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Jobs, tax reform served with some gaffes at forum
— Editor's note: This version clarifies information about the communication of rules regarding videotaping at the Greater Hansville Community Center candidates forum.
HANSVILLE — The candidates agreed on the need for jobs creation and tax reform in Washington state. And they agreed that the evening’s pie was marvelous. The similarities ended there. Some candidates dished out some gaffes to go with the pie at the Greater Hansville Community Center candidates forum Oct. 5:
— To back up his message that Kitsap County policies are unfriendly to business, County Commission candidate Chris Tibbs said Pope Resources is doing everything it can to leave Kitsap County.
That’s not true. Olympic Property Group president Jon Rose has said Pope wants to sell its forest land in North Kitsap because it’s increasingly difficult to harvest trees in an area that is growing in human population. Pope wants to sell its North Kitsap forest land and concentrate on further developing Port Gamble as a year-round community and destination resort.
— Tibbs also said his opponent, Rob Gelder, “elected himself” to another year in office after being appointed to a commission vacancy. “I didn’t elect myself,” Gelder said in response. “The voters elected me.”
— James Olsen, candidate for 23rd District state representative, position 2, produced a YouTube video of the event, despite forum rules that the event was not to be videotaped.
Olsen’s opponent, Drew Hansen, opened his remarks with compliments about the pie, adding that he had eaten two pieces — a main piece and a backup piece. Olsen’s video, titled “Let Me Eat Pies,” replays Hansen’s comment and shows a clip of the state representative eating a piece of pie; the clip repeats so it looks like Hansen is eating and eating and eating pie. The video ends with, “WA 23rd LD Democrats want all the pie. It’s time for a change. Vote Republican in 2012.”
Olsen said later that he was never told directly by forum organizers that videotaping was not allowed. But in press releases sent to the Herald, event organizer Lois Lee noted that videotaping of the event would not be allowed and that rule was reported in advance of the event by the North Kitsap Herald, Kingston Community News, NorthKitsapHerald.com and KingstonCommunityNews.com. However, Lee said she forgot to include that rule in correspondences she sent to the candidates.
Moderator Fred Nelson said he thought he made the announcement that videotaping was prohibited, but later checked his notes and found he had not. He said he had intended to make the announcement in his opening remarks because videotaping was not allowed at a previous forum. “[That’s why] I thought for sure we had sent something out” before the forum, Nelson said.
Olsen also later said he had nothing to do with producing or posting the video, which was posted on a YouTube channel, ShoutWhatYouHear, with 70 other videos, most of them featuring Olsen. He also promoted the video using social media.
— Bill Driscoll, candidate for 6th District Congress, warned that the unemployment rate for veterans is 29 percent, and said Congress must do more to help returning veterans transition to civilian life. But according to a September report of the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 13.9 percent in Washington and 12.1 percent in the U.S. – dim indeed, but not as drastic as Driscoll’s numbers. The rate for all unemployed veterans is lower, at 10.0 and 8.3 respectively.
Participating in the forum: Bill Driscoll and Derek Kilmer, 6th Congressional District; Christine Rolfes, unopposed in her bid for the 23rd District state Senate; Sherry Appleton and Tony Stephens, 23rd District state representative, position 1; Drew Hansen and James Olsen, 23rd District state representative, position 2; Rob Gelder and Chris Tibbs, County Commission District 1; and Charlotte Garrido and Linda Simpson, County Commission District 2.
Rolfes represented Jay Inslee, and Ed Wolfe represented Rob McKenna, candidates for governor. James Watkins, candidate for state auditor, made a statement; Matt Miller read a statement for Watkins’ opponent, Troy Kelley.
Moderator Fred Nelson, a political veteran who served on Mill Creek’s first city council in 1983-87, estimated 150-180 residents attended the forum.
The differences in the candidates for Congress were clear in their opening statements: Driscoll, a timber company executive, is a descendant of Weyerhauser’s founder, worked in Asia for four years, and served in the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kilmer, a state senator since 2007, attended college on financial aid, his father is in his 47th year of teaching, his grandmother is 102 and depends on Medicare.
Both candidates see protecting veterans’ interests as a priority — protecting access to health care, addressing homelessness, helping veterans transition to civilian life.
