Senate race gets heated in the final days
October 24, 2008 · Updated 3:55 PM
t Challenger thinks senator’s climate-change work takes away from more important issues.
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Connie Lord (R-Poulsbo) may have the most political experience among the trio of Republicans challenging for seats in the 23rd Legislative District’s delegation, but she may also face the district’s toughest incumbent.
Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge) is running for his second term in the state Senate. He ran for a representative seat nine years ago with a focus on education and in recent years has become a leader in the Senate on environmental issues through his work on creating the Puget Sound Partnership and forging broad climate-change initiatives.
Lord, a three-term Poulsbo City Council member and deputy mayor, has been critical of Rockefeller’s stance on climate change and has questioned his voting record when it comes to supporting business. She said north Kitsap County needs more conservative representation.
Not surprisingly, Rockefeller said the economy should be a focal point of the next legislative session as the state faces a record deficit in the shadow of a national financial crisis.
Rockefeller said that if he is reelected he will use his post on the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to work on balancing the state’s budget.
“Clearly we’ll have to scrub every page of expenditures we’ve had in the past,” he said. “And obviously, we can’t afford to do everything we want to do.”
To stimulate the state’s economy in the long term, Rockefeller said he wants to see more incentives for businesses to develop in the alternative energy sector, working on technologies including solar, tidal and biofuel. He points out that Washington is already one of the leading states for wind energy production, which has helped create green jobs.
“I believe we can rebuild our economy by encouraging that kind of innovation,” he said.
If elected, Lord said she would begin trimming the state’s budget by funding and implementing findings from the state auditor, and she would work to trim unnecessary state offices. The government needs to refocus on providing maintaining highways, schools and other main services, she said.
“If we don’t have enough money to do our big functions because we are siphoning it off to feel-good projects, that doesn’t make sense,” Lord said.
Lord, who previously owned an art gallery and publishing business, said entrepreneurs are being over-regulated and over-taxed in Washington. She would like to see the state’s Business and Occupation Tax repealed, or at least waived for businesses for a startup period.
At several public forums Lord has criticized Rockefeller’s record on supporting business, often pointing to an Association of Washington Businesses scorecard, which gave Rockefeller a 22 percent favorable rating.
Rockefeller said AWB had been “knee jerk” in its evaluation of his voting record, marking him down for voting in favor of a bill that set higher standards for toy safety and against allowing marketing based on information provided from drug prescriptions. He said a number of business organizations, including the Restaurant Association, have supported his campaign.
“I think they know that I’m fair and objective and capable of balancing issues,” he said.
Perhaps a more polarizing issue for the candidates is the state’s role in addressing climate change.
In the last session, Rockefeller sponsored a sweeping climate change bill aimed at reducing Washington’s greenhouse gas emission levels to 1990 levels by 2020 with a program that would include emission caps and trading. The same bill aims to create 25,000 new jobs in the “green” sector, which Rockefeller believes will give Washington a competitive advantage as the nation transitions away from fossil fuel dependence.
Lord has said many times throughout her campaign that the “science is still out” on the causes of global warming and said she wants the private sector to take the lead on reducing emissions and developing alternative energy.
Washington is already ahead of most of the country when it comes to emissions controls and green initiatives, Lord said, and doesn’t need to push ahead with environmental regulations that would burden businesses and individuals.
“At the taxpayers’ expense we are so far ahead of the curve, we’re not waiting for the federal government to come up with its plan,” she said, “We want to step out and be in the lead. Why?”
On the education front, the candidates agree that the Washington Assessment For Student Learning needs revision, but differ as to what extent.
Lord proposes axing the test and switching to a more standard test that would be “more objective” and “less subjective” to grade.
Rockefeller said he still agrees with the original premise of the WASL but believes portions such as math need to be reworked. Both candidates weighed in on Washington State Ferries, which will likely see scrutiny in the next legislative session, with new boats to be built and long-range finance decisions on the horizon.
Rockefeller said the Legislature made strides by allocating $365 million to begin to build four new ferries, and has begun streamlining its budget. He said he was hopeful that the long-range planning work undertaken by WSF and the state’s Transportation Commission will give legislators a foundation to build from in the next session.
Lord said she would like to see better accountability for existing gas tax revenue and believes the state could free up money for WSF by ending its practice of charging sales tax on transportation construction projects.
Both candidates said WSF needs to be recognized as a marine highway, and an integral part of the state’s transportation network.