Nine candidates running for county, state and national offices answered audience questions at a KP Civic Center forum Oct. 4 organized by the KP Business Association, KP Civic Center Association, KP Community Council and the KP News. Community Council President and Key Peninsula Fire Department Battalion Chief Chuck West moderated.
The candidates included:
- Todd Bloom (R) running for the 6th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D). A representative for Kilmer read a statement in his absence.
- Larry Seaquist (D) and State Rep. Jesse Young (R), running for state Legislative District 26, Position 1;
- State Rep. Michelle Caldier (R) and Randy Sptizer (D), running for state Legislative District 26, Position 2;
- Former state Sen. Bruce Dammeier (R) and Pierce County Councilman Rick Talbert (D), running for Pierce County xxecutive;
- Mike Lonergan (NP), running unopposed for re-election as Pierce County assessor-treasurer; and Paul Pastor (NP), running unopposed for re-election as Pierce County sheriff.
Below are excerpts from candidates’ answers to some of the questions relevant to the office they hold or are seeking. Since not all questions pertained to all positions, excerpts are arranged by subject and appear in the order they were given.
How will you bring improved government service to the KP?
Talbert: How we can serve the citizens throughout the vast geographic area of Pierce County is through technological advances; we can take advantage of that to bring county government into every home. The county council district I represent now has the highest level of poverty, the lowest income, of all of the county council, so I understand what it’s like to represent people who feel like they’ve been left behind often by their government. We just need to be smarter about how we deliver services.
Dammeier: First of all, I think we should return the sheriff’s office to the end of 302. The second thing I would do is look at mental health needs. I’m proud to have worked with Jesse [Young] and Michelle [Caldier] to hold the tolls flat when I was in the Senate. If those tolls get too high, it’s going to create a wall—an economic wall and a cultural wall—between the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor and the rest of the county.
Lonergan: The assessor-treasurer’s office is a nonpartisan position; what we call a ministerial position. In other words, if you do it all right, there shouldn’t be a lot of controversy. Here on Key Peninsula, you have one of the lowest tax rates in the county. You pay $12 per $1,000 of value in your home or business and if you live in Tacoma you’d be paying over $16 per $1,000. When you do see your values go up 8.8 percent, as they did this year, do not then assume your taxes are going to go up 8.8 percent. Typically, taxes go up 1 percent a year plus whatever voted taxes you have decided on in your own school district, fire district.
Bloom: The big issue for me right now is our economic growth and getting the economy running again. We’ve seen median household incomes that continue to suffer even though we’ve got good unemployment rates. The labor participation rate is still very, very low; it rivals the rate at the end of the Carter administration. My solution would be relieving regulation on small business and tax relief for American taxpayers. I believe that would go a long way toward stimulating the economy.
Pastor: You’re underserved. This area is growing and you don’t have a live body at your precinct right now. There’s something wrong with that. I’m spending less than half than any law enforcement agency in Pierce County per capita per year. I’ve been arguing years for more service. We may have an opening now for more service; I’d appreciate your help with that. (Pastor was delayed coming to the forum and delivered only one statement.)
What will you do to restore public education funding?
Caldier: One of the things that’s happened since I’ve been elected is we’ve put in historical amounts into K-12 funding. The other piece of the problem is we currently have what I believe is a very flawed system in how we allocate the funds. There are basic inequities. The property taxes they can levy in Bremerton are far less than the taxes they can levy in Mercer Island. My opinion is that we need to address the funding system.
Spitzer: Funding through levies has really become very problematic. They’re much too high. What’s happened is we’re forced to find an equitable way to provide ample education—that’s the word that’s in the constitution—to all students across the entire state. One of the questions I have is what exactly is that number? We haven’t even talked about that and we need to find out. Once we do, the concern that I have is, do we have a tax system in place that will allow us to actually fund it? One idea is a levy swap, but that doesn’t do anything to reduce the tax burden on taxpayers at the local level.
Young: We solve this with transparency. That starts and ends with putting education into it’s own budget by itself and prioritize it at the beginning of the session so that every one of you can actually see if we are going to maintain our word. The truth is, in the current way that budgets are negotiated, they’re done in backdoor meetings in secret, which means that any one of us, including my opponent who did it for eight years, can come out and promise you anything. And then they go into a backdoor deal and negotiate all the no’s in the privacy of that meeting, so they don’t have to take the political heat that would come with breaking their word to you. That’s why education hasn’t been getting funded. Because you can’t hold us accountable.
Seaquist: I’m running to fix our politics, so we can invest in education, so that our lives will start turning up again. The Legislature did nothing. They have not invested significant money. Our schools are radically underfunded. We’ve also got to spend money on higher education, we’ve got to spend money on mental health; we’ve got a wide range of things to do. How we’re going to get that done is not with Democrats or Republicans, it’s because of a new centrist coalition that we haven’t seen since Dan Evans that puts the politics away and starts doing this kind of serious work.
How will you help the state fix SR-302?
Seaquist: We all know we need a new 302 and we need to decide what that route will be. Almost certainly the east end is going to come across the top of Burley Lagoon, not over it, and we have to figure out where it connects into 16. Those are citizen decisions, but we need some state money to fund that thinking and planning process and then enough money to go ahead and build it all the way to Allyn. There’s one more thing we have to do at the same time: We’ve got to renegotiate the [Tacoma Narrows] Bridge deal. We got screwed on that deal. That new gas tax should also be helping pay for our tolls, just like we’re helping pay for everybody else’s bridges.
