State Senate hopefuls debate taxes, sex ed

PORT ANGELES — Candidates for a four-year 24th Legislative District state Senate seat clashed over wildfires and sex education in a recent Port Angeles Nor’Wester Rotary Club voters forum.

Democrat Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, the incumbent, and Republican challenger Connie Beauvais of Joyce also disagreed on 2019 tax increases at the virtual event Friday.

Ballots for the election, mailed today to voters, are due in drop boxes or at county auditors’ offices by 8 p.m. Nov. 3, the date by which they must be postmarked, if mailed, to be valid.

The 24th Legislative District covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and about half of Grays Harbor County.

Van De Wege, a Clallam County Fire District 3 lieutenant, assailed Beauvais’ statement criticizing him in the 88-page Washington state Voters’ Pamphlet.

In the publication, Beauvais, the manager of the Crescent Water Association and a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, said “our district legislative leaders voted for $25 billion in new taxes over three years during a budget surplus, even though the 24th district overwhelmingly voted against these taxes in the 2019 tax advisories.”

Van De Wege, a one-term incumbent who served five terms in the House, mocked her assertion.

“If we raised $25 billion in new taxes, we would have no financial problems, and we would be able to run a lot more things,” he said, adding that the biennial budget is $55 billion.

“To be honest with you, we have no idea where that number, that $25 billion number, comes from.”

“I don’t know where that came from, either,” Beauvais responded.

She referred Van De Wege to a PDN story she said had reported “specifically where the tax increases came from, and Kevin was quoted right in the paper saying he had no idea where those increases came from after he had voted yes on them, so, just truth be told.”

Beauvais said Monday in a text message she had been incorrect about the source of her information.

She said the $25 billion figure came from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and covered the cumulative impact of specific tax increases approved in the 2019 legislative session over 10 years.

“It is stored on my phone so I can access it, but I was zooming in my phone at the debate and didn’t have time to pull it up,” Beauvais said in the text message.

“I would note that the amount of money over the 10 years is very concerning, especially given the uncertain times we’re in.”

Van De Wege said some taxes that were approved were imposed on large corporations that will fund a free community college education for lower-income households, and he praised a new payroll tax for long-term elderly health care.

The taxes also include a boost in school levy authority, which some districts such as the Port Angeles School District are not using.

“If you assume all that stuff over 10 years, which, Congress works off a 10-year budget, [and] the state does not, I think that you can get close to $25 billion.”

He criticized Beauvais at the forum for not being able to explain information in her own Voters’ Pamphlet statement.

“Amazingly, Connie just said she didn’t know where the $25 billion in new taxes that she talks about in the Voters’ Guide on Page 49 and tries to hit me on, she doesn’t even know where that came from,” he said.

Sex education

Referendum 90 would enact a sex education law — SB 5395 — that has already passed the state Legislature but which opponents want to keep from taking effect.

The curriculum would be taught to all grades by 2022-2023. A vote in favor of the referendum would allow the law to be put into effect.

Parents could opt their children out of the instruction.

“A lot of people feel, rightly or wrongly, that this is a degenderizing and sexualizing of kids at a very young age,” Beauvais said.

She said parents were not consulted on the legislation and that there should be more local control.

“When you watch the TVW hearings that went on and they were showing pictures in the particular curriculum and book they were using, there was a caution, adult-material flag down at the bottom of the screen that this was going to be taught to fourth-graders, you know, how to put a condom on a banana type of thing,” she said.

Van De Wege said most schools statewide, including Port Angeles School District, use the curriculum in Referendum 90.

He said the incidence of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is higher in school districts that don’t employ it.

Van De Wege said “just about every day” there are news reports of child rape or molestation on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“A large part of that is caused, if you read the articles and track it, is caused by kids being taken advantage of, and not knowing what’s right and what’s not right, and I think when we teach a broader sex education, it’s going to have an impact on that in the future,” he said

A synopsis of SB 5395 is at tinyurl.com/PDN-SexEdReport.

Asked about reducing the impact of wildfires, Beauvais said more controlled, or prescribed, burns and better forest management need to take place.

“There’s so much that we really need to do to fix the problem, and it is not setting more lands aside,” she said.

Van De Wege praised existing policies.

“On state lands, there is quite a bit of forest health going on,” he said.

“In the northeast portion of the state over the last couple of years, there’s been a big increase in prescribed burning, and I think that’s the right direction to go in.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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