BELLINGHAM - Candidates in the 40th and 42nd District legislative races sparred over state spending but seemed to agree on the need to do a better job of supporting both public schools and higher education during a Thursday, Oct. 4 forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
League moderator Tanya Baumgart asked 42nd District candidates Jason Overstreet and Natalie McClendon how they proposed to deal with a State Supreme Court finding that the Legislature is not living up to its constitutional duty to pay for basic education.
Overstreet, the incumbent Republican in Position 1, castigated Democrats for blocking a GOP bill that would have required full funding for education before tackling other parts of the state budget.
Overstreet's challenger, Democrat Natalie McClendon, said it is difficult to meet educational needs without more money.
"We have a disconnect between what people ask for and what voters and the general public are willing to pay," McClendon said.
The two clashed sharply when asked what the state should do to protect agriculture.
Overstreet said no new laws were needed, and called for repeal of the state's Growth Management Act.
"Property rights are all but a distant past in the state of Washington, and dare I say it, in the United States of America," Overstreet said.
McClendon didn't see it that way.
"We provide zoning to protect farmland, and that's part of what the Growth Management Act is asking us to do," McClendon said.
But both McClendon and Overstreet said they opposed a state initiative that would set up state-funded charter schools.
"We can't manage what we have now, and we're going to create another unelected bureaucracy in the form of a charter school commission?" Overstreet asked.
McClendon said the alternative schools would siphon money out of existing schools controlled by elected school boards.
The other 42nd District candidates, incumbent Republican Vincent Buys and Democratic challenger Matt Krogh, displayed similar contrasts. But Buys said he favors the charter school initiative as a way of giving parents more options, while Krogh opposes it.
Asked to define their guiding principles, Krogh mentioned "equality of opportunity." He repeatedly criticized the state's tax system as putting too much burden on lower income people, and said it is wrong to have a health care system that bankrupts families with sick children.
Buys said he bases his decisions on "the Good Book, the law book and the check book."
The two also had differing views of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal port project proposed at Cherry Point.
Krogh noted he has been on record against it from the beginning, through his work as a staffer at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. He charged the project would send federally-subsidized coal to China to create jobs there at the expense of jobs here.
Buys said it wasn't his role to take a stand until the two-year environmental study process is complete.
"Once we get that two-year process out of the way, we'll know what those impacts are and what the costs are to mitigate those impacts, and whether the proponents are willing to pay those costs," Buys said.
In the 40th District Senate race, incumbent Democrat Kevin Ranker had an amiable exchange with his Republican-Independent challenger, Anacortes businessman John Swapp. But it was clear that their philosophies diverged.
"I think government plays a critical role in serving the neediest in our communities," Ranker said. "We build bridges, we build roads. We make them safe. To people who say, 'We want smaller government,' I say, 'At what cost?'"
Swapp's take on "cost" was different.
"I'm not advocating we cut support to those who need it most," Swapp said. "However, we must be very careful to spend no more than we absolutely have to ... People in private business are simply running out of the ability to pay for all this."