Q&A 24th Legislative District House, Pos. 2 — Steve Tharinger

Democrat, Sequim

Tharinger was elected in 2010 to the seat vacated by the retiring Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. He formerly ran a small woodworking business and was a Clallam County Commissioner for 12 years.

He said his top issues are the same as when he first ran: “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.”

With education funding critical in the next legislative session under court mandates, how do you propose the state deal with schools in the long run and what measures can be taken to comply with the court rulings that the state must “amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations?”

Excellent schools benefit all of us; the McCleary decision has focused the Legislature on the need to better fund our education system, particularly K-12. There are some efficiencies that will help us reach that goal, but I think we are going to have to come up with additional revenue by closing out of date tax exemptions and reviewing loopholes in our tax structure that are not adding to the State’s standard of living.

Do you support the following measures on the general election ballot: Initiative 1185, which reinforces existing requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majority or voter approval; Initiative 502 that would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution and possession; Initiative 1240 that would authorize up to 40 publicly funded charter schools; and Referendum 74 that would allow same-sex couples to marry?

I do not support I-1185, the two-thirds majority for revenue decisions. As the legislature works to maintain important public programs such as schools, health care, natural resources and parks; having one-third of the members control the decision to close tax exemptions or loopholes, seems undemocratic. It would take a simple majority to initiate a tax exemption, but a super majority to repeal it. That structure favors special interests over public interest.

I am undecided on I-502. I think the war on drugs, particularly concerning marijuana, has proven to be a huge waste of resources for policing, the courts and incarceration. I think decriminalizing marijuana makes sense. The chemical dependency counselors I have worked with are concerned about out right legalization. I am not convinced the revenue projections the proponents of I-502 suggest will be actualized, while the increased availability of marijuana will create additional treatment costs. There is a lack of clarity around what legal challenges will develop because of more restrictive federal laws and the impacts the initiative might have on medical marijuana services.

I am not supportive of the charter school initiative 1240. It dilutes funding for public schools, setting up a parallel bureaucracy with minimal accountability to the voters, serving a small number of students. Recent studies have shown that charter schools have only limited success. I think Washington’s kids would be better served by improving all our schools not just helping a select few.

I support R-74. No one should be denied the freedom to marry the one they love. Marriage provides clarity over the legal ambiguity of domestic partnerships for insurance benefits, and access to hospitals during emergencies for the ones they love. Yes on R-74 does not affect how each religion defines marriage or limit a church’s freedom to marry whom they wish. Yes on R-74 supports the key American values of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Unemployment continues to be higher in Southwest Washington than in other parts of Western Washington. Does the state have a role in addressing the problem and what can or should be done legislatively to help spur job growth in your districts?

Southwest Washington is hard hit by stubbornly high unemployment. Capital investments in infrastructure, such as the 520 pontoon project, Satsop waste treatment, fish hatcheries at Humptulips and Lake Aberdeen help create jobs now and make improvements for future economic growth. The mills in the area need a more dependable supply of fiber from both Federal and State lands, so it is important to streamline the permitting process, which we have worked on, and provide adequate staffing to be able to bring timber sales to market in a reasonable manner.

The Harbor in large part depends on the infrastructure that links its major transportation corridors, with our bridges and thoroughfares undergoing constant maintenance and concern. With major projects in the Puget Sound area currently under way, what can be done to fix some of the long-term infrastructure concerns in more rural counties like ours?

In the long-term, improved education and job skill training will be key to matching the workforce to future employment opportunities. As I mentioned above, I think investments in infrastructure such as transportation are important for the economy. It is my understanding that rural Washington receives more transportation funding than it pays into the transportation budget. That being said, it is important for rural legislators to stress the idea that we are all in this together and that maintaining and improving the port, rail and road infrastructure for the Harbor benefits the all of Washington.

Grays Harbor County currently is involved in a lawsuit brought by its Superior Court Judges over what they believe is inadequate funding for judicial operations. Does the state have an obligation to better fund its courts and criminal justice system and what suggestions do you have for possibly solving this dilemma?

Funding for the criminal justice system, i.e. deputies, police, courts and incarceration, is one of the challenges we face as a state. This is one of those issues that impacts state and local budgets and needs to be addressed by looking at both local and state revenue options. The Legislature has given local jurisdictions various sales tax options to fund the criminal justice system and until some of them are enacted, it is difficult to pursue additional state funding, although, I think it is important for the state to develop a revenue stream to better fund the criminal justice system. Public safety and equal justice under the law are basic rights in this country and a fundamental obligation of government.