Midterms may not get as much attention as their flashy cousins — presidential elections — but Lewis County voters will have thick ballots filled with important issues to wade through in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6.
This year’s general election ballot includes four statewide initiatives, an advisory vote, a local initiative, an expansion of Twin Transit’s taxing district, U.S. Senate and Congressional races and four races in two of Washington’s legislative districts. Voters will also have contested races for Lewis County Assessor and Lewis County Commissioner for District 3. Toledo residents will decide on a school bond and Onalaska residents will vote on a fire hall bond.
The Chronicle’s editorial board recently got together and weighed the positives and negatives of each of these choices and offer you our endorsements — as well as our opposition to several measures.
However you choose to vote, please turn in your ballot by Nov. 6. Unregistered voters can still register and get a ballot by Oct. 29. For more information about registering to vote, getting a replacement ballot if yours is misplaced or locations to turn in your ballot, go to elections.lewiscountywa.gov/.
Initiative 1631 — Establishes Pollution Fees, Clean-Energy Promotion and a Public Oversight Board
We’re a firm no on Initiative 1631. This initiative is touted by supporters as a tax on big energy — a fee on our biggest sources of pollution to help combat climate change.
The reality, however, is the carbon taxes won’t only affect powerful corporations — Washington residents will be saddled with an immediate 14-cent gas tax increase when we already have one of the highest gasoline taxes in the nation. The gas tax is projected to increase over the course of several years and expected to generate billions in revenue.
Gasoline taxes are what is commonly referred to as a “regressive” tax. Simply put, this means they disproportionately affect residents with lower incomes — a person making $30,000 per year will pay a higher percentage of their income toward a regressive tax than a person making $300,000 per year. Gas taxes also disproportionately affect rural communities because we have fewer options for public transportation. Unlike in Seattle, which has an expanding light rail and well-developed bus system, most of rural Washington residents are completely reliant on cars to get around.
If you need further convincing, public power providers, including the Lewis County PUD, have predicted that carbon fees will result in increased power costs — another way rural Washington will be unfairly burdened by this tax.
Further still, those billions raised by the tax will be distributed by a 15-member appointed board. Who will be on that board? Where will their allegiances lie? We don’t know. We won’t be able to choose them and we won’t be able to vote them out of office if we aren’t pleased with their work.
Washington is already one of the greenest states in the nation — we must find another way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions than unfairly burdening individuals and families.
We recommend Lewis County voters check the “no” box when their ballots arrive.
Initiative 1634 — Prohibits Local Taxes on Soda, Snacks
We understand opposition to a vice tax — is it fair for local governments to tax soda and candy in an effort to get revenue? Is it the government’s place to tacitly judge our choice to buy sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks with a so-called sin tax? Well, we already have taxes for cigarettes and beer, but the philosophical argument is less on our minds than the question of who is really backing this initiative.
Initiatives are supposed to be started by Washington citizens, but in this case the torch is being largely carried by major soda companies. All told, the measure has reported $20 million in donations, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Most of that money comes from donors including Georgia-based Coca-Cola with $9.6 million, New York-based Pepsico with $7.2 million, Texas-based Dr. Pepper Snapple Group with donations totaling about $3 million and Red Bull North America, based in California, at about $237,000.
Proponents say the measure is about keeping groceries affordable, but we don’t buy that. It seems to us these companies are more concerned about their own bottom line — if people buy fewer six packs of Coke because of a soda tax, their profit margin goes down. It’s disingenuous to say the least.
That’s not to mention that this measure purports to be a solution to a problem that we don’t believe actually exists. Local leaders will never vote to impose such a tax as leaders in Seattle have done — our elected officials understand there’s no local support for such a measure, and that they’d be voted out of office sooner than you can say “Pepsi” if they did.
Again, this is an easy “no” vote from us at The Chronicle.
Initiative 1639 — Requires Background Checks, No Gun Ownership Under 21, Criminalizes Noncompliant Storage
This measure is more complicated, but then again, that’s part of the problem. Opponents have said, and we agree, that this measure bundles too many issues into one initiative — a process designed to deal with just one issue at a time.
Initiative 1639 would require increased background checks and a waiting period for firearms sales, would increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21, would require gun owners to complete a firearm safety training course and would create legal penalties for guns that are not stored safely.
We might be persuaded to feel favorably about some of these components. Yes, gun owners should store their guns safely to avoid them falling into the wrong hands — such as children. Yes, gun owners should understand firearm safety. Yes, background checks could help keep guns out of the wrong hands.
But, and this is a big but, all these things packed together, combined with a poor definition of “assault weapon” and a requirement for an increased minimum age is just not something we can get behind.
The initiatives’s language has already come into legal question. The National Rifle Association challenged the ballot language and a judge ordered the measure removed. That decision was reversed on appeal, leaving us with the initiative we have now.
Gun violence is an ever-worsening epidemic in our country, but the best solution will be one that does not penalize responsible gun owners in a rushed effort to pass a flawed initiative.
We recommend voting “no” on Initiative 1639.
Initiative 940 — Requires Mental Health and De-escalation Training for Police, Adds ‘Good Faith’ to Deadly Force Standard
Initiative 940 has received considerably less publicity and fostered less open debate, at least locally, than the other three initiatives on November’s ballot. Like Initiative 1639, we worry this measure has too many components to truly reflect the intent of the initiative process.
First, it would require law enforcement officers to undergo training in violence de-escalation, mental health and first-aid training. That all seems like common sense, and is training already common at least in our local law enforcement agencies.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in particular has hosted crisis intervention training well-attended by agencies throughout Southwest Washington. Officers are also well-versed in first aid and have begun carrying opioid antidote naloxone. One Centralia officer in particular, featured recently in The Chronicle, has revived two people found overdosing.
But tacked onto those common-sense requirements is a much more controversial portion — a change to the state’s use-of-force standards that would make it easier to prosecute an officer accused of killing a person.
According to Revised Code of Washington Chapter 9A.16.05 a “public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable...”
The initiative would remove the existing requirement that prosecutors prove an officer acted without malicious intent. What would remain, according to proponents of the initiative, is the “good faith test.” Instead of having to prove an officer acted maliciously, or with an intent to do harm, a prosecutor would only have to prove that, if an officer uses deadly force, a reasonable person would not agree that the action was justified.
We think that’s a step too far. Yes, police must use their power responsibly and yes, Washington’s existing law sets a high bar for prosecuting an officer for use of force, but we don’t believe this initiative is the right way to address those concerns.
Home Rule Charter
We in The Chronicle’s editorial board have made our opinion pretty clear on this — we absolutely recommend voting in favor of beginning the home rule charter process.
Before we line out our argument again, a few facts. A “yes” vote for this ballot measure is not a vote to approve a charter, a vote to increase the county commission to five or more members or to approve any other change in government. A “yes” vote in November is simply a vote to allow freeholders — representatives elected separately — to begin the process of drafting a new county constitution. When they’re done, then Lewis County residents will have a chance to review their work and vote in favor or against changes to county government.
Proponents of this measure, most notably The Chronicle’s editorial board and One Lewis County — a political action committee formed by the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce — have argued that the county’s three-commissioner form of government is outdated and does not adequately represent the diverse landscape of Lewis County.
Furthermore, we believe consistent drama and disfunction at the county’s highest level of management — the commissioners — shows the need for more adults in the room. In the past few years the county has been sued repeatedly for claims of workplace harassment and hostile work environments, has been caught meeting outside of open public meetings laws, is unable to balance its budget without dipping into reserves year after year and struggles to make decisions on what seem like basic issues. It’s time for citizens to get involved and create a form of government that is more efficient and responsible.
Unfortunately, there’s a big wrench in the works, and even more unfortunately, it is yet another illustration of why we need a change in government.
