Candidates for the two District 19 positions in the state House of Representatives met virtually Wednesday evening for a debate in which they hashed out their contrasting views on a number of topics ranging from economic issues to LGBTQ issues.
Hosted by the Wahkiakum County Republicans and Democrats, the debate traded off between comments from the two candidates for state Rep. position 1, incumbent Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and Democratic challenger Marianna Everson, and the candidates for position 2, incumbent Brian Blake, D-Longview, and his opponent Republican Joel McEntire.
While the two pairs of candidates were essentially debating at the same time, the dialogue differed in that Everson and Walsh spent a minimal amount of time attacking each other’s stances, mainly sticking to their own views. Meanwhile, McEntire spent much of the evening working in jabs at his opponent when he answered questions while Blake touted his record and for the most part, kept his responses about his own views.
However, because the candidates each had a two-minute period to answer a question followed by one 30-second response to the candidate who spoke first, there was very little sparring between the candidates during the debate.
Walsh and Everson
The stark differences between the ideologies of Walsh, a staunch conservative, and Everson, who considers herself a progressive among the Democratic party, were apparent right from the opening statements.
Walsh said he first ran and continues to run for his seat as a state Rep. to defend the interests of the 19th District which he characterized in two parts: “jobs and economic development in the private sector” and local schools in the district “who have been on the short end of a lot of school policy and school funding issues.”
Everson highlighted her career as a nurse but also addressed economic inequality between the wealthy and working class — a point she would touch on often throughout the debate — saying the district needs fully funded schools, a healthcare system that “fits our needs not the profits of corporations” and noting large companies and the wealthiest people in the country are turning a profit while the working class is suffering during the pandemic.
Their differences were further illustrated when they were asked by the moderator what is a big goal they want to achieve if they were to be elected and how it affects the district.
Walsh said his big goal was to help the methanol plants in Kalama get through the state’s regulatory permitting process, saying they have gone through “kangaroo court” to try and get their permits.
“This project will do more than just bring thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of operational jobs for our area, it will also show that business can be done and big important development projects can happen in Southwest Washington,” Walsh said.
Everson, sticking to her background in healthcare, told a story about her father who got cancer and died with nothing to his name except a pickup truck. She said the reason this happened was because “we have an immoral, for-profit health insurance industry that profits off of our sickness rather than providing for the needs we have as human beings.”
Everson has been a vocal supporter of a universal healthcare system.
In response to how they intend to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, both candidates said they would reduce taxes on small businesses, but differed in how they would do it.
Everson said that a larger amount of the tax burden needs to be placed on large corporations while cutting taxes for small businesses, though did not give any specifics as to how she would do that.
“Huge multinational corporations like Walmart make their money off of our tax dollars and they deserve to pay more in taxes and the workers that work for them deserve to make more money,” Everson said.
Walsh said he has already begun the work to provide relief for businesses in Washington in three bills he has drafted with District 26 state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor.
“It’s a package of three different tax reform bills and regulatory reform bills and the crux of it is to waive the business and occupation tax, the B-and-O tax, on all businesses in Washington for 12 months,” Walsh said.
Walsh touted the drafted bills as “the single best thing we can do to get businesses back up and running the fastest.”
Perhaps the most contentious point of the debate between Everson and Walsh came when the candidates were asked what are legislators’ role in maintaining peaceful protests in the wake of many peaceful protests around the country advocating for human rights and accountability in policing, some of which have turned violent.
Everson replied to the question by relating an incident in which she showed support for Black lives in Aberdeen and was told by a “right wing” counter-protester that they would “put a bullet in me.” She said it was an example of neighbors being turned on each other.
“We need to stop the divide and conquer bull---t,” Everson said.
Walsh responded to Everson’s comment saying he doesn’t believe it is a partisan issue, adding that he could have gotten her arrested for screaming “obscenities.”
