On the heels of the current legislative session, State Sen. Ann Rivers and Reps. Stephanie McClintock and Greg Cheney from the 18th Legislative District gathered on Saturday for a town hall.
Residents from around the county sat in a lecture hall at Washington State University Vancouver to engage in conversation with representatives and ask questions about hot-button issues like K-12 education funding, property taxes, health care and rent stabilization, among others.
A majority of the attendees of the event were there to learn more about the Knife River situation. The North Dakota-based company proposed building a concrete plant in northeast Vancouver but was opposed by some neighbors.
McClintock, R-Vancouver, let the crowd know that the concrete company had chosen to look elsewhere, which earned a round of applause from the audience gathered in one of the campus’ lecture halls.
“To me, that’s a great example of democracy: people getting together and communicating, reaching out to your councilors (and) to representatives,” said McClintock.
Despite receiving the positive news, some town hall attendees still shared their concerns that Knife River may look into another area of Vancouver and thus impact other community members.
Other topics that made their way into the conversation were rent and housing.
Jackie Harry, a manufactured-home owner in Meadow Verde Park, said her rent has increased 140 percent over the six years she has lived in the community.
“It’s not getting better, and it’s only going to get worse,” Harry said. “We rent the land but are responsible for the house, the maintenance of the yard. … What can you do to help us keep the rental costs at a reasonable rate?”
State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said Washington Senate members are putting $400 million into the Housing Trust Fund.
Cheney, R-Battle Ground, said he was a part of some of the negotiations on the House side.
“There was a handshake deal between a number of Democrats and Republicans on (rent-stabilization bills). Unfortunately, there was an element inside the Democratic Caucus who wanted a 100 percent rent cap solution and not a bipartisan 90 percent solution. It died for that reason, and it didn’t make it to the House floor,” Cheney said. “There was no bill brought by the majority party — they could have brought a bill, and they chose not to.”
He added: “Oftentimes, when I look at these bills, I think it’s a bad idea to let the good enough be the enemy of perfect. From their perspective, there were some that were demanding an absolute 100 percent solution, which was hard rent caps.”
The 18th Legislative District representatives also spoke on K-12 education, prompted by a community member asking why 30 percent of his property tax goes toward public schools. The attendee then brought up the low local test scores compared to national scores.
McClintock, who serves on the House education committee, said that “the basic foundation of how we fund our public schools is inequitable.”
“The fact that we’ve got this beautiful I-Tech sitting on the campus at WSU, funded by the Vancouver school district, and then we have Pleasant Valley Elementary, built in the late ’60s, and the HVAC system fell through the roof when my kids were going there. … There’s an inequity there,” McClintock said.
Regarding the discussions happening in Olympia, she said, “They’re consistently putting Band-Aids on an inadequate funding system.”
But McClintock said she is working on making changes with people like Battle Ground Superintendent Denny Waters.
She also said she beat the drum before the education committee about seeing accountability for students’ dropping test scores. Washington’s test scores are below those of Mississippi, and McClintock noted that 50 percent of students need to meet standards in English language arts, and 70 percent need to be up to the standards in math.
“Because we’re not fully funding basic education, … I do not think that putting the cost of education on the backs of property owners is the way to go,” she said.
The representatives also spoke to the complexities of the Republican Party being in the minority. Cheney agreed on this point as well.
Rivers said that when she started with the Legislature, it was “super bipartisan,” and conversations on topics like education and funding could be had across the aisle. But now it feels like the political parties are split, she said.
“It feels to me like Washington, D.C., has affected Washington state, where now you’ve got ‘this side’ and ‘this side’, and the people in the middle are just being run over,” Rivers said. “This tribalism is absolutely destroying the weave of the fabric of this state. Until we get that under control, we’re not even at the table.”
Rivers, McClintock and Cheney wrapped up the session with promises to keep the conversations going regarding concerns raised during the town hall.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.