The 19th Legislative District includes all or parts of five counties. In the only contested 19th District race in the primary election that concludes Tuesday, all three candidates come from either Grays Harbor or Pacific counties in the northwestern part of the district. That’s where the similarity ends.
The incumbent, Brian Blake, is a moderate to conservative Democrat who has focused on rural issues through typical legislative processes. One challenger, Republican Hugh Fleet, would do away with much of the existing government structure in order to reduce the number of regulations, and the other challenger, James “Jimi” O’Hagen, who has no party preference, says the state’s judicial branch is so corrupt he’d kill two birds with one stone by discouraging students from going on to law school, saving the cost of educating them and limiting the number of lawyers, which he says would be another cost savings in the long run.
Blake, D-Aberdeen, has served in the House since 2002 and sits as chairman of the Agriculture &Natural Resources Committee. He is also a member of the Business &Financial Service and Government Accountability &Oversight committees. He previously worked as a logger and environmental specialist. Fleet, of South Bend, spent his career in the communication technology field, working for GTE, Verizon and school districts. O’Hagen lives in Grayland and owns and operates a cranberry farm.
The three candidates’ names appear on primary ballot. Ballots will be counted Tuesday and only the top two vote getters will have a place on the general election ballot. The district covers parts of Grays Harbor, Cowlitz and Lewis counties and all of Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.
Incumbent Dean Takko, D-Longview, and David Steenson, a Longview Libertarian, are the candidates for the other 19th District seat. As the onlytwo candidates, both will proceed to the general election in November.
If elected to office, Fleet said he hopes to do no less than shake up the entire structure of state government, removing rule-making authority from state agencies and making the Legislature responsible for any and all regulations.
“I’m for giving the power back to you and me so that we can have a representative government like it was designed to be, not have these agencies running everything,” Fleet said.
He said he doesn’t have a problem with any particular agency, and said all of them should have power taken away.
O’Hagen says he is particularly concerned with the state’s judicial system — including judges and members of the Washington State Bar Association. He said he previously submitted an inquiry regarding criminal activities in the branch to his legislators, but the issue was never investigated. He declined to describe the criminal activities, but said the case would result in “hundreds of millions of dollars of damages.”
“I’m after holding the public officials accountable,” O’Hagen said. “The state bar has moved away from this. They want to hold the public taxpayers accountable.”
He hopes to bring the issue before the Legislature if elected to office, using his experience as a pro-se litigant — meaning he has represented himself in court rather than using an attorney.
Blake said he hopes to continue his efforts to create and preserve land access, and his latest goal is to improve access to boat launches along the Wynooche River and preserving access to the 38,000-acre Toutle Block area near Mount St. Helens.
Beyond that, he hopes to work on issues constituents bring forward.
“I’m trying to work most with issues that citizens bring me and let them somewhat drive the process of how legislation is crafted and introduced,” Blake said.
In terms of job creation for the district, both Fleet and O’Hagen said their plans to scale back government would translate to more jobs because it means fewer regulations, while Blake points to new infrastructure.
“You see that big building being built on the Grays Harbor College campus and it’s just amazing,” Blake said. “That’s the kind of thing that created jobs.”
The state, he said, should also focus on local ports and facilities such as the Satsop Business Park, which is owned and operated by the Port of Grays Harbor. “If we make sure there are places companies can come in and use, that will bring jobs to the area.”
But the economy would be better served if the Legislature decreases regulations and taxes for small businesses, Fleet argued. And decreasing taxes would have the added benefit of taking money, and therefore power, from the state government.
“They’re talking about raising taxes, and some (legislators) are for this because they want the money,” Fleet said. “But if they don’t have the money, they don’t have any power. And I’m not after the government having more power.”
O’Hagen also said his plans for the state’s judicial branch would have the added benefit of creating jobs, as judges and lawyers would no longer be able to be “predators” to small businesses.
“I think that when that activity is reigned in, that will spur growth of our small business sector,” O’Hagen said.
While Fleet and Blake are concerned with infrastructure and transportation when it comes to crude-by-rail, O’Hagen instead focused on what would happen if there is an oil spill along the coast.
He said oil spills are another example of a time when lawyers try to make money at the expense of small business owners.
“We cannot have a situation where people profit, I don’t care if they’re a member of the bar or the president of the United States,” O’Hagen said.
Blake said that since there are four oil refineries in Washington, there’s always going to be some kind of oil transportation. But that doesn’t mean the Legislature shouldn’t do everything it can to protect the state’s coastal industries — such as the commercial fishing and shellfish industries.
For the most part, state regulations for the creation of the shipping facilities are adequate, he said, but there is work do be done when it comes to transportation. For example, the federal government should work aggressively do phase out the DOT-111 tank cars that have been under scrutiny following explosions when some oil trains have derailed.
“I think that you always worry about big pronouncements made by the federal government and hope that agencies responsible understand how important it is that they push this,” Blake said. “They recognize that there’s a flaw in the existing cars, and I hope that they follow through and speed the introduction of new ones.”
“But I think it will be several years, if ever, that oil is transported through the Harbor,” he added.
Fleet said he also has concerns when it comes to crude oil shipping, but he’s also concerned about job creation.
“I’ve seen these trains come by Walmart, and one, particularly, lasted forever,” Fleet said. “So I see what they’re saying. But I’m for the oil trains. We need jobs.”
During the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers have spent a lot of time and energy working to fulfill the mandates of a 2012 state Supreme Court decision — known as the McCleary Decision — that the state was failing to adequately fund K-12 education.
The Legislature has until 2018 to fix the problem.
Fleet said he’s developed many of his opinions regarding education funding through working to develop communications infrastructure for two Snohomish County school districts. He worked about five years for the Mukilteo School District and about nine years for the Marysville School District.
School districts could save a lot of money if they restructure their special education programs, he said.
“They could make the decision to have fewer kids in special ed,” Fleet said. “They could go through and say this kid with this problem doesn’t need to be in it.”
The state should also try to eliminate costly lawsuits between school districts and special education students and cut back on the districts’ administrative salaries and benefits — especially in the case of administrators who retire and come back to work, he said.
“Just do something for your country, I say,” Fleet said. “You don’t need all that money.”
O’Hagen argued that money to fund K-12 education could be freed up by defunding the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. He also said that as part of their education reforms, the state should prevent students from going to law school to become “predators to business.”
Blake said he’s a fan of the plan outlined by former Attorney General Rob McKenna during his gubernatorial campaign. Under this plan, the money taxpayers pay for schools wouldn’t go toward a specific district. It would instead be placed into a state fund and then distributed to schools.
“The way its been explained to me is that the outcome would be good for rural school districts and not so good for some of the urban school districts that have larger resources,” Blake said.
Editor’s note: Candidates were asked to submit photos to accompany stories on the race, but none was received from James O’Hagen.