Rep. Buys faces 3 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. Buys is facing 3 challengers in the primary election for 42nd Legislative District Position 2 in Whatcom County.
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. Buys is facing 3 challengers in the primary election for 42nd Legislative District Position 2 in Whatcom County. eabell@bellinghamherald.com

If you read the voters’ pamphlet for the upcoming Aug. 2 primary, you might think that two candidates had dropped out of the race for the 42nd Legislative District Position 2.

You would be wrong.

Libertarian Jerry Burns did not submit any information for the informational pamphlet that is mailed to every household in Washington state, and Democrat Tracy Atwood’s statement sounded as if he had dropped out of the race. But both men say they are still in the running and committed to winning the election.

That means all four candidates are still in the race for the position, which is currently held by Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden.

The top two vote recipients move on to the general election in November, and whoever wins the election will represent most of Whatcom County except south Bellingham in the state Legislature over the next two years.

Here’s a look at the candidates.

In case you missed it, you can find last week’s look at the race for Position 1, currently held by Rep. Luanne Van Werven, at BellinghamHerald.com.

Jerry Burns, Libertarian

Burns, a disabled veteran who once worked as a counselor, now volunteers with a nonprofit called the Foundation for a Full Recovery, providing peer counseling to people with mental health and chemical dependency issues.

He did not submit any information for the voters’ pamphlet but said that is because he was never asked to submit anything.

Burns, who lives in Kendall, said he earned experience lobbying the Legislature when he served on student government at Everett Community College in the 1980s. His experience working with the school’s administration and student body taught him how to work together and when to take a stand.

▪  The top priority Burns has for the Legislature is to have the state of Washington “stop making war on the poor.”

“Specifically, I want to make it so that people cannot be put in jail for driving on a suspended license,” Burns said. “Secondly, I want to change it so that the state may not suspend a citizen’s driver’s license unless the person presents an imminent danger to fellow citizen safety.”

Burns said that otherwise innocent citizens who cannot afford to pay their tickets are put in jail simply because they are driving and have to get their children to school and get to work.

“Every time you make a law, you make a criminal, so we have to be really careful about when we make laws,” Burns said.

▪  Burns said he also thinks the state should make opiate pain medication available behind-the-counter, meaning people would not need a prescription but would have to go through a pharmacist to access them.

“I don’t want them to have to go beg a physician to get it; we’re grown human beings,” Burns said. “If you’re 21 or over, you’re old enough to get alcohol, you should be wise enough to make a decision on when to use and when not to use an opiate medication. The pharmacist can make a call.”

The policy would align with Burns’ Libertarian values.

“I believe in maximum liberty while still maintaining a cohesive, safe society,” Burns said.

▪  When asked why he would be the best person for the job, Burns answered with a question for voters.

“Don’t you think it’s about time that somebody has the job that doesn’t want it?” Burns asked. “I don’t want the job. I don’t want to go to Olympia and work with a bunch of politicians. I’m not fond of politicians. But I don’t want the incumbent in there because his voting record offends me to the core.”

Tracy Atwood, Democrat

Atwood, a personal trainer and life coach who lives in north Bellingham, said his voters’ pamphlet statement has been misinterpreted.

He wrote, “I have decided that I will no longer be actively campaigning. And while any votes I get at this time are very much appreciated and a cry out for the change we need in our Whatcom County, I feel there are many candidates who are worthy and I encourage you to vote and be heard.”

But Atwood explained by phone Wednesday, July 20, that he is very much still in the race.

“I’m not actively campaigning in the sense that most people expect a campaign to be beating on a thousand doors a week,” Atwood said. “We’ve got a team pushing to get messages out to allow me to do what I wanted to do, which is meet people, talk to people.”

Atwood said his experience working as operations manager for a local technical support company and starting his own business, New Destinies, would help him in the Legislature.

“I know budgeting and how to make things run within their means,” Atwood said. “As a life coach and trainer ... I know how to listen to people.”

▪  Aside from working on education, Atwood said the state needs to work to fund mental health treatment and services and make those services more accessible.

He would like to see policies in place “to ensure that first responders to any kind of potential mental health crisis are aware of their situation and how to properly work with the person they’re responding to.”

