PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, countered slings and arrows from two Republican opponents during a candidate forum sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association.
Chapman’s opponents in the Aug. 2 primary for the Legislative District 24, Position 1, post — Republicans Sue Forde of Sequim and Matthew Rainwater of Port Angeles — sparred with the incumbent over a variety of issues ranging from Washington’s gas tax to the Washington Cares Act before about 40 people at Joshua’s Restaurant & Lounge on Tuesday.
The top-two primary in August will narrow the field to two candidates for the Nov. 8 general election.
Forde is a retired escrow/title insurance manager and chair of the Clallam County Republican Party. Rainwater is a retired border patrol agent and former chair of the Clallam County GOP.
Washington’s 24th Legislative District encompasses most of the Olympic Peninsula, including all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and most of Grays Harbor County.
The topic of reducing business costs led off the candidate forum with Forde lamenting the size and scope of the Legislature’s budget and reach, and what she referred to as excessive Democratic spending.
“When we had a $15 billion surplus this year, did the Democrats in the Legislature give us taxpayers a break?” she asked. “No.”
“I don’t know about you,” Forde added, “but I’m mad. Mike Chapman and his majority party are hurting the people of our district … I will work for smaller, streamlined, accountable government.”
Chapman responded that there are a lot of concerns, but that he chose to take an optimistic view of the state situation.
“There’s a hell of a lot I’m grateful for today,” he said, citing democracy, the right to choose an abortion, mailed ballots, climate change recognition and living on the North Olympic Peninsula.
“I’m glad to live in a place where we have not paved paradise.”
Rainwater, a past president of PABA, bemoaned “a lot of challenges facing us today,” including inflation, high gas prices, high crime rates, lack of affordable housing and constitutional rights.
“Who in their right mind would have thought we would have to show proper documentation to be able to go out to a restaurant and eat like we are today?” he asked, referring to former COVID-19 health restrictions.
“When I’m elected as your legislator, you’re gonna see what a leader with local values and commitment to local values looks like. When I’m elected, I will stop and fight any code restrictions to our constitutional rights.”
Chapman, who has been accused of voting to increase property taxes for education funding, disputed the fact, saying the bill was initiated by Senate Republicans.
“I’ve emailed people so many times (about the bill), and they email me back and call me a liar,” he recounted. “So, lots of criticism, but get your facts straight. Give me the credit for when I did do positive things. Some things I do are OK.”
Forde, stating that Democrats loved to spend money and legislate unnecessary regulations, pulled out of her hat an example she thought illustrated her contention: coffee shops.
“There was a WAC written to make coffee shops put in permanent plumbing,” she recalled, noting that the regulation would be expensive. “This is going to force lots of small businesses to end their businesses. It’s just more government regulation.”
On the issue of Washington’s gas tax, the Chapman/opponents divide was a Grand Canyon.
Chapman contended that cutting Washington’s 49 cents a gallon tax — one of the highest in the nation — would devastate Washington’s credit rating and risk funding for essential projects. He cited as an example replacement of the Elwha River bridge, which he said is a lifeline between east and west in Clallam County.
“At the end of the day, I want to invest in our future,” he said, noting he didn’t want to stop all infrastructure projects just because the state is currently experiencing an atypical period.
“I do not support suspending the gas tax. I want to keep these projects on task.”
Rainwater had a decidedly different take on the matter, saying he’d suspend the tax for a year.
“I have zero problems saying we’ll do a holiday on the gas tax,” he said. “Not everything the state does is absolutely, 100 percent essential and needs to get done right now. We (as individuals) can find ways to make things happen and exist in the budget that we have, and the state can do the same thing.”
Forde expressed a similar sentiment, saying she would cut at least half of the gas tax.
“We need to help people,” she said. “We’re hurting, and this economy is hurting everyone, and in our rural area, we use gas to get to work, and we go long distances.”
Chapman was having none of the opposing arguments.
“I just want to make this really clear … we have two candidates who want to ruin the state’s bond rating by eliminating the gas tax,” he said. “It’s shocking to me that two people running for office would just so flippantly say that for a cheap political point.”
On the following subject — working collaboratively with their colleagues in different parties — Rainwater struck a congenial posture.
“You can compromise without giving up your principles,” he said. “No one side has a monopoly on good ideas. If you’re not talking to the other side, you’re missing out, and you’ll have problems that are not getting solved because you’re willing to be silo-ed.”
Forde agreed but with a caveat: “There are certain principles I will not give on,” she said, noting her stances on regulation, raising taxes and bigger government. “But you can discuss, you can come to terms and understanding with people of the opposite persuasion.”
On the Washington Cares Act — which created a payroll tax to support Washington residents with the cost of long-term care but has not been implemented — there was also a clear divide.
Said Forde: “It’s an income tax, essentially, on the employees and hurts the employees. It’s full of problems, and I would just eliminate it. I believe in free enterprise, and the more private care that we can get, the better. I think competition is good.”
Chapman had other ideas.
“It’s good government and good policy, and it will save you, the taxpayers, hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “We have an incredible long-term care crisis facing our nation and our state, and with a workforce that’s not there (to work long-term care jobs). The debate is do we go back to 1950 or look forward to 2030 and beyond?”
Rainwater took the discussion back toward the Republican position.
“There’s a difference between needed legislation and good legislation,” he said. “The long-term care tax was just straight-up bad legislation because it’s taking money from everyone who works in the state, but not everyone is paid into it.”
Rainwater noted that Chapman voted against state House Bill 1054, which reformed police tactics, including pursuit parameters.
Said Chapman: “I’m not going to win this debate, and I’m not going to try and win it.
“If I were my opponents, this is the only issue I’d be campaigning on,” he said. “This may be the issue that completely obliterates my party. I hope not.”
Rainwater said he would rescind the bill.
“People need to be able to do their jobs,” he said.
“Defund the police or defend the police,” she said. “I strongly defend the police, and I will do everything in my power to give power back to our police to do their job to protect us.”