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41st District candidates focus on jobs, schools, taxes at two voter forums

Despite ringing hundreds of doorbells across the cities of Bellevue, Mercer Island, Newcastle, Issaquah and Renton, appearing at forums, community fairs and even rehabilitation centers, the six candidates running for the privilege to represent the 41st District in Olympia seem barely winded. They all still had a lot to say at two voters forums held last week in Bellevue and on Mercer Island.

The issues centered on the economy and the state’s revenue deficit, job creation and paying for education. At the forums — one on Oct. 13 at Bellevue City Hall and another on Oct. 14 at Islander Middle School — voters heard clear differences and many similarities between the candidates for three seats in the Washington state Legislature.

Randy Gordon is a Democrat from Bellevue running against Islander City Councilman Steve Litzow for the state Senate seat. He is the incumbent, appointed to the seat last January when it was vacated by Fred Jarrett. Gordon, a longtime attorney in Bellevue, also teaches at Seattle University. Gordon emphasized what he had accomplished during his first Legislative session, including a new law to further restrict violent offenders from release — stating that he also is a small businessman running a law firm with the attendant stresses of any business: meeting a payroll and paying medical premiums.

Islander Steve Litzow, a marketing, management and technology consultant, has been a City Councilman for the city of Mercer Island since 2003. He said he has been out on the street talking with hundreds of people as he knocked on doors across the district. He said that politics are not only local, but personal. Nearly all the voters he spoke to are focused on the economy. Litzow, a Republican, says that there is a “clear and single issue that everyone cares about, and it is jobs.”

Dr. Peter Dunbar, a physician at UW and Harborview Medical Center who also owns a small software business, is focused on the state’s revenue and spending problems. An Islander and a Republican, he is running against the Pos. 1 incumbent Marcie Maxwell of Renton. Small business, he said, is the key to an economic recovery, and in terms of the state, we need to deliver our services more prudently, that education is important to any economic recovery and the state should always consider and “respect” taxpayers when thinking about new taxes.

Marcie Maxwell of Renton, a former banker and now a veteran real estate professional, spent eight years on the Renton School District Board of Directors and said that “education is not only important to families, but that employers need trained workers in order to grow here in Washington state.” A Democrat, she said her understanding of education and policy, and her two years of experience as a state representative positions her for an effective second term.

Judy Clibborn, also a Democrat, has been a state representative of the 41st District for eight years. For the past two years, she has been chair of the House Transportation Committee in Olympia. She is proud of the fact that as a leader, she has been able to bring people from both parties together to coordinate efforts and “get projects moved forward that had been sitting around for years in the state.” She has been involved in local politics for many years on the Mercer Island City Council, as mayor and as a member and chair of the Suburban Cities Association.

Stephen Strader, also from Renton, is a software consultant with a business degree. He believes that the Legislature is too partisan and that lawmakers should say no to any kind of income tax. He says that the state needs to cut more. Both he and Litzow referred to a speech by former governor Gary Locke as a model for reforming state spending. In 2002 the state faced a $2 billion dollar deficit. Locke called on lawmakers and agencies to define what is most important to citizens, not just to make spending fit the forecasted revenue. Strader, a Republican, said in particular that education has to be a priority, but that we need to deliver public education more frugally: “there is too much overhead,” he said.

Questions: Candidates were asked in Bellevue what area of state government could and should be cut. Strader said the state ferry system should be privatized. Clibborn said that the design and building of ferries should be privatized, pointing out that transportation in our state is a major source of jobs. Maxwell also agreed that many services done by the state could be privatized or even combined. Dunbar said the state printing office is a natural choice for privatization. Gordon said that the state should look at each service and ask: “Is this an essential service?”

When asked how the state can encourage job growth and restart the economy, Gordon began by saying an emphasis on green jobs would help. Litzow said to keep the government as much as possible out of the way of business and keep taxes predictable is best. Dunbar agreed that stable taxes are a must, along with “keeping the dream of making money alive” for entrepreneurs like himself. Maxwell said that it is key to have credit available to businesses to start up and grow. Clibborn said that state and local agencies must be coordinated to help businesses, and that focusing on trade jobs will also pay off. Strader said we need to further “encourage consumers to help in the economic recovery.”

The questions asked of each pair at Islander Middle School on Thursday evening called for specifics.

When asked if he supported the two-thirds majority vote for any new taxes, Dunbar said he supported the measure while Maxwell said it is better to have a majority rule pointing out that voters of the 41st District had opposed such measures in the past.

When asked about I-1098, the measure that proposed extra taxes on those who make more than $200,000 as an individual, Clibborn said that the proposal hurts individuals who also are part of “Subchapter S” corporations where profits of the firm are directly paid to shareholders. These are often small business owners, Clibborn and others said, so taxing them is hurting business.

A question about how to improve the ability of access of Washington state residents to attend state colleges here, Clibborn said that while K-12 is a constitutional priority of the state, that directive has left the universities and colleges behind. She said that colleges and universities need to set their own tuition and re-focus on community colleges to help people get back to work. Strader said that students here are “not prepared for college.”

A question to the group about how to cut spending even further than what is already planned had candidates talking about state worker pay and benefits. Maxwell said it would be useful to review worker pay with what similar workers are paid in our communities. Clibborn said that the existing way that employees are paid differently, based on whether they are union or not, is unfair. Gordon said that the furlough system now in place to save money does not consider what services are lost and is hurtful to individual employees. Litzow said there are simply too many employees. Cutting employees is more effective than pay cuts, he said. The question to ask is, “How do we perform essential services with less?” Dunbar favors more use of state auditor reports to monitor agencies and favors “open union contracts.”

Voter Resources

Learn more at www.sos.wa.gov/elections.

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