Grays Harbor voters should have their primary election ballots by now, and have until Aug. 5 to get them in the mail or drop them off. Both Grays Harbor legislative districts have state House of Representatives members up for election, with local residents still discussing crude oil shipping and the economy, and state lawmakers focused on K-12 education.
Both House members from the 24th District are back on the ballot this year. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is running unopposed, while fellow Sequim Democrat Steve Tharinger has drawn two challengers: Moclips Republican Thomas Greismer and Sequim Libertarian Stafford Conway.
Tharinger, who formerly owned and operated a wood manufacturing business, was first elected to the Legislature in 2010 and serves on the House Finance, Appropriations, Environment and Health Care &Wellness committees. Greismer is a retired psychiatrist who formerly worked for the state Department of Social &Health Services and the state Department of Corrections. Conway is the Sequim-based medical director for neurology for the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, working in affiliation with Olympic Medical Center.
The 24th District represents much of the Olympic Peninsula, including Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County. Both Hoquiam and Ocean Shores are included in the 24th — as are the Quinault area and areas north of Aberdeen, Montesano and State Route 12 east of Montesano.
Both Aberdeen, Montesano and areas south of State Route 12 to the Oregon border are part of the 19th District.
Each candidate cited a different reason for filing for candidacy. Tharinger simply said he initially ran to make government work better for his constituents on the Olympic Peninsula, and Conway said he hopes to bring Libertarian ideals to the Legislature.
“I don’t feel like people, in a broad sense, are being served by the traditional two-party system,” Conway said. “The leadership that we have right now hasn’t been very fiscally responsible, and we need to do something different.”
Greismer said he was motivated to run, to a large extent, by Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to place a moratorium on capital punishment. He specifically referenced the case of Jayme Biendl, a corrections officer who was killed by inmate Brian Scherf at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
“I know he said it’s not a pardon (for inmates with capital punishment sentences), but I think this is evidence of the state not paying attention to the needs of the people,” Greismer said. “I think even the chief executive should have to follow the law.”
All three candidates said they’re focused on job creation, but each has a different opinion regarding how the economy should be stimulated.
As a legislator, Greismer said he would advocate for fewer regulations on small businesses. He said many of the small business owners he’s talked to are worried that future measures, such as an increased minimum wage, will make businesses less profitable and cause them to hire fewer people.
“It’s amazing that when I talk to people in Ocean Shores, Hoquiam, Port Angeles, everyone who has a business is scared to death because there are so many government agencies out there trying to regulate them,” Greismer said. “People start businesses to make money and create a product of a service that will be in demand, and they can’t do this if the government sets bars in their way, excessive regulation.”
Members of the Legislature will only be able to weed out unnecessary regulations if they have more time, Greismer said. He hopes that the governing body will begin to meet all year, like Congress does.
“We need a legislature that is a professional legislature, a full-time legislature,” Greismer said. “Our lawmakers get together for 90 days on even years, and a lot of those bills they pass are frivolous and don’t contribute to the welfare of the state.”
Conway is also running on a “lower taxes, less regulation” platform when it comes to job creation and small business growth, but argued that many of the regulatory changes will need to come from Congress.
“You’ve got massive amounts of money being printed that adds to inflation,” Conway said. “And that doesn’t help the local economy.”
In the mean time, he said, the Legislature should focus on eliminating restrictions at the state level and reducing taxes for small businesses. He’s also an advocate of states’ rights and diminishing the power of the federal government.
“The state’s going to have to reaffirm its rights to be able to create jobs on the local level,” Conway said.
Tharinger, on the other hand, said he’s in favor of more government programs that would stimulate the local economy, such as additional job training for manufacturing industries that utilize the Port of Grays Harbor. He also hopes to see growth in tourism and recreation.
“I think the 24th District has more state park land than any other district,” Tharinger said. “We should use that.”
Crude oil shipping
The candidates also differ in opinion when it comes to crude oil shipping. Tharinger said that while he doesn’t necessarily oppose the idea, there should be stricter regulations in place to protect citizens and maintain traffic flow on local roadways. Greismer argued that the industry would do the area more good than harm, and Conway said that while current shipping regulations may not be adequate, “reactionary legislation” could be just as harmful.
The problems with crude-by-rail could largely be solved if the Legislature were to pass an adequate transportation package, Tharinger said. He hopes that the state will allocate more funds for rail traffic studies that would identify areas that could be made safer.
“I think it’s very important that the rail lines are improved, and I’m very concerned about the trains passing through Elma, Aberdeen and Hoquiam,” Tharinger said.
Tharinger said he has been reading through many of the comments submitted during the Environmental Impact Statement scoping period for the Westway Terminals and Imperium Renewables projects and is concerned about recent problems with the Puget Sound &Pacific rail line — particularly the derailments of grain cars in Aberdeen and near Montesano.
Greismer, on the other hand, said he believes that current guidelines for crude oil shipping and storage should be met. But the Legislature shouldn’t introduce new ones because current ones are adequate, he said, calling those who oppose crude-by-rail “purveyors of paranoia.”
“It seems like with any economic development, there are people lined up around the corner to protest against it,” Greismer said.
The crude-by-rail issue is another in which states’ rights are superseded by federal laws, Conway said. He argued that the Legislature has a better idea of how oil transportation could be better managed in Washington, and that federal regulations won’t always meet local needs.
However, Washington lawmakers shouldn’t rush into creating new laws in reaction to crude-by-rail accidents in Quebec and other parts of the United States.
“The state needs to take this on, it knows its needs better (than Congress does),” Conway said. “At the same time, I’m always cautious of reactionary legislation.”
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.
Current lawmakers fall into different camps with regards to how the mandate might be met — some have advocated for education reform, others hope to cut costs in other parts of the budget and some want to increase taxes. Others still hope to combine two or more of the solutions.
Tharinger falls into the new taxes camp, advocating for a capital gains tax that would impact wealthier Washington residents.
“There are a lot of dials you can adjust to make it work,” Tharinger said. “I would advocate for a $50,000 exemption so it wouldn’t impact the average retiree who is using income from their savings to fund their retirement. It’s something that would work very well if it’s structured properly.”
Revenue from a capital gains tax could fluctuate depending on the economy, so it would be best used as a funding source for scholarships and other non-daily expenses, Tharinger said. That way, the state’s general fund would be freed up for the more consistent K-12 education costs.
Both Greismer and Conway said that K-12 education problems would be best served through reform — and Greismer argued that the problems could become worse if more money is allocated for education.
“The Legislature needs to reform the entire K-12 system,” Greismer wrote in an election questionnaire. “Reform should look at everything from how our teachers are taught to teach, and how our students are motivated to learn. … The problems in our education system cannot be solved by simply throwing more taxpayer money at it.”
Conway also argued against new taxes, saying that citizens can’t afford them.
“We really can’t afford it with the current economy,” Conway said. “You drive through town and you seen tons of ‘for sale’ signs on commercial property. People can’t even afford to run their businesses.”
The Legislature should instead eliminate the use of the Common Core, a set of learning standards for students, and use the money spent on the program to fund other aspects of K-12 education, he said.