Gale challenges Tharinger in 24th District

As an incumbent for the first time, Democrat Steve Tharinger of Sequim promises to continue advocating for more economic development across the large 24th District and for affordable, accessible health care if elected to a second term for the Position 2 state representative seat.

“While I have made headway in my first term, there is much work to be done,” Tharinger said in an online letter to constituents.

He is opposed by Republican Steve Gale, an operations manager for industrial gas company Praxair Inc., who moved to Sequim from Bothell with his wife and three daughters in January.

Gale, the past president of the Key Peninsula Volunteer Firefighters Association, is making his first run in the district. He has advocated fewer land-use restrictions and policies, and criticized the Legislature for a “lack of a forward-looking vision” on how to stimulate job growth.

He supports “responsible legislation” on development of wave energy, but Gale questions the impact of the Energy Independence Act (Initiative-937) that requires utilities to maintain a percentage of power supply from renewable resources other than hydro power.

“While the act is based on good intentions of using renewable resources and moving toward energy independence, its implementation often comes with higher marginal costs of energy for consumers,” Gale said. “In challenging economic times, such as we have now, the last thing our communities need is higher utility costs.”

Tharinger is vice chairman of the House Environment Committee and a member of the Local Government and Capital Budget committees. He was elected in 2010 to the seat vacated by the retiring Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. Tharinger formerly ran a small woodworking business and was a Clallam County Commissioner for 12 years.

Tharinger’s top priorities: “We know that we need to build back jobs and economic vitality, and that we will be able to get education for our family and our children — that we will be able to hunt and fish, and that our grandchildren will be able to hunt and fish, and that we know that our water and air will be clean for our generation and future generations.”

Tharinger said he worked with Republicans to help maintain rural health care funding and vows to continue working for health care reform.

“That’s a huge issue. Our district has an aging population,” Tharinger said at a candidates forum at Grays Harbor College earlier this fall.

For the Grays Harbor portion of the district, Tharinger said he worked with other legislators to help bring funds to the Port of Grays Harbor and to the Satsop Business Park for a new sewer line to connect with Elma.

“They need an industrial waste facility, so that’s going to help them,” Tharinger said.

Gale promises to “change the tide of excessive government regulations” and restore a “sense of government accountability to its citizens and business.”

“Our state agencies need restraints from implementing laws which reduce the rights of its citizens, property owners and business,” Gale says in his statement to the official state Voter’s Pamphlet.

He calls for stronger legislative oversight and halting programs that “create constraints on our rights and liberties.”

Gale listed the most critical environmental issue the district faces as “the actions of the Department of Ecology” with regard to a program known as the Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA), an ongoing issue largely in Clallam County. The program, he said, has been divisive in that it would impose new mitigation fees on landowners for new “consumptive uses of water.”

“What this means is that if someone wants to establish a new use for water, such as planting a garden or crop, installing a sprinkler system, drilling a well, installing a spa, adding a bathroom, building a home, or providing for restrooms for a new business, that they will now have to mitigate (pay) for that new use of water,” Gale said.

Gale said that as a Clallam County Commissioner, Tharinger supported the policy and continues to do so in the Legislature.

Tharinger says the environmental issues are as varied as the large district he serves.

“There are concerns about flooding in the Chehalis River Basin, restoration of our salmon runs, management of our forest resources in a healthy productive way and long-term management of our ground and surface water resources,” Tharinger said. “We have to be concerned about stormwater run-off and how it impacts our shellfish industry. These issues are being worked on and progress is being made, but I think it is important that we take a generational view not a business or election cycle view.”

Tharinger said he, too, will work to modify the Energy Independence Act to tie renewable resource targets to actual power demand.

“The problem is that smaller PUDs, such as Grays Harbor and Clallam County, have faced reduced demand because of the recession and have been successful with their conservation efforts, and need less power,” he said. “It is problematic for the smaller PUDs to meet the next round of renewable energy target without trading less expensive Bonneville power for more expensive renewable power, (and) that does not make sense.”

Tharinger also plans to continue working on rural health issues, with three critical access hospitals in his district, including Mark Reed Hospital, which is building a new campus in Elma. In the last session, he said, he worked to restore funds in the budget to maintain Medicaid reimbursement levels.

“For Mark Reed, it meant them having a positive cash flow number rather than a negative cash flow,” Tharinger said. “This is really a bipartisan issue.”

Gale vows to seek more direct interaction with citizens, businesses and community leaders. If elected, he promises the first of regular informal community meetings with him on Dec. 8 in Grays Harbor before he takes office.

“I have always believed that the best results come by collaborating with others to gain perspective and ideas on how to best address many situations. Collectively, we can create a path to address the pressing issues within the district,” Gale said.