“Marianna, I know some liberal shop owners in Aberdeen who were very upset with you standing in front of their shop screaming obscenities,” Walsh said. “ … You shouldn’t have done that, just as you shouldn’t have protested screaming obscenities in front of my home, I could have had you arrested.”
Blake and McEntire
The debate between the candidates for position 2 featured a heavy dose of McEntire attacking Democrats and Blake, accusing them of “raising taxes,” promoting “higher regulations” and “allowing special interests from outside the district to influence us,” while Blake focused on his record, particularly in the arena of the environment and the natural resource economy in District 19.
In Blake’s opening statement, the incumbent highlighted his extensive ties to Southwest Washington which he says dates back to the 19th century, as well as his time as the chair of the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee where he says he has fought to keep local timber economy strong and is currently fighting to restore the commercial fishing economy.
“I truly believe that is a critical role in the legislature to protect the economy of Southwest Washington and the state,” Blake said.
McEntire, who noted his work as a student counselor at Western Governors University and his service in the military, told voters they have two directions they can go: a Democratic path “that is proven to be failed, that has brought states that were once prosperous to their knees,” or a Republican path “that leads to choices of free people, free markets and low taxes and business-friendly environments that allow businesses to thrive.”
McEntire stayed on the offensive, saying Blake receives more support from Democrats in Seattle than he gets from citizens of District 19.
When asked what their biggest goal would be if elected, Blake said he wants to see the salmon hatcheries achieve full production, noting that he got the Department of Fish and Wildlife “fully funded” in the last budget session.
Blake said he gets pushback on the hatchery production from the “wild fish folks” but he believes hatcheries can run “at full throttle while restoring wild fish runs.”
McEntire touched on the regulatory process of the Department of Ecology, saying they once provided counsel to local governments with “good science” but now they have become a foe for small communities trying to build up their infrastructure and economy through excessive regulations that the legislature has no control over.
He added that he would like to see the state legislature have more control over the Department of Ecology.
“You’ll hear it from my opponent time and time again, that he’ll say, ‘I can’t do anything, it’s the department, it’s the bureaucrats, my hands are tied.’ I don’t want to be in that position,” McEntire said. “I don’t want to say every single two years, as my opponent does, ‘I’m going to work really hard to bring the hatcheries back.’”
The two candidates were asked to give their thoughts on the comprehensive sex education law that is currently on the ballot as Referendum 90 for voters to reject or approve in November, which garnered support from Blake and opposition from McEntire.
Blake made the case that local school districts will have a choice in what curriculum they think is appropriate for their kids and added that the law will help protect children from predators.
“We have a problem with child molestation in this state and in this nation and we need to start arresting and prosecuting child molesters that are hurting our children, so that’s the kind of curriculum I’m looking for.”
McEntire refuted Blake’s claim that the law would help police catch sexual predators, rather it is “social engineering” by Democrats and “normalizing an LGBTQ agenda.”
McEntire first faced criticism for his comment from Everson, who took her time in her debate with Walsh to address it by saying “I am outraged that you would over and over again say that someone in the LGBTQ has an agenda that they want to afford to the rest of the community,” Everson said, while McEntire kept a big grin on his face.
Blake would come around to accuse McEntire of “demonizing” the LGBTQ community in a later question.
McEntire responded to Blake by saying he has never demonized the LGBTQ community.
When the conversation shifted to homelessness, McEntire also pushed the blame onto Democrats by claiming they enable drug addiction, prostitution and stealing in Democratic-run cities, which in turn leads to high homelessness rates.
Blake said substance abuse and mental health issues were the obvious factors of homelessness, and to get a better grasp on the problem one needs to go “up stream” and help the children who are experiencing trauma in adolescence. Blake added that childhood trauma is largely what leads to substance abuse and mental health issues when you end up “down stream.”
The full two-hour debate can be viewed on the Wahkiakum County Republicans and Democrats’ YouTube page titled “Wahkiakum RandDteam” or via the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPCRkHkkzfk.