10 candidates vying for three Open House seats in southwest Washington

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The Washington State Capitol building in Olympia.

Austin Jenkins/Northwest News Network

There are three offices inside the marble walls of the Washington House of Representatives that next year will have new Southwestern Washington faces sitting behind them.

It’s up to voters to decide which of 10 candidates in total will sit there.

Representatives Vicki Kraft, Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff, all Republicans, are not seeking re-election. Kraft joined a crowded field bid for the U.S. Congress, while Vick and Hoff said they were ready to return to work as private citizens.

Among those vying for vacant seats are current and former nurses, a teacher, a lawyer, a small newspaper publisher, a former airline pilot and a security guard at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.

With just over two months until the August 2 primary, the peloton will start campaigning in earnest in a bid to earn one of the open spots. In interviews, they shared high-profile platforms that they hope will sway voters.

One thing is certain, however: recent election history will not be of much help to political forecasters. The two districts involved — the 17th and 18th legislative districts — have changed significantly in Washington’s recent redistricting process.

“Our demographics are changing,” said John Zingale, a teacher at Vancouver iTech Preparatory and a Democratic candidate for the 18th district seat. “It’s increasingly diverse, with people from different backgrounds and different languages. And I think that’s a good thing.

Until this year, the 17th Legislative District stretched from east Vancouver to central Clark County. Today, however, it runs through Camas and Washougal and extends into rural Skamania County. The district has an open seat.

The 18th, which has two seats open, once covered a circuit of small towns in Clark County, such as Camas, Battle Ground, La Center and Ridgefield. Now it mainly covers chunks of central Clark County and North Vancouver.

Republicans focus on inflation and crime

Judging solely by the number of candidates, Republicans appear to be hungrier for open seats. Seven of the 10 candidates are members of the GOP.

Many of those polled by the OPB expressed the greatest concern about rising inflation. Republicans have targeted Washington’s Democratic-controlled legislature for spending a budget surplus of $15 billion — a record amount — instead of giving taxpayers a break.

“We need to do all the tax relief we can at the state level,” said Greg Cheney, a Battle Ground attorney and a Republican running for the 18th District seat. “Gas tax, property tax, fees, user fees, park fees, whatever… whatever we can do now.”

John Ley, a former airline pilot and former Senate candidate who has written frequently for local conservative newspaper Clark County Today, echoed the tax cut strategy. Ley is running for the same seat as Cheney.

“In a time of record revenues, we could afford to reduce state sales tax, while providing money for services and allowing people to keep a little more of their money that way” , said Ley.

Democrats’ attempts to reform the police have also fueled candidate nominations.

In 2020, Democrats passed several laws aimed, among other things, at addressing excessive force and racial bias in the criminal justice system. Several bills were due for revision a year later, such as one that law enforcement said prohibited them from transporting certain people in the midst of behavioral health crises for treatment.

“We are creating victims out of criminals,” said Hannah Joy, a Republican candidate from the 17th District who publishes a newspaper in Skamania County. “And that’s a huge problem. We need to stop crime in its tracks.

The Republican candidates, who have all backed strong budgets for law enforcement, have often raised behavioral health and homelessness as major issues. While many said they supported increased investment in social programs, they also saw certain practices as enabling.

Anthony Ho, a Republican running in the 17th, said he supports more money to treat behavioral health disorders and substance abuse. He called some current efforts “band-aids,” such as needle-exchange programs.

“I guess if I’m trying to use an analogy here, it’s like you have a teenager and you don’t actually hold him to a standard, don’t hold him accountable, he’ll try to run away or try to run away. ‘try to do as much as they can, until someone says, “No, that’s the line, and you can’t cross it”. You have to take some responsibility and go for it. before,” said Ho, a retired federal police officer who currently works security at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.

Democrats want investments in health care and education

For each of the three vacant seats, there is a Democratic candidate. And they each come from areas that have recently become political hotspots.

Terri Niles, a former critical care nurse and labor organizer, has previously testified about health care bills and said she would support legislation that would help prevent healthcare professionals from burning out.

“I can tell you firsthand that nurses are leaving the profession,” Niles said. “This pandemic has been hard on them. They went from being one of the most trusted professions to people who publicly questioned them.

Niles, who is running in the 17th, shares a lot with another candidate from the 18th. Duncan Camacho, a current intensive care nurse, said he was surprised to hear that more nurses had failed to run for office after anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests became regular disruptions.

“As a nurse, you try to help people, and people don’t believe you. They really think you have a political agenda,” Camacho said.

Camacho noted that his campaign isn’t just a byproduct of pandemic frustrations. He said he frequently monitors health care bills in the Legislature and has recently become frustrated that some have failed to gain traction. He said he would support efforts to lower prescription drug prices and make drug companies more transparent.

Democrats have largely affirmed their support for the new infrastructure. They expressed support for current plans to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River, an estimated $5 billion overhaul.

Zingale, the college teacher, pleaded for more funding for the school. He drew attention to overcrowding in the Ridgefield School District, which in May saw a $62.6 million bond fail for the fifth straight time.

The pandemic, Zingale added, has shown how many schools need new ventilation systems.

But Zingale said his campaign was also trying to show his students that the vitriol that has seeped into hospitals and schools in recent years will not stop people from working together.

“Students see that a lot of people are just yelling, and I want to show my students and lead by example,” he said. “I think we need to start governing again and not just yelling at each other.”

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