Jobs, health care and repairing an economy badly damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage during a League of Women voters forum for the 24th Legislative District’s state Senate seat.
Connie Beauvais, a Republican, is challenging Democrat incumbent Kevin Van De Wege for the four-year position. The candidates came together for a debate on the Zoom platform Sunday.
The candidates had similar positions on jobs, natural resources and the economy. Where they differed most dramatically was on health care and taxes.
“My top priority will be to get our state back to normal,” said Beauvais, currently an elected commissioner for the Port of Port Angeles. “I realize it may be a new normal, but it needs to be one in which we get all businesses reopened while keeping employees safe. We need to get our kids and grandkids properly educated while protecting students and staff from COVID.”
Beauvais said the state Legislature should have held a special session in response to COVID and the economic dislocation caused by the pandemic. She also said the Legislature needs to review the governor’s powers during an emergency.
“Citizens have not been represented in the blanket decisions made during COVID,” she said.
Van De Wege said he is running to create and sustain jobs.
“Jobs are the most important thing I can work on, on the Olympic Peninsula,” he said.
Van De Wege said he sees people in their greatest time of need during his work as a firefighter.
“That’s given me a real foundation and background in how the average Olympic Peninsula person lives,” he said.
When it comes to health care, the candidates showed some stark differences. They were asked about the risk of people losing their health insurance if they become unemployed.
Beauvais said the state insurance exchange website is one area to help people cover their health care needs.
“The state has done a great thing to make that whole concept available to people,” she said.
Van De Wege quickly countered, however, that the state health insurance program Beauvais cited is actually the federal Affordable Care Act and that “the leader of your party, President Trump, is passionate about disassembling.”
Beauvais suggested that if the ACA is invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court, then the state should take up the mantle of funding it more.
“It doesn’t have to be something at the federal level,” she said.
Van De Wege said Beauvais’ response “was a completely out-of-touch answer.”
“The only way a health care system can work is nationwide,” he said. “It would bankrupt the state.”
He added the state doesn’t have the money to finance a health insurance exchange on its own.
Both candidates touted their ability to reach across the aisle and work with people in other parties.
“I have a long history of being a moderate and working across party lines,” Van De Wege said. “My caucus looks to me when we need to solve problems and negotiate” with Republicans, he said.
”One thing I think is missing from our political system right now is people being willing to compromise and telling constituents that it is in their best interests to come up with a solution and not bicker,” Van De Wege said.
Beauvais said she’s always held nonpartisan positions. This is the first partisan office for which she has run, and she would “work very, very hard to be that go-between” among the parties.
She said Van De Wege’s votes on taxes has not shown a bipartisan approach, citing his support for a 45-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax.
“That doesn’t help this district,” Beauvais said. “I don’t find that to be a conciliatory action on his part.”
Van De Wege said that particular issue was a procedural vote.
“I have never voted for a gas tax that was signed into law,” he said.
“Thank heaven it wasn’t enacted into law, otherwise it would be costing our trucking industry a tremendous amount,” Beauvais said. “But you did vote ahead of that in the Senate to increase taxes on gasoline by 45 cents.”
The candidates were also asked about how the state should address race and discrimination.
“Within all of us individually, we need to recognize and love each other for what each person is, not what the outside of their body looks like,” Beauvais said. “There is not one of us who is perfect. That being said, we need to make sure that our justice system, from the police and the courts, does not discriminate at all in the work that they do.”
Van De Wege expects the topic to be discussed in Olympia.
“I think that [racial justice] movement will have a significant impact on this coming session and sessions in the future,” he said. “I think every piece of legislation we pass will go under some degree of equity lens. I think a lot of existing laws will be reviewed.”
The debate also focused on the environment, state budget, policing and other issues. It can be viewed online.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached by email at [email protected].