PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Steve Tharinger’s record in the state Legislature was a major discussion in an election debate concerning the Legislative District 24, Position 2 seat.
Tharinger, a Port Townsend Democrat, is challenged in the Nov. 8 election for his seat by Carlsborg Republican Brian Pruiett, who did not attend the debate before the Port Angeles Noon Rotary Club on Wednesday.
Matthew Rainwater, campaign manager for Pruiett, stood in for the candidate, who was at another campaign event in Grays Harbor County, according to Rainwater.
Rainwater was a candidate for the Position 1 seat in District 24 but lost in the primary to incumbent Democrat Mike Chapman and Republican challenger Sue Forde.
District 24 covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
Tharinger — who’s held his seat since 2011 — previously served three terms as Clallam County Commissioner and often cites his position within the Legislature as a reason that voters should reelect him.
“I’m in the majority caucus, I’m in a position to help address those challenges and make solutions that work for us here on the Peninsula,” Tharinger said, citing his procurement of deadline extensions to environmental regulations for the area’s paper mills.
“If you vote for me, you get that kind of experience, those kinds of relationships,” Tharinger said.
Within the state House of Representatives, Tharinger chairs the Capital Budget Committee and sits on the Appropriations and the Health Care and Wellness Committees. Tharinger said his seats on those three panels have allowed him to secure funding for critical projects on the Olympic Peninsula.
Tharinger cited several healthcare-related projects being funded by the Legislature, both locally and statewide, including funding for education programs for health care professionals.
Pruiett — and, on Wednesday, Rainwater — have been critical of policies coming out of the state capitol in Olympia where Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governorship.
Pruiett has criticized Tharinger’s sponsorship of several police reform bills, which he says have led to increased crime across the state, and Rainwater repeated those criticisms.
“We have a candidate who has sponsored legislative lawlessness through those infamous anti-police laws,” Rainwater said. “Brian has spoke with families across the district and they are hurting due to the policies enacted by his opponent.”
Rainwater also was critical of environmental regulations on new buildings passed by the Legislature because, he said, they would increase the cost of construction.
“The state continues to impose fees and taxes which make it increasingly harder to build new housing,” Rainwater said.
“With the new green building and climate policies, the cost of housing is going to continue to be out of reach for even more people.”
Tharinger defended his sponsorship of police reform laws and noted that Washington voters in 2017 approved Initiative 940 which required “law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training, and provide first-aid; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a ‘good faith’ standard and independent investigation.”
That initiative passed statewide by 60 percent, according to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. Of the three counties in District 24, the initiative passed in Clallam County by 54 percent and Jefferson County by 70 percent but was voted down in Grays Harbor County by 51 percent.
Rainwater was particularly critical of the provision within those laws that prevents law enforcement from pursuing suspects fleeing a roadside stop.
Lawmakers had been working on corrections to some of the issues caused by those reform laws, Tharinger said, but those alterations hadn’t made it through the legislative process in the last session.
“Nowhere have I ever said, or would I say, that I don’t fund the police,” Tharinger said.
“We actually increased salaries for police in this past budget.”
Ballots in the all-mail election went out Wednesday. Online voter registration is available at votewa.gov, until Oct. 31, after which point voter registration still will be available but must be done in person at county election offices. Washington allows in-person, same-day voter registration until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The Peninsula Daily News will publish a voter guide for Clallam and Jefferson counties as part of the Saturday newspaper.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.