Local Election

Whatcom County legislative candidates weigh in on education, presidential election

Rep. Luanne Van Werven, left, faces Sharlaine LaClair in the race for the 42nd Legislative District, which represents most of Whatcom County, excluding south Bellingham, in the Washington State Legislature.
Rep. Luanne Van Werven, left, faces Sharlaine LaClair in the race for the 42nd Legislative District, which represents most of Whatcom County, excluding south Bellingham, in the Washington State Legislature. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

As ballots start to hit mailboxes this week, voters will be asked to decide who should fill two state House seats in Whatcom County’s 42nd District.

In both seats, incumbent Republicans face off against newcomer Democrats in the contest to represent the majority of Whatcom County, excluding south Bellingham.

For Position 1, Rep. Luanne Van Werven, fresh off her first term in the House, faces Sharlaine LaClair, who recently finished her master’s degree in public administration and has worked on the Lummi Nation planning commission and budget committee since 2008.

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

She is 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.

Van Werven, who is backed by the Whatcom Republicans, lives in Lynden and hopes to continue her work on the education and state government committees.

Education

Both Van Werven and LaClair said K-12 education funding to meet the McCleary mandate – the state Supreme Court’s order that the state fully fund public schools – would be the biggest task facing the Legislature next year, but they differed in opinion on how badly funding was lacking.

Van Werven said lawmakers were well on their way to meeting the levels of funding required by the Washington State Supreme Court ruling, but may take a little longer to get there, largely because they don’t want to raise taxes.

“There are those who believe we need a state income tax in order to meet our McCleary mandate, but we have a plan in place to fully fund K-12,” Van Werven said. “We’ve made a lot of progress. We have a plan, we’re going to take care of our mandate, our obligation, our duty, but it may not happen as soon as the state wants.”

LaClair said the court had again recently made it clear that the Legislature needs to “take immediate action on fully funding schools, and addressing the opportunity gap and inequities in funding.”

“The Legislature is still being fined $100,000 per day until they come up with solutions,” LaClair said. “We rely a lot on local levies. Part of that work is taking a look at the tax structure and making sure everyone is participating equally.”

Working together despite divisive presidential campaign

With the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton setting a divisive tone on the national stage, The Bellingham Herald asked who candidates planned to vote for, and how they planned to work with all of their constituents and colleagues in the House, regardless of party affiliation.

LaClair said she was supporting Clinton for president.

“I think she is very well qualified and I think that what her presidency means to women like myself and other young women who aspire to be leaders is monumental,” LaClair said. “She’s been a really strong advocate not only for women but for many other communities.”

LaClair said she thinks it is important for elected representatives to find common ground.

“We are not just elected to represent a particular party. We are elected to represent a diverse group of citizens and we have to listen to people on both sides of the aisle and issue and everywhere in between,” LaClair said. “I talked to a lot of people that went to the Lynden fair, quite a few Donald Trump supporters came by, and we were able to talk about issues that are important to all of us in the county. They were really open-minded. I thought it was really refreshing that we can still find ways to come together.”

For example, LaClair said she was out knocking on doors and spoke with a Republican man who said he would vote for her but she had the wrong letter next to her name.

“He said, ‘Those Democrats are stealing jobs from our county,’ ” LaClair said. “I said part of what I want to work on is improving our economy. All of our communities need good family-wage jobs.”

We need to grow and increase the number of jobs that are available to families. For me, it’s important to make sure that we’re doing it in ways that are not harmful to the environment.

Sharlaine LaClair, Democrat running for 42nd Legislative District, Position 1

LaClair said that sometimes, as a tribal member, people assume that she is anti-development, but that is not the case.

“We need to grow and increase the number of jobs that are available to families,” LaClair said. “For me, it’s important to make sure that we’re doing it in ways that are not harmful to the environment.”

Van Werven said she would be voting for Trump.

“For me, it comes down to a choice between someone who has said some despicable things or the candidate who is the most corrupt presidential candidate in history,” Van Werven said. “I think about our U.S. Supreme Court and who I would want to be filling those positions. So I will be voting for Donald Trump because I believe he will make the best decisions.”

“But I have been very clear in condemning anyone who is demeaning to women or is disrespectful to women,” she continued.

Despite the divisiveness at the national level, Van Werven said that “quite honestly at the state level we come together as Republicans and Democrats and the political spectrum in between and consider what is really important for constituents in our district.”

I take pride in going down to Olympia and representing everyone, no matter what political party they might be a part of.

Luanne Van Werven, Republican running for 42nd Legislative District, Position 1

Van Werven said she had worked across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation, and that there was a lot of respect across party lines.

“Just because there’s an ‘R’ behind my name, that doesn’t mean I just go down to Olympia and represent Republicans,” Van Werven said. “I take pride in going down to Olympia and representing everyone, no matter what political party they might be a part of.”

Van Werven said earlier this year that she 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 also plans to continue to protect local jobs, “whether that’s at Cherry Point or anywhere else in Whatcom County, protecting our local jobs that provide for a family wage.”

Buys vs. Atwood

In Position 2, incumbent Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, faces Democrat Tracy Atwood, a personal trainer and life coach who lives in north Bellingham.

Atwood’s voters’ pamphlet statement before the August primary led people to believe he was no longer running. However, he explained in July that he was still very much in the race, and since moving on to the general elections has appeared in candidate forums around the county.

But that same message was again printed in the general election voters’ guide, because candidates who are running for state level positions are required to submit their statements ahead of the primary, and it carries over to the general election, said Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein.

A summary of issues Buys and Atwood found important – including homelessness, education funding, water quality and quantity, and mental health treatment – can be found at bhamherald.com.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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