“We need to make sure the people responding to these calls have the best training for their job so we don’t necessarily wind up locking people up for two weeks at a time. So they’ve got the therapy and treatment they need,” Atwood said. “We’ve got to provide resources for that.”

▪  Atwood also would like to focus on housing issues.

“We have an extremely high occupancy rate (in Whatcom County) but conversely we have an extremely high homeless rate,” Atwood said. “It’s not just individuals and it’s not just people with mental health problems, but we are seeing it with middle class families struggling to afford a place to live.”

▪  Atwood said he is the best person for the job because he has an “innate ability to just listen and understand and empathize.”

“I think that’s what people need,” Atwood said. “They need a foundation in success and accomplishing goals. I certainly have that both personally and in the business world.”

Dale Dickson, Independent

Dickson is a progressive independent who has lived on Noon Road in the Everson area for 37 years.

He works for Cascade Connections, a nonprofit that helps find jobs for people with disabilities and offers them support.

Before that, he was a substitute teacher, ran a dairy farm on his property for a dozen years, worked with a variety of nonprofits including Opportunity Council and Unity Care NW, and owned a bowling alley and pro shop for about 10 years.

“I think those kinds of job experiences gave me a lot of opportunity to learn,” Dickson said. “I was a grant writer, a program manager, I have a lot of experience working with groups of people.”

▪  Dickson opted to run as an independent because he is “very devoted to removing money from the political process.”

Dickson said he believes in universal health care, divestment from fossil fuels, protecting clean water and forests, is a strong proponent of unions and worker rights, and he likes the concept of a $15 minimum wage but is “not sure the high school sophomore needs to make $15 an hour, but a single mom definitely does.”

▪  Dickson said the largest issue facing the Legislature will be funding education.

He would like to see a more equitable funding system and would propose pooling property taxes statewide and dividing them somewhat equally, taking cost of living into consideration.

“Currently we are in a property tax school funding base, so if you live in a wealthy community, you have a fair amount of money to fund your schools,” Dickson said. “If you live in a poor community, like Nooksack, Mount Baker, Meridian, the property taxes aren’t high enough to really maintain the education system our children really need to be competitive.”

▪  Moving toward a more sustainable clean energy future is also important, Dickson said.

“Whatcom County has a real opportunity to be a leader, I think, in terms of renewables,” Dickson said. “We have amazing opportunities and resources in terms of wind power, geothermal power, solar power, that really are not being tapped into.”

▪  Dickson said he would be the best person for the job “because I am more open to listening to what the community has to say than any other candidate.”

“I’ve worked in Sumas, worked in Birch Bay, worked in Lynden, worked all over,” Dickson said. “From my perspective that’s an advantage to understand what are sometimes very different needs from one community to the next.”

Vincent Buys, Republican

Buys is wrapping up his term in the Legislature, where he is currently the ranking member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and Appropriations Committee.

▪  In agreement with the other candidates, Buys said that funding education and dealing with the requirements of the McCleary decision is the most important task for the Legislature to take on in 2017.

One of the reasons legislators postponed tackling teacher pay and local levy support last session was so they could wait for more data on the local costs of living to be compiled, Buys said.

“We thought if we’re going to have a look at comprehensive teacher pay reform then we need to look at cost of living,” Buys said. “Quincy is going to be a much different cost of living than Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle.”

▪  Buys, who could become chairman of the Agriculture Committee next year, depending on how things go this election season, said it will be important to take on water quality and quantity issues as well.

“If I become chair, one thing I want to work on is how do we update our water code for Washington for the 21st century?” Buys said. “Our surface water law came into effect in 1917. ... I don’t think we live in the same society.”

One way water laws could be changed for the better, Buys said, is to take a look at relinquishment, which requires people to use their water rights or lose them.

“It’s a disincentive to conserve your water,” he said. “Say you’ve gone to better irrigation, or you don’t have more land or crops to put on. You basically want to continue to use that water otherwise you lose that water right, and that has actual tangible value to it. So you’re put in a situation where you either lose value or waste water. If you lose relinquishment I think that goes a long way toward conserving water.”

▪  Buys said his six years in office, where he fought to keep Intalco open and for projects like the Carver Academic renovation at WWU, prove that he is the best person for the job.

“Having the experience, knowing how to get things done in Olympia is very important for our community,” Buys said. “And being able to work with the other members of our delegation is very important.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil