Van Werven faces 3 Whatcom County challengers in August primary

Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, speaks with Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, before the start of the Northwest Business Club meeting on Wednesday, July 13, at the Bellingham Elks Lodge in Bellingham.
Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, speaks with Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, before the start of the Northwest Business Club meeting on Wednesday, July 13, at the Bellingham Elks Lodge in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

Voters should start getting their ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election in the mail Friday, July 15.

It’s the make-or-break point for candidates in races with three or more people vying for the same position, because in Washington, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election in November.

In Whatcom County, the primary will decide who moves on in the two races for state representative in the 42nd Legislative District, which covers most of Whatcom County except for south Bellingham.

In the race for Position 1, incumbent Rep. Luanne Van Werven, a Republican from Lynden, will face off against three challengers. Here’s a look at the candidates.

Luanne Van Werven, Republican

Van Werven just finished her first two-year term in the Legislature and hopes to continue her work there on education and state government committees.

▪  The huge task before the Legislature next session will be funding K-12 education to meet the McCleary mandate, Van Werven said.

“I want to dispel that myth that we are not spending enough money on education,” she said. “In the last four years we have made historic investments in funding for K-12.”

Lawmakers are well on their way to meeting the levels of funding required by the Washington State Supreme Court ruling, Van Werven said, but they may take a little longer to get there.

“The reason we are taking a little, maybe two years longer than the state Supreme Court would like is because we don’t want to have to raise taxes on the citizens of Washington,” Van Werven said. “And we think we can fully fund education without raising taxes.”

▪  Van Werven said she also would like to continue working on access to affordable higher education.

“Enrollment into higher ed is an important function, but even more important is how many of these students are able to follow through with completion of their degree,” she said. “That degree is what studies show is what helps the student be able to have upward mobility. ... It is how we break the cycle of poverty.”

Van Werven said universities doing the best job of getting students to complete their degrees could be prioritized when funding is allocated during the budget cycle.

▪  Van Werven also hopes to work on reducing regulations at the state level, to have “less interference by government in order to free up economic growth in our state.” She pointed to work being done in other jurisdictions to streamline the permitting process.

▪  When compared with her competitors, she believes that she has the best ideas to protect farms and local jobs.

“That was evident in how we came together as the 42nd delegation and we worked really hard to keep Intalco open for another two years,” Van Werven said. “Whether it’s higher ed, farming, or water, or K-12 education, those are all issues that I care deeply about and I’m prepared to go back to Olympia and continue the work that we started.”

Jacob Lamont, Libertarian

Lamont lives in Birch Bay with his wife and family; he has a 5-year-old son, and his 18-year-old stepson just graduated from high school. He is the owner of Evergreen Cannabis in Blaine, and is active in the Libertarian Party at the state and national level.

Lamont said he has had an eclectic career, doing “everything from construction to crabbing on the Bering Sea, to car sales, to business consulting.”

Lamont also helped lobbyists promote legislation that favored medical marijuana, which gave him insight into how the Legislature works.

“I saw a lot of the ins and outs. I was very disappointed when I saw how things work for real,” he said. “To be blunt, I feel like a lot of legislators don’t have a lot of say like you would think they do. That’s why I would never run as a Democrat or Republican. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone but my constituents.”

▪  The most important issue next session will be education and meeting the McCleary mandate to fully fund education, Lamont said.

“I believe there’s a better and quicker fix on that than what’s happening,” Lamont said. “Speaking firsthand from the point of view of a concerned father, my 18-year-old felt like he wasted the last two years of his life in high school because it was just repetition. I believe they are moving in the wrong direction with education.”

▪  Lamont also said he thinks the welfare system could be improved so that people can get off it easier.

“I know that it’s very hard at times to get off of welfare. Systems usually aren’t set up to where you can get a job and survive and reach for the middle class,” Lamont said. “I saw my mom struggle with this numerous times. The benefits would quickly go away if she was gainfully employed. Gainfully is a funny word, meaning if she hit a certain amount, the benefits would go away. It was nearly impossible for her to get on her feet to where we could live comfortably.”

If those benefits were allowed to continue for a certain amount of time after someone gets employment, it might help people get back on their feet better than the existing program, Lamont said.

▪  The state also needs to work on improving the way it handles homelessness and mental illness, Lamont said.

