast for him in the August primary would not be used to determine the top two candidates.
With Ley ineligible, the two candidates emerging from the August primary were Duncan Camacho, a Democrat, and Greg Cheney, a Republican.
“I’ve always been interested in public service, but I felt like this was the right time. I bring a unique perspective on criminal justice issues and mental health issues,” Cheney said.
As a practicing attorney focusing on business law and indigent defense in Clark County, Skamania County and Battle Ground, Cheney said he has worked with many clients navigating the legal and mental health systems.
He said his experience serving as a board member of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness gives him an understanding of policy and funding issues.
Camacho, a registered nurse who works in an intensive care unit, said he began following health care-related bills a few years ago, which led him to lobbying. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he saw issues around public health become more divisive. Many nurses left the field. So, he said, he realized he needed to do more to ensure legislation was based on facts, not misinformation.
“It’s very unfortunate, as an ICU nurse and going through COVID, that public health became partisan. That was tough to watch,” he said.
Both candidates cite public safety as a leading concern. But their ideas differ.
Cheney wants the Legislature to undo some of the recent police and criminal justice reform laws, legislation that he said is hurting rather than helping citizens.
“I’ve seen, up close and personal, the terrible tragedy that is being brought on folks by the legalization of hard drugs,” Cheney said.
He said minors can be arrested for possessing alcohol, but minors in possession of fentanyl, methamphetamine or heroin “get a slap on the wrist warning.”
“That is a terrible message to send to our kids,” Cheney said.
Rather than focusing solely on law enforcement’s needs, Camacho is looking to build strong partnerships. “Strengthening collaboration between all first responders and lawmakers is something we urgently need,” he said.
Camacho said reducing police, fire and medical response times is critical to saving lives, as is ensuring emergency personnel have the tools they need.
Last year, the state had a $15 billion budget surplus. Cheney said it’s time for the Legislature to return some of that money to working families.
“There was absolutely no tax relief whatsoever,” he said, adding some kind of relief will become even more important when the state’s Climate Commitment Act, which will raise the state’s gas tax by 46 cents, goes into effect next year.
“That is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Cheney said. “It shouldn’t have happened at a time when gas prices are hitting an all-time high.”
Cheney said he also wants a tax break for residents to reduce or offset rising business and occupation taxes, recording fees, title fees, car tabs and other costs.
Camacho said the surplus should go to rebuilding the state’s financial reserves, which were depleted during the pandemic.
“What allowed Washington to be better off than other states through the pandemic is because we had money saved. That savings also helps us with our rates with the federal government. There are benefits to ensuring we have that rainy day fund,” he said.
Camacho said the Legislature should direct relief to residents and families struggling to survive, rather than to everyone, including the wealthy.
“We want to make sure we have some financial relief for our citizens in Clark County but we want to do it in a way that is most effective,” he said.
While health care is important to Camacho, he said there are many other issues the Legislature needs to address.
He said schools need to prioritize math and science programs to ensure students are ready to compete in the global economy.
The region’s chief transportation need is the Interstate 5 Bridge, Camacho said. “We absolutely need a new bridge. It’s incredibly important to our area,” he said.
While possible tolling remains a point of contention for many Clark County residents, he said there may not be a choice. If tolling becomes a reality, he said he wants to see programs in place to make it more affordable for low-income users.
Cheney also supports replacing the I-5 Bridge. He would like a fourth through lane (The current proposal is for three through lanes, plus auxiliary lanes for traffic entering and exiting the freeway). He said he opposes paying for the project with tolls, and doesn’t think there is enough urban density to support a light rail line, though the bridge should be designed so it could accommodate a future line.
Both candidates have been successful in fundraising. Cheney is in the lead with $118,239 in cash and in-kind contributions. Camacho has raised $95,423 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Cheney’s major fundraising sources include individual donors, 24 percent; caucus (Washington State House Republicans), 34 percent; political action committees, 25 percent and businesses, 9 percent.
Camacho has also relied heavily on caucus donations, with 58 percent of his fundraising coming from the Washington State House Democrats. Other major sources include individual donors, 17 percent; political action committees, 15 percent, and unions, 7 percent, among others.