Young: I serve on the transportation committee. Over the course of this past interim, since we’ve been out of session, I’ve brought out funding and helped the regional [transportation] managers to bring money out here to fix your crosswalks and bring attention to this area. I’m also leading the effort to get their budgeting redone so we don’t have to compete with funding that goes toward the Hood Canal Bridge.[Tacoma Narrows] Bridge tolls doubled under his [Seaquist’s] watch. All we ever got, from all the legislators that sat here, was, “You can’t do anything to refinance the tolls.” Yet that’s exactly the solution I got done for you this year, the first Legislature that ever thought to sit down with the state treasurer and renegotiate how they do their account budgeting so they could actually bring state money into this account.
Spitzer: Like you, I’ve been traveling on Highway 302 and watching traffic explode, and I share your concerns about what’s going on. I’d certainly fight, even before we got money for other projects, to at least restore the bus schedule we had out here before and extend those even further. I agree also that we need to be looking for some alternatives to highway 302. Frankly, I think legislators who have been in high-density areas have been soaking up transportation dollars incredibly and it’s time for more rural areas to get some of those dollars flowing in this direction.
Caldier: There’s a huge disconnect between the people and what happens in Olympia, and that has happened for far too long. I had the Pierce County lobbyist in my office telling me to vote for the gas tax, asking for a couple billion dollars, and I said “Wait, what’s in it for my district? What about the Purdy Spit?” And she said, “What’s the Purdy Spit?” I’ve made a commitment to make sure that we are a priority, and [WSDOT] told me they are going to plan on putting another lane in to at least alleviate some of the congestion right there around Peninsula High School.
Do you endorse your party’s candidate for president?
Bloom: I was a little bit late to support our nominee, Donald Trump, but I do support him for president. I certainly don’t approve of all the statements he’s made over the course of the campaign. Whoever becomes our next president, I think it’s incredibly important that we have adult supervision, that we have a Congress that represents our values and who will be able to effectively address our key and most pressing issues, which I believe are our economy, our defense and our security. Even if our commander in chief is untrustworthy or not very knowledgeable about that, we need to have people in Congress who can do that job from day one.
Seaquist: My wife, Carla, and I both support Hillary, but what I would like to say though is that I have a deep admiration for Bernie’s energy, for his critique of what our problems were, for his insistence that we act. Those were very important things for the country to hear. There’s one thing Clinton is saying that I strongly disagree with: She is proposing an approach to education that is highly federal. We should bring education to the local level. I oppose charter schools, I oppose federal testing, and I think we’re going to have to do battle with our first woman president on education.
Young: As an IT professional that understands global commerce, that has set up email servers, understands data security, what [Clinton] did with her emails, the way she put our national security at risk and then lied about it, is someone I cannot support. That unfortunately leaves me with one person that—I don’t know what the heck he’s going to do. I do know that when I was working as a software engineer down in California, I had the realization that if I didn’t enter politics, my kids were going to be faced with not getting the high-paying jobs. Because if you walked around the floors of the IT shops that I worked in California, you would be able to count on your fingers how many native-born American people are working those jobs these days. Those jobs are going to all the people from India and they’re going to all the people from China. They’re basically importing them, except now they’ve gotten good enough over on those foreign shores that they’re exporting those jobs. I do know that Donald J. Trump does know a little bit about global commerce, and that’s who I’ll be voting for.
Spitzer: When it came to caucus time here, I was a Bernie supporter. My wife was a Hillary supporter. I’m very comfortable with supporting her for president. I’m a bit concerned that she’s become so beat up the last 20, 30 years that she tends to equivocate, doesn’t come straight out with things as much as she should, but I am horrified by what I see coming from Donald Trump.
Caldier: Donald Trump was not my No. 1 choice. I happen to really like his choice in Pence. One of my great passions is government accountability. I think that’s one of the biggest problems that we currently have in our state and in our country, and that’s something I’ve tried to champion myself since I’ve been in office. Honestly, I think that Trump would do a far better job of having a system of checks and balances on our government.
Lonergan: Did I mention earlier that I’m running for a nonpartisan position? I’m very interested in our local government here. I will be working with one of these two gentlemen [Dammeier or Talbert] and the state knows we have a Pierce County delegation. We all work together. We can be a force by being for you and not for one party or the other. But, I’m not going to dodge the question. My wife is very active in the Republican Party, she is very persuasive, so I am going to be voting for Mr. Trump.
Talbert: We have 850,000 citizens in Pierce County and every single one of them deserve to be represented; not by a Republican, not by a Democrat, but by the people who are sent there to do their work. That is the approach I have taken to my job every single day. I represent 850,000 people. Not what the Democratic Party wants, not what Rick Talbert wants, but what’s important to the citizens. The things that are important to Pierce County aren’t partisan. I’m going to be supporting Hillary Clinton because frankly I don’t think the other option is even viable.
Dammeier: I saw a survey the other day that said 57 percent of the American public are not voting for a candidate, they’re voting against a candidate. That is a huge problem. One of the things that has been refreshing in this race [with Talbert], we do this a lot and I would tell you that clearly we’re very different candidates and I would tell you that I think I am certainly the more qualified candidate, right? Wouldn’t surprise you to hear that. But I would tell you I don’t think Rick is a bad candidate, and I wish that is what we had—I wish that those were our choices for president. On voting, so I’m not dodging anything, I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I honestly haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for yet. I’m still struggling with that.