CANDIDATE FORUM: Washignton State Fifth Legislative District

Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D) debated Dennis Price (L), Rep. Zack Hudgins (D) debated Erin Smith Aboudara (R) and Rep. Steve Bergquist, who is running unopposed, took questions.

With ballots headed out to voters next week, the folks at Leisure Estates in Renton this past week hosted a candidate forum on Oct. 6, moderated by the Renton Reporter, that featured all of the men and women running for office in the ninth congressional and 11th state legislative district.

The candidates discussed a wide-range of issue, from national politics to state education and transportation and even provided a deep dive into the issues that matter most to the hosts of the forum, such as landlord-tenant law.

On hand for the event were Congressman Adam Smith (D) and his opponent, businessman Doug Basler (R), as well as state Representative Zack Hudgins (D) and his opponent Erin Smith Aboudara (R), State Senator Bob Hasegawa (D) and his opponent, Dennis Price (L), and state Representative Steve Bergquist (D), who is running unopposed this year.

Each office was given about 30 minutes of discussion, including some crossover of questions.

To read the exchange between Smith and Basler, click here.

Bob Hasegawa vs Dennis Price (State Senate, 11th District)

At the state level, the widest gap was between Hasegawa, a former union representative who said he was initially ran for office to protect civil rights for all and to fight for “regular working families,” and Price, a Libertarian and veteran who said he decided to run because he wanted to find new ways to solve problems instead of “more laws, more regulations and more restrictions on our freedom.”

One of the starkest differences among the candidates came when they were asked about school funding and the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which forces the legislature to “fully fund” general education and to equalize levy spending across varied school districts to ensure the state is providing the same education everywhere.

Price said that the Washington is in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to per student spending and said he thins the state is probably spending enough money, just not effectively. Price said he supports a voucher system at an 80 percent rate (which would keep 20 percent in the public schools) so parents could chose where to send their children if they were displeased with their public choices.

Hasegawa, on the other hand, was clear that the state would have to find new money in order to meet the needs laid out by the supreme court and held up a graph showing that 75 percent of the current sending in untouchable, making it difficult to find the money elsewhere.

“We have to look at ways to raise revenue,” he said.

On the issue of transportation, each candidate was asked about ways to cut congestion in our region.

Price said he opposes the Sound Transit 3 package as too expensive and said tax money already subsidizes transit, making this yet another tax. Price said he would encourage housing closer to jobs and said he would like to incentivize private bus companies to help meet the needs of residents not currently served through public transportation.

Hasegawa said he would “grudgingly support” the $54 billion package because it will create jobs, but called the strategy behind it “disjointed” and  “just stupid,” adding “Where’s the southeast (projects)?”

The issue of tax breaks for business also came up, in light of reports earlier this year that Boeing’s projected breaks are much higher than anticipated by the legislature when they were approved.

Price said he is opposed to special tax breaks, adding that it is not the government’s job to “pick winners and losers.”

Hasegawa said he voted against the Boeing tax breaks in 2013 because he saw no accountability and felt Boeing was not going anywhere, simply trying to get a deal out of the state. he said he would have preferred to collect all of the taxes and build infrastructure to bring businesses to the area instead of “bribing them to stay.”

Finally, when asked if they supported their party’s candidate at the top of the ticket, the two men diverged again.

Price said he was pleased to have the “best candidate” in the race in Libertarian Gary Johnson and urged voters who are unhappy with both choices to cast their ballot to build a third party for next time around.

Hasegawa, an avowed Bernie Sanders supporter during the primary, went in another direction. Though he opened by saying “Donald Trump cannot be president” he also said he sees lies whenever Clinton opens her mouth and that he was very opposed to her choice of vice president, whom characterized as anti-labor.

“I just don’t trust her at all,” he said, adding that he planned to campaign against Trump, but not for Clinton.

Zack Hudgins vs Erin Smith Aboudara (state Representative Position 1, 11th District)

Aboudara, a political newcomer, introduced herself to the crowd as a a mother and former nursing assistant from Fairwood who said she ran because she wanted to make sure parents of children with disabilities (she said one of her children has mild autism) have a voice in Olympia.

Hudgins, on the other hand, said he initially ran in 2003 because of his concerns about the economy, and said his experience is “really important” because of the “complexity” of the issues facing the state, notably the budget.

Asked about transportation, Hudgins called I-405 “Dante’s fourth level of hell” and said he “unenthusiastically supports” ST3 because he thinks we will either have to pay now or pay later, when it will be more expensive. He also cited his experience on the transportation committee and said it ealing with traffic was a top priority of his.

Aboudara said she voted for the ST2 package in 2008, but does not support ST3 because it is too expensive and she believes approval will make it more difficult to find additional money for education. She also said she was opposed to the lengthy timeline, adding that he high school-aged childen would be middle aged by the time the projects are completed.

“It takes too long, it won;t help enough people,” she said.

On the topic of education, Aboudara said she agrees education should be “fully funded” and said she feels a lot of money :floats around at the top” at local school dustricts and would like to see more of that money going to classrooms and teachers. She also said she does not support a capital gains or income tax and that schools should be paid for through property taxes.

Hudgins said McCleary would be the “center of focus” i the next term and said there were several complicated issues to grapple with, especially levy equalization and the implications that might have on local districts. He also said he did not believe the money can come from “squeezing the state” and said he would support additional revenue measures like a capital gains tax or a carbon tax.

Hudgins and Aboudara were also asked about their thoughts on climate change and if they would support Initiative 732 which establishes a tax on carbon emissions.

Hudgins said he believes climate change is a man-made phenomenon and would support a carbon tax as a “great source of revenue” but said he would be voting no in the initiative because it is not revenue neutral.

Aboudara said she agrees there is climate change happening, but did not take a stand on its cause, instead saying she was also concerned about ocean acidification. She said she is not in favor of the initiative or a carbon tax because while she believes more can be done to protect the environment, she did not think taxes would make an impact.

ON the topic of tax breaks for businesses, Aboudara said Boeing had the state “over a barrel” and that she is not opposed to tax breaks in order to keep businesses in the state.

“We need those jobs,” she said. “I don;t know what would happen to Renton if we didn’t have Boeing.”

Hudgins said the state tax policy “is a mess,” but said Boeing is the l=biggest piece of the state’s aerospace sector, which employs more tan 250,000 people. Hudgins said he would like to see more accountability in the legislation and said the ultimate goal was to move to a “more progressive model” of taxes. But he also said that while the state might be foregoing tax revenue when it gives a break, it would defintely lose the money if the businesses left.

Steve Bergquist (state Representative Position 2, 11th District)

Though he is running unopposed this year, Bergquist also attended the forum and answered questions for the audience.

Bergquist, who owns a small business and works as a teacher, gave perhaps the fullest answer of the evening regarding the McCleary decision, going so far as to explain that the state pays for 73 percent of the funding in Renton, while the residents of the district pick up the other 23 percent, though he said shifting the tax burden around may not be fair either.

“We need to make sure it’s an even playing field,” he said.

Bergquist was also asked about the partisan nature of politics and said that as a representative, he would be willing to compromise with Republicans in order to pass important legislation.

“The perfect bill for me is never the perfect bill for other members,” he said. “You have to be willing to compromise.”

Asked about his party’s presidential nominee, Bergquist said he supported Clinton from the start because of her focus on education.

Bergquist also spent time taking landlord/tenant questions from the group and promised to look into their concerns.

THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED: Due to an editing error, Dennis Price’s name was wrong in the original version of this story. We regret the error.

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