The Lewis County Board of Commissioners has only a few small roles in the home rule process, most notably to determine how freeholders will appear on the ballot. The state constitution gives two options — break the freeholders up by commission district or legislative district, whatever works best. Our legislative districts cut Lewis County into lopsided chunks, but the commission districts are fairly even.
The commissioners instead chose a nonexistent third option — to create freeholder “sub-districts.”
One Lewis County has filed a lawsuit to challenge those subdistricts, but a judge won’t rule on the merits of their petition until just a few days before ballots are due.
If the judge rules the commissioners acted unlawfully, the vote will be invalidated. But if the judge sides with the county, the vote for the charter and freeholders counts.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again — the best plan here is to vote like it counts. We urge voters to cast a ballot in favor of the home rule charter process and to vote for a freeholder in their sub-district.
U.S. Senator, First District
For nearly 20 years, Washington has been represented by two Democratic senators — despite the fact that more than half of Washington’s counties traditionally vote Republican.
In Washington’s primary, given the choice between 17-year incumbent Maria Cantwell and a bevy of challengers, Lewis County chose Susan Hutchison, a Republican and former head of Washington’s Republican Party.
Hutchison, a former King 5 reporter, has come out in support of tax cuts which Cantwell did not vote for, advocates for a simpler tax code and for business interests. She has also come out in support of a U.S./Mexico border wall to prevent illegal immigration and is against “single payer” healthcare. She vocally supported and campaigned for President Trump in 2016 and supports his policies. Considering Lewis County voted for Trump, we think Hutchison better reflects Lewis County’s values.
Washington’s two senators have been in office for a combined 42 years — it’s time for a fresh face. We recommend Susan Hutchison for Washington’s position one in the U.S. Senate.
Congressional District 3
In one of the most contentious political climates in recent memory and heated midterm election battles all over the country, Washington’s Third Congressional District has garnered national attention as Democrat Carolyn Long seeks to flip the district back to blue.
Long has built serious momentum throughout the district, but as a Democrat, her values more strongly align with densely-populated Vancouver than rural Lewis County. For that reason, The Chronicle Editorial Board is endorsing incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, but with some reservations.
Both candidates are in some ways moderates. Long has advocated for working across the aisle during her campaign, but Herrera Beutler has put that into action in her years in Congress.
She has voted independently, sometimes against the party line, as when she voted against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. She also came out against President Trump as a candidate, instead writing in Paul Ryan’s name. Since then, Herrera Beutler has been more supportive of Trump’s agenda.
For those reasons, Herrera Beutler has found criticism from both sides, with liberals seeing her as too far to the right, while very conservative voters don’t think she’s quite conservative enough.
Still other voters, and The Chronicle’s editorial board, find fault with Herrera Beutler’s unwillingness to meet with her constituents face to face.
For the past two years, voters in Lewis County have had only a very small handful of chances to meet their representative in a town hall setting. In fact, Herrera Beutler’s last town hall — and we aren’t including campaign appearances — was in January. She speaks at private functions and holds telephonic town halls, but her public events are few and far between.
While Herrera Beutler argues telephone town halls give more of her constituents a voice, we strongly disagree. Questions are all screened during the telephonic meetings, and you can’t overstate the difference between a few words on the phone and an in-person chat and a handshake.
We understand the political climate is ugly and confrontation is frightening, and while we recommend a vote for Herrera Beutler, we strongly urge the candidate to make a stronger attempt to be accountable to voters in the future.
Legislative District 19, Position 1
In Washington’s 19th Legislative District, position 1, incumbent Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, is working to defend his seat against challenger Erin Frasier, a Democrat from Pe Ell.
The 19th District splits off the rural western portion of Lewis County, including land south of state Route 6 and west of Winlock and Vader.
We recognize the value of having a 19th district representative from Lewis County, but the editorial board has chosen to endorse Walsh for another term.
