By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Tharinger, a two-term Sequim Democrat, faces Aug. 5 primary challenges from Conway, a Sequim Libertarian, and Greisamer, a Moclips Republican, to represent the 24th District in the state Legislature.
The two top vote-getters in the primary will advance to the general election Nov. 4.
The three candidates fielded more than a dozen questions in a two-hour forum attended by about 35 people that was sponsored by the Clallam County League of Women Voters on Wednesday night.
Dick Pilling of Port Angeles, a real estate agent and chairman of the county Republican Party, asked candidates whether they would support a state income tax.
The two challengers said they would oppose such a tax in no uncertain terms.
“I think it would be like committing hari-kari because citizens of the state do not trust the state government,” said Greisamer, a former forensic psychiatrist for the state Department of Corrections.
Conway, a neurologist with the Olympic Medical Physicians Specialty Clinic in Sequim, said a state tax increase “never goes away.”
“Until we can actually trust our legislators, we shouldn’t increase or create new taxes,” he said.
“If I drop my wallet on the ground, I expect, I hope, that someone will pick up the wallet and give it back to me. If I drop my wallet in the state Legislature, I’m never seeing that money again. So I totally disagree with a state income tax.”
Tharinger took issue with the analogy.
“Well, I’ve never really thought of myself as a thief,” he said.
“We actually are a pretty good group down at the Legislature. It’s pretty collegial. We don’t go around stealing things.”
Tharinger said he would support a state income tax if it were presented to voters as a constitutional amendment.
“So you’d need a two-thirds vote to amend the constitution, and it would also include sale tax limits and property tax limits,” he said.
Tharinger said the state’s 84-year-old tax structure is “incredibly regressive” and does not align with a 21st-century economy.
“If you were to add the third leg, which is either a capital gains tax or an income tax, and bring those others down, lock it in with a two-thirds vote, you’d get a more balanced revenue stream that is less susceptible to the economic cycles, and you would stabilize funding for the needs we have,” Tharinger said.
The League of Women Voters sponsored another forum for the same legislative post three days earlier in Sequim.
The 24th District includes Clallam, Jefferson and parts of Grays Harbor counties.
Conway, who missed Sunday’s forum in Sequim, described himself as a “rare bird among the jungle of Democrats and Republicans because I’ve chosen to become a Libertarian.”
“My initial goal is to work with the other Libertarians to pass legislation that is responsible and to act as a bit of an abolitionist,” Conway said.
“I think that there are too many regulations right now. Government has sponsored too many laws, and with that, you choke off business, you increase taxes, and you create job loss.”
Greisamer held up a 136-page booklet on fishing regulations next to a 28-page summary of a $75 billion budget as an example of government “gone amok.”
“We have too much government,” Greisamer said. “We need to cut it back and reward the people that are actually doing the work.”
Later, Greisamer held up a toy ladybug and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be your ladybug.
“I want to be your ladybug in Olympia and help eat those damn aphids that are sucking the blood and the fluid out of our businesses.”
Tharinger said he would continue to close obsolete tax incentives to fund K-12 and higher education.
Greisamer said the state is already “spending plenty of money on education” but should give raises to teachers.
Conway said the education funding crisis begins with “excessive money printing” at the federal level, which devalues the dollar.
On coal and oil exports, Conway and Greisamer said there are valid arguments on both sides. They agreed that the Legislature should consider all options.
Tharinger questioned the adequacy of existing rail infrastructure, noting that a spur rail line to the Port of Grays Harbor is 75 years old, and raised the broader issue of whether it makes sense to support fossil fuels that impact climate.
On health care access, Tharinger said the state has “made great progress” with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“As we look at the complications that are involved, both administratively, for the providers of health care, for the carriers, insurance companies and for the patients themselves, it seems to me a more simple system would save us money and improve outcomes,” Tharinger said.
“Medicare for all? Perhaps. Or single-payer, I think.”
Said Greisamer: “To have Medicare for everyone, I think you’d have to look at the [Veterans Administration] system right now as a good example of single-payor system. It really has its faults.”
Conway said the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was “atrocious.”
“The reimbursement pays less than Medicaid patients, and in order for a business to see a Medicaid patient — and it’s all or private, no matter what’s its designation — you lose money on that patient,” he said.
“With the Affordable Care Act, you lose even more money, so it actually hasn’t helped health care at all.”
Conway said he intends to “remain a physician and part-time politician” if elected.
Greisamer urged a full-time Legislature.
Tharinger closed by touting his work on a health care committee that saved taxpayers millions and a bill he passed that provided more employment opportunities for veterans by combining the conservation corps of the state departments of Ecology and Natural Resources.
“It’s not that we’re not working on the spending side and trying to find efficiencies, trying to consolidate state agencies and trying to give you a better return for your dollar,” Tharinger said.
“But we are still challenged by the needs of the 21st century, and those challenges are not going to be met unless we look at a different revenue structure for this state.”
The league plans three more forums highlighting other primary races. They are scheduled July 9-10 and 16.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.