State Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend faces two primary election challengers, including a fellow Democrat, in his bid for a sixth two-year term representing Position 2 in Legislative District 24.
Ballots were mailed to voters Wednesday. They are due in county drop boxes by 8 p.m. Aug. 4 or must be postmarked or be hand-delivered to county auditor offices by that date.
Tharinger is pitted in the Aug. 4 contest against Democrat Darren Corcoran and Republican Brian Pruiett.
Republican Jodi Wilke has withdrawn from the race for personal reasons, she said Saturday morning in an email. Her name is on the primary election ballot.
The top two vote-getters in the primary for the Position 2 seat will proceed to the Nov. 3 general election.
The 24th district has more than 132,000 voters and covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
State lawmakers earn $52,766 a year.
During interviews Wednesday and Thursday, we posed four questions to Tharinger, Pruiett and Corcoran. Wilke did not respond to repeated phone and email requests for an interview for this story last week before withdrawing Saturday from the race.
What is the main issue you will focus on if elected?
Corcoran: Corcoran, an Elma resident and Montana native, said he hears a lot of complaints about vehicle licensing fees at his job at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The 20-year military veteran said in the state voter guide that voters have approved a $30 cap three times since 1999, and lawmakers have yet to abide by their wishes.
“I want a cap for all vehicles and motorcycles,” he said.
Corcoran said he is a defender of the Second Amendment.
“If we are responsible adults, we should be able to own any type of weapon,” he said, adding that firearms that are already disallowed under the law should continue to be restricted.
He advocates stronger background checks and said weapons should be kept “out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have those types of weapons.”
Pruiett: Pruiet, a Skagit County native and 34-year veteran, moved to Clallam County four years ago from Bremerton.
He said he will focus on the billions of dollars in tax increases passed by the state Legislature and would not get behind any state income tax or carbon tax.
House Republicans have cited $10 billion in new taxes approved by lawmakers in 2019 with a fiscal impact between 2021-2025, as described on their website at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-TaxIncreases.
They include a payroll tax to fund long-term care and a business and occupation tax on large companies for workforce education.
Pruiett said he is unhappy with the district’s low graduation rates, suggesting the state auditor’s office should look into education spending.
He also disagrees with the sex education curriculum.
“I’ll work to halt the radical curricula sexualizing kindergartners by restoring local school board authority,” he said in the state voter guide.
Tharinger: Tharinger said his main issue would be dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
“We are looking to strengthen the economy if people follow public health protocols to manage the virus,” he said.
“There will still be impacts to the economy. Budgeting will be a challenge.”
Tharinger also would focus on expanding broadband services, a priority he said he can have an impact on through his position as chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, which he expects to keep if he’s reelected.
“I’ve been in that position for five years, and I haven’t done anything, I don’t think, to change the [mind of] the caucus.”
Tharinger said the tax increases cited by Republicans included automatic increases in fees and cost-of-living adjustments, as well tax increases to fund K-12 education expenditures related to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which accounted for a majority of the increase they cited.
How should the state budget be adjusted to address shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Corcoran: Corcoran said he does not have a specific answer.
He said he knows people are struggling economically like him and his wife, who are doing their best to save money in a bad economy.
“I’m against trying to tax people that are already hurting for money,” Corcoran said.
“If you are taxing the same people, it’s just hurting those people even more.
“The smaller communities are hurting because of COVID-19.”
Pruiett: Pruiett said he would take a close look at expenditures and stress fiscal austerity.
“I’m a big picture guy,” he said.
Pruiett would consider cutting the capital budget to continue funding education.
“It has to be a collaborative effort,” he said of addressing the shortfalls.
Tharinger: Tharinger took issue with Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for across-the-board cuts to state agencies.
“Schools are pretty well protected,” he said, adding the same is true for Medicaid.
Cuts could come from higher education and the state Department of Natural Resources, or services that don’t have federal matching funds, Tharinger said.
“There will be some discussion around revenues to address the regressivity with our dependence on sales tax.
“You might see some effort to readjust the B & O [business and occupation] tax and try to make that on net receipts instead of on gross receipts.”
How would you assess the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Corcoran: Corcoran said the legislative district has been shut down too severely, with statewide policy being driven more by populated areas hit harder by the pandemic.
“There should have been a more regional approach,” he said.
Corcoran agreed with emphasizing social distancing of 6 feet but did not agree with wearing a face mask “all the time.”
“It should be mandated indoors, ” he added.
Pruiett: Pruiett said the state’s initial response was “an abject failure” and did not fulfill plans that were already in place to deal with a pandemic.
“Tharinger is a primary guy” as a lawmaker who should have dealt better with the pandemic, he said.
“Who funds that? The Legislature. The Legislature failed.
“Where did the money go? Where was it spent? That’s why an audit needs to be done.”
Pruiett said he disagreed with closing small businesses and letting big-box stores stay open.
Pruiett said he wears a face mask if he cannot social distance but does not agree with making it mandatory.
Tharinger: Tharinger agrees with the mask mandate and praised the state’s response to the pandemic.
“I’d say it’s been good,” he said.
“There were some glitches when it was first initiated.
“It’s certainly been challenging, but when you look around the country at the surge of cases happening in the Sun Belt, in Texas and Florida and Arizona and Louisiana, you’re seeing some surge here but it’s not widespread.
“We haven’t been hit by a second surge that is overwhelming other places.
“We’ve been on the right path.
Tharinger said the mask mandate is preferable to coronavirus cases spiking without it.
“The mandate is better than having to close all the businesses,” he said.
“Going to Phase 1 is more challenging than people wearing masks.”
What can the state Legislature do to help the economy recover from measures imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19?
Corcoran: Corcoran suggested making it easier to allow restaurants to offer outdoor eating to attract customers safely.
“It’s going to take a long time for us to recover from what has happened,” he predicted.
“Let them try to open and recover a little bit.”
Pruiett: Pruiett supports giving small businesses a “tax holiday” on a day-to-day pro rata basis if they were forced to close during the pandemic.
“How can they make that up,” he said.
“There’s no way to make up those taxes.”
Tharinger: Tharinger would help stimulate the economy in his expected continued role as chair of the House Capital Budget Committee “to get construction projects that will generate economic activity,” he said.
He cited broadband, library construction and other projects such as a new mental health hospital in Lakewood that will stimulate the economy.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].