Walsh is a Republican in a long-democratically held seat, and therefore is more likely to represent rural Lewis County’s interests. He also voted against a hastily assembled bill last year that would have limited the rights of the press and Washington residents to attain public records related to their state representatives’ work. For that, we recommend another term for Walsh.
Legislative District 19, Position 2
Position 2 of the 19th District sees Brian Blake, D-Longview, working to retain his seat against challenger Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet.
While we typically endorse more conservative-leaning candidates, Blake has done good work for Lewis County, particularly when it comes to Chehalis basin flooding issues. Blake also has a background in logging, is the chair of the Agricultural & Natural Resources Committee, and is heavily involved with other natural resource-focussed committees.
We recommend voting for another term for Blake.
Legislative District 20, Position 1
In position 1 of the 20th Legislative District, which represents the rest of Lewis County in the state House of representatives, longtime Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis is running to retain his seat against challenger John Thompson, D-Silver Lake.
The Chronicle editorial board will not make an endorsement in this race, as DeBolt is an employee of Lafromboise Communications, Inc., the parent company of The Chronicle.
Legislative District 20, Position 2
In position 2 of the 20th District, another longtime representative, Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, is running to retain his seat against Brennan Bailey, D-Chehalis. We endorse Orcutt for another term.
Bailey is enthusiastic and well-educated, but when it comes to state government, there is no substitute for experience.
Orcutt, while not a Lewis County resident, has worked consistently in the interests of our residents. He served five years as the ranking member of the Transportation Committee and also serves on the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. Orcutt and other area representatives were instrumental in expediting the process to replace the Chamber of Commerce Way overpass in Chehalis after it was damaged beyond repair in 2016 by an oversized load. Orcutt has also been involved in Chehalis Basin flood mitigation work, helped secure a $10 million grant contingent on a $7 million bond for the Toledo School District and has worked in favor of broadband access in rural areas.
We believe Bailey has a bright future, but Orcutt is the right candidate for the 20th District.
Lewis County Assessor
Much has been made this year of the candidates’ party affiliations in the Lewis County Assessor’s race. While Dianne Dorey is a longtime Republican, challenger Amanda Price chose to run with no party preference.
We at The Chronicle honestly think it’s a bit silly to argue over party affiliations when it comes to a fairly straightforward position like the assessor. What matters is a thorough knowledge of tax code, assessments and budgets, and a keen attention to detail.
But our current form of county government lists the assessor as an elected official in a partisan position, and that’s the process we have to work with. If freeholders are allowed to begin writing a new county constitution, it might be a good idea to revisit whether the position, which both candidates have rightly said should not be swayed by politics, should be appointed rather than elected.
Back to the matter at hand — we recommend retaining Dorey as assessor.
While Price has asserted poor leadership in the office, Dorey has a mostly unblemished record of decades of experience in the Lewis County Assessor’s Office, and is the county’s longest serving elected official. We are confident in her ability to continue serving Lewis County, and to set aside politics while doing it.
Lewis County Commissioner, District 3
In Lewis County’s third commissioner district — which encompasses the eastern half of the county — incumbent Republican Gary Stamper is defending his seat against challenger Jerry Pratt, a Cemocrat and former mayor of Toledo.
We recommend Stamper for another term.
Stamper, former principal at Morton/White Pass High School and Mossyrock fire commissioner, was elected to the county commission in 2015 and since then has worked to promote the needs of the most far-flung areas of East Lewis County at the Lewis County Courthouse.
During the commission’s most contentious moments in the past three years, Stamper has consistently stayed out of the fray, putting his district’s needs before drama.
However, at Tuesday’s Meet the Candidates Forum at Centralia College, Stamper said he supported Lewis County residents’ right to put the home rule charter process on the ballot, but that he would not vote in favor of the proposal. We urge him to reconsider his opposition. The home rule charter, as proposed by One Lewis County, would increase the number of commissioners from three to five. If successful, that measure would increase representation for underserved areas of Lewis County. Given his commitment to rural East Lewis County, we would expect Stamper to want the same for rural south or west county residents as well.