Kilmer said he’s worked on those issues as a state senator, sponsoring laws to direct more goods and services contracts to businesses owned by veterans and service members, and ensuring that veterans’ relevant military training and experience can be transferred for educational credits or professional licensing when appropriate.
Kilmer and Driscoll differ on turning Medicare into a voucher system, and on continuing tax breaks for the nation’s top earners. Kilmer is opposed to both. He believes debt reduction needs to come “in a bipartisan way. We can’t cut and tax our way out of it. It’s going to take some tough decisions, and the right decisions.”
Kilmer wants more support for STEM education — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — because that’s where the job growth is going to be. Both spoke of their ability to work with colleagues from opposite parties. Driscoll said he’s brought unions and management together to get things done. A Republican, he said his first task would be to contact Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and work with her on veterans issues.
Kilmer, Democrat, said he was advised by a Republican mentor early in his legislative career to always reach across the aisle – always get a sponsor from the other party for each bill. He was also advised: Always do what you think is right. Vote for the good bills, vote against the bad ones.
Olsen and Stephens said they would defend the public’s will on a requirement for a two-thirds majority vote for any tax increases, and no state income tax. Olsen supports privatizing the state ferry system to make it more efficient; Stephens doesn’t support completely privatizing ferries because doing so “would result in more regulations.”
Both oppose creation of a state income tax as part of reforming the tax system. Olsen supports charter schools and vouchers that would enable parents to send students to schools of their choice, saying the competition would lead to innovation that would improve public education. Stephens prefers a voucher system over charter schools, but said he “won’t try to circumvent it” if voters approve the charter school initiative in November. “The will of the people is the will of the people,” he said.
Hansen and Appleton say privatization of the state ferry system won’t work, because fares only cover 70 percent of the cost “and private business can’t do it,” Hansen said.
Hansen said new transportation fees have generated enough money to build a new 144-vehicle ferry. Converting ferries to liquefied natural gas will make ferries more efficient and soften the impact of rising fuel prices. Appleton would like to raise the ferries’ share of gas tax revenue from half a cent to 2 cents per gallon, noting that ferries are part of the state highway system.
Hansen and Appleton want to reform the tax system to reduce the state’s reliance on sales taxes, which are volatile. A state income tax would be a more stable revenue source, they said; with an income tax in place, they would decrease the state sales tax and eliminate the business and occupations tax, bolstering business activity.
Appleton and Hansen oppose charter schools, saying the result would be an inequitable education system with no real improvement in student performance.
Both support overturning the two-thirds requirement for tax increases, saying it’s unfair and stands in the way of tax reform. Hansen said the Legislature can create a tax loophole with only a 51 percent vote, but must muster two-thirds support to eliminate a loophole. Appleton said the two-thirds requirement is unconstitutional; the state constitution requires a majority vote, “not a flexible majority.”
Hansen was appointed to the House in 2011 to complete the term vacated by Rolfes, who was appointed to the state Senate when Phil Rockefeller resigned. Hansen said he won bipartisan support for his legislation that enlarged the engineering program at Olympic College — he said it will create 30 more engineers every year; Olsen called them “training jobs” — and wants to see that expanded to other fields in demand in North Kitsap, such as software engineers and nurses.
He also won bipartisan support for elimination of a tax on North Kitsap forest land proposed to be purchased by a coalition of conservation groups. He said the acquisition of the forest land will create outdoor-recreation jobs.
Tibbs, owner of a restaurant provisions company, and Simpson, a teacher and Navy reservist, want an independent performance audit to identify what is working and not working in county government. They want to improve the permit process and prioritize funding based on what’s constitutionally required; this would free up more money for law and justice, Tibbs said.
Gelder and Garrido, the incumbents, said county government is working to simplify the permit process and change policies to support small business. In July, the Department of Community Development teamed up with a manufacturing non-profit to analyze the single-family residence permit process, identify wasted steps and develop ideas to improve the process. After the exercise, four of nine permits submitted were issued the same day, Gelder said.
District Court is a paperless court now. Residents can file and track permits online.
If Kitsap County was not business friendly, Bev Mo and Trader Joe’s wouldn’t have located here in the last 16 months, Gelder said. “Kitsap County is open for business,” he said.
Gelder and Garrido defended the current audit process, saying the county pays the state auditor for an extensive audit. Regarding budget priorities, Gelder said a federal grant will enable the Sheriff’s Department to add two additional officers in 2013.