“There is no way somebody that is mentally ill belongs in jail or prison,” he said. “Mentally ill people cannot get the care they need in a prison.”

▪  Lamont said he could be a swing vote in the Legislature, which would allow him to accomplish more things for the county and the state.

Sharlaine LaClair, Democrat

LaClair, who is backed by the Whatcom Democrats, lives on Lummi Reservation, where she is raising her 9-year-old son.

Since 2008, she has worked on both the Lummi Nation budget committee and on the tribe’s planning commission. She recently finished her master’s degree in public administration at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

LaClair is also the ventures executive director at Lummi Nation Service Organization, where she helped develop a revolving loan fund to get entrepreneurs and small businesses off the ground, and a small business incubator.

“Our people were having a hard time accessing traditional lending institutions, so we created our own loan product for them,” LaClair said. “At the Lummi Nation Service Organization, we have been working for the past 10 years or more to create a plan to reduce poverty for the people of Lummi Nation and increase prosperity.”

In her role on the planning commission, LaClair said she helps prioritize projects that meet the community’s needs, while on the budget committee, she has had to help figure out how to pay for those projects while balancing the budget.

“I have a lot of experience in fiscal policy and budget appropriations,” she said.

▪  In the upcoming session, LaClair would like the state to focus on increasing funding for schools, “so that we can retain good quality teachers, and that those teachers have adequate resources to serve the children, and that regardless of where they live, all children have an equitable opportunity to get a good education.”

▪  Creating and protecting living-wage, fair jobs is also a priority for LaClair.

“I think that one way of doing that is recognizing climate change and the need to adapt to clean energy,” she said.

▪  Specifically for Whatcom County, LaClair said she would like to focus on water issues that impact both farmers and fishers.

“Here in Whatcom County we are harvesters of the land and sea and I would like to see us work together for solutions for water rights and clean water,” she said. “In my first term, if I were to have something that I felt was a big win, it would be introducing legislation that benefits both farmers and fishermen and shellfish harvesters. Finding a way to create a win-win situation so that we can all continue that healthy food production that’s so critical to our local economy.”

▪  At the age of 35, LaClair said she thinks it is important that she is younger, as she will bring a new perspective to the Legislature.

Doug Karlberg, Independent

Karlberg, who bills himself as an independent conservative, splits his time between commercial fishing and construction work, and lives in Lynden with his partner, Jennifer Hill.

“The 42nd District has a reputation for having a pretty far-right ideology,” Karlberg said. “You get too far to one side, it’s hard to compromise. ... I think it’s good for the citizens to not have all representation from one ideology.”

He’s an avid reader with an interest in public policy, which he actively comments on, especially as it relates to the Port of Bellingham and fishing, which is a highly regulated business, he said.

“As a fisherman, we see the port a little closer to the end of our nose than the general public,” Karlberg said. “There is a tremendous amount of money invested in (the port) and I’m always looking at it with an eye towards are you spending that money in a way that respects how hard people work for it?”

▪  Karlberg said the Legislature needs to help get money out of politics and rebuild trust.

“The single most important issue facing the Legislature next year is to rebuild the public trust,” he said. “People want the money out of politics. It crosses both party lines.”

▪  Karlberg also would like to work on school funding, in part because it helps create jobs.

“Education funding and frankly making progress on getting better-educated kids is so fundamental to our kids’ future, our future, the economy, that you’ve gotta get the job done,” he said. “You don’t have to bribe some company with incentives, basically giving away taxpayers’ monies to ’em. ... Businesses will come here because we have a great workforce.”

▪  Water rights in Whatcom County are also critical, Karlberg said.

“We’re headed towards a date with the court system if we don’t resolve some of these water rights issues. It covers farmers and fishermen and the tribes and municipalities,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of getting people to sit down and negotiate before it gets federalized.”

▪  Karlberg said being an independent and coming from a working background would set him apart in the Legislature.

“We’re not seeing very many blue-collar folks in government these days; there’s hardly any poor folks,” Karlberg said. “There are 138,000 people in the 42nd District. I think that to be a legislator you’ve gotta make sure that every one of them knows that you’re going to listen to them. You can’t get caught up in ideology and only listen to the ones that agree with you.”

Readers can check back next week for coverage of the race for Position 2.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil