Both Rep. Brian Blake and challenger Tim Sutinen agree on the top priorities for the 19th Legislative District representative: Balance the budget while fully funding education and helping stimulate the economy. Where the logger-turned-politician and his Independent challenger differ are the roads to get there.
Blake, an Aberdeen native and Democrat, was elected in 2002. He had to learn new skills after an accident in the woods, and earned his bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College. Blake went to work for the state Department of Corrections as an environmental specialist.
Blake said in implementing the McCleary decision — a recent Supreme Court ruling demanding the state do more to fully fund basic education — the state should fully implement a bill laid out by the House of Representatives in 2009.
“The courts looked at that and said that’s the model. You meet that model and you’re fully funding basic education,” Blake said.
That plan includes a variety of reforms, including all-day kindergarten, teacher evaluations, new class size formulas and increasing instructional hours.
Blake was recently named Legislator of the Year by the state Farm Bureau and gun advocates have honored Blake’s work in protecting their rights. Blake sponsored legislation this year to ensure that workers get to keep their guns in their privately-owned cars parked at work. He also sponsored legislation that would allow gun owners to own a short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle in accordance with federal law.
This year, Blake helped secure $425,000 to add more lights to the Chehalis River Bridge, a project which has been in limbo for years because of a dispute between the state and city over who should pay for it.
Blake has also been an ardent opponent of the federal Wild Olympics legislation, saying that the federal delegation should spend their time trying to increase harvest levels in the National Forest, not focused on increasing wilderness designations.
For Sutinen, who is running as an Independent, funding education would be a natural outcome of his strategy to prioritize spending. If elected, he would ask government agencies to prioritize their mandatory and necessary programs, and those that are “nice to have.”
“When the Legislature has this information, they can then sensibly decide where to get the money for education,” Sutinen said.
He added that he would also have those officials outline specific objectives and criteria to evaluate how they are meeting them.
A native of Finland, Sutinen emigrated to the U.S. in 1992 and became a citizen in 2005. He owns a computer repair business in Longview and touts his commitment to eliminating third-party influence in Olympia as one of his greatest qualifications. It’s also the reason he’s passionate about seeking public office.
“With all the money that’s going into our legislators’ pockets, they’re just pawns of all the different special interest groups,” he said.
Sutinen has run for office unsuccessfully twice, and hadn’t planned on running in this election. He had a change of heart after the filing deadline, and managed to run a successfull write-in campaign to get on the November ballot. Sutinen’s biggest political victory to date is a signature-gathering campaign to remove Longview’s red light cameras. The City Council voted to remove them, and they came out in February.
Even more important than education funding, Sutinen said, is helping the economy.
“The No. 1 priority, even before education, is getting our jobs situation corrected,” Sutinen said. “We need to de-regulate responsibly where we can.”
Sutinen points to occupational licensing as fertile ground for reform. Since 1980, Sutinen says the number of occupations requiring state licensing has jumped from 80 to about 1,000. He blames third-party influence for the increase.
“We need to immediately go to the Department of Licensing, and say, OK what are the licenses that we have that are necessary to the safety of the people and what licences are just there to keep competition out?” he said.
Blake lists deregulation as one option government has for boosting the economy, but said he would also work to use tools like the Public Works Trust Fund, transportation projects and capital projects.
After a decade in office, Blake says his motivation to serve is the ability to make a difference.
“You get to help people, and you can see that you’re making a difference in people’s lives. There’s the downsides, there are definitely people that are upset with this bill or that bill, this decision or that decision, but you do get to hear from people who’ve had their lives changed or made better by the work that you do,” Blake said.
To voters who may still be making up their minds, the candidates had this to say:
“If they want less government, less taxes and more freedom, I’m their guy,” Sutinen said.
“I think it’s just important that they choose wisely and really think about who can best represent them and look at if candidates are overrepresenting what they can actually do for you. You see a lot of that in campaigns, people promise the world and it’s not that way,” Blake said. “I’m just humbly asking for their vote.”