Toledo School District Facilities Bond
This one’s a no brainer. Thanks to the actions of our local representatives, Toledo School District representatives have an opportunity to get a $25 million school with a $7 million local investment. The remaining $18 million will come from two sources at the state level — a $10 million distressed schools grant and $8 million in School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP) funding. Yes it’s all taxpayer money, but because of the grant and SCAP funding, local residents will only owe $0.76 per $1,000 of assessed property value per year to give Toledo students the best foot forward in life.
We’re honestly flabbergasted that opposition still exists for this deal — which is only on the table for one election. If voters can’t get over the 60 percent hurdle it’s gone, and they’ll be stuck with the school they’ve got.
We hope the district can pass this bond and give Toledo students the kind of school teens in Chehalis and Centralia already have access to.
Fire Protection District 1 Bond (Onalaska)
Lewis County Fire District 1 in Onalaska is the county’s oldest fire district, and it may also be its most troubled. In the past year the district has lost a commissioner to resignation, fired a chief, lost half its volunteer force in protest after firing its chief, and perhaps worst of all, were forcibly evicted from their main fire hall by the state Department of Labor and Industries due to mold, wood rot and, we’re not kidding, mushrooms growing in the bathroom.
It’s the last issue that brings us to this bond. The district is asking for $1.7 million to build a new station.
Now, if we lived in Onalaska, we on the The Chronicle’s editorial board might not be excited about giving $1.7 million to such a dysfunctional organization. It’s a dilemma. Do you support the bond and hope it’s spent responsibly? Or do you vote against the bond and have no in-town station?
We recommend passing the bond, but urge the commissioners to do right by the constituents whose lives are often in the hands of their organization. To citizens, we say, go to every meeting, request detailed records (they’re all public) and get involved — that is, run for election if you’re not happy.
Countywide Expansion of Lewis Public Transit Benefit Area
Again, the editorial board has been anything but silent on this issue. In principal, we are in favor of public transportation. A well-run public transportation system provides an outlet for people who, for whatever reason, don’t have a vehicle of their own. It can help economic development, it’s a progressive move, and it’s better for the environment than packed traffic on Interstate 5.
But we don’t have faith in Twin Transit’s plan to expand throughout the county.
Twin Transit has proposed a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax — the amount already paid by shoppers in Centralia and Chehalis, for the remainder of Lewis County. Napavine, however, is not included, as leaders there opted out early.
Twin Transit has said the sales tax will fund service up and down U.S. Highway 12 to Winlock, Vader and Pe Ell and even commuter lines to Thurston and Cowlitz counties.
One of the problems is we don’t know how much money this sales tax will generate. Rural Lewis County doesn’t have a strong sales tax base, as the biggest shopping areas are located in the Twin Cities and therefore already generate revenue for the district.
The other problem is a simultaneous project to build a transit center in downtown Centralia. Plans have the project costing between $7 million and $9.6 million, depending on whether state or federal grants are used, and having room for 12 buses to load at the same time. It’s possible Pearl Street would need another traffic light to shut down traffic long enough for a bus to exit under the most recent plans.
The possible state or federal grants will only pay for construction — operational costs including salary for all those extra drivers and staff members, fuel, repairs and more will have to come from that two tenths of one percent tax. How far will that money realistically stretch? Not nearly far enough to fill up all those bus stops, we believe.
A further concern is the one-track mind of proponents. Twin Transit General Manager Derrick Wojcik-Damers told The Chronicle earlier this year that the transit center project will go forward regardless of whether the taxing district expands.
So without the extra revenue, where will those operations costs come from? Without the expanded territory, where are all those extra buses going to go? Or will the depot and bus terminals sit idle until demand increases at some unknown point in the future?
Twin Transit can’t answer those questions.
We don’t need another empty building downtown, even if it’s a really nice one. We recommend voters turn down this plan. We need to find a better way to provide transportation up and down the I-5 and Highway 12 corridors.