PORT ANGELES — For the first time since the August primary election, state legislative candidates Steve Tharinger and Brian Pruiett met before the Port Angeles Business Association for an early morning debate over the direction of the state.
Tharinger, a Port Townsend Democrat, and Pruiett, a Carlsborg Republican, are vying in the Nov. 8 general election for the Position 2 seat in the state House representing Legislative District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.
Tharinger — in office since 2011 — said his tenure in the state Legislature has left him well-positioned to secure critical projects for the district. He chairs the House Budget Committee and sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Health Care and Wellness committees.
“We don’t always agree on everything, but I hope you get the impression that I’m thoughtful and trying to work through these issues,” Tharinger said.
Tharinger began his remarks by listing items the Legislature had done to help small businesses, including a tax break for businesses making $250,000 or less, a working family tax rebate and relief funds for the hospitality industry in Clallam County.
“We got $600,000 for Peninsula College last year to help them train medical assistants,” Tharinger said. “That money is helping meet a huge need in training for medical assistants and care nurses.”
Pruiett countered that the Legislature is not spending its money wisely, and he criticized Tharinger for his support of police reform bills that have been criticized for being too stringent in their limitations of police powers.
Pruiett was also critical of the Legislature for increasing taxes and fees during a time of heightened prices and inflation.
As a lawmaker, Pruiett said he would advocate for a property tax lock-in; a 1 percent reduction in state sales tax and a general reduction in business fees.
“I want to have legislative oversight of the Washington State Building Code Council,” Pruiett said. “If you’ve been at the (Clallam County director of the Department of Community Development) debates, you understand how significant that is for us, for affordable housing.”
Pruiett was critical of new environmentally focused building requirements passed by the Legislature which he said increased construction costs and disincentivized development.
Pruiett said Tharinger, the Democratic majority in the state Legislature and the Biden administration were creating conditions leading to increased crime, drug abuse and teen suicide.
Many of the questions put to the candidates had to do with rising costs and what the Legislature might do to alleviate that. Asked by a member of the audience if they would support a repeal of minimum wage increases going into effect next year, Tharinger said he likely would not while Pruiett supported the idea.
“I’m probably not inclined to repeal that,” Tharinger said. “One of the challenges we have is equity issues around employment, rent and all those other things. I think that the minimum wage is an effort to try to balance that inequity.”
The state minimum wage will be raised from $14.49 an hour to $15.74 an hour on Jan. 1, 2023, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries.
“I personally would work to appeal the minimum wage as it is, yes,” Pruiett said, also criticizing the capital gains tax bill currently being litigated and set to go before the state Supreme Court.
This is the second time the two candidates have faced each other in a general election.
Pruiett lost to Tharinger in the 2020 election. In the Aug. 2 primary election, Pruiett received 42 percent of the vote to Tharinger’s 51 percent.
District 24’s Position 1 incumbent, Democrat Mike Chapman, also faces a recurrent challenger in Republican Sue Forde.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters beginning Oct. 19.
Voter registration is available at votewa.gov. Washington allows same-day voter registration on Election Day.