In stark contrast to last week’s nationally televised presidential debate, local political candidates were respectful and oftentimes agreeable in Tuesday night’s Washington 16th Legislative District debates.
The debate forum was hosted by the American Association of University Women Walla Walla Branch and Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and featured a traditional debate format where the candidates each had two minutes to make an opening statement, one minute to respond to a question and 30-second rebuttal times.
By and large, the candidates stuck strictly to those times — sometimes practically waiving their rebuttal allowances as the amiable debates zoomed along at the guidance of moderator Bertha Clayton.
Question topics ranged from taxes and budgets to forest fires and child care.
The matter of highest concern was COVID-19 and its impact on the economy and health and safety.
The first debate was between Democrat Frances Chvatal — a registered nurse — and Republican Mark Klicker — an agricultural entrepreneur — vying for District 16 Representative Position 1, a seat that will will be vacated by current Rep. Bill Jenkin (R-Prosser), who lost in the primary in a bid for the district’s senate spot.
Chvatal and Klicker kicked off the night with a friendly tone, both agreeing that working across the political aisle is imperative for the success of the state, and also agreeing on relief for child care in the state, particularly with the pandemic on the mind.
Chvatal said she wants to see more support for women and particularly minority women. Klicker also said child care is important but wants to approach monetary relief maybe with a “sliding scale” approach and to make sure the state is not outright running day cares.
Chvatal and Klicker most strongly disagreed on how to handle forest fires with Chvatal saying global climate change is partly to blame for worsening fires, while Klicker blamed environmental activist groups for overprotecting forests and preventing forest thinning.
In the end, both said they want to see a united effort to save forests from burning down.
As far as COVID-19 economic reopening strategies, Chvatal said she wants to stick to a “science-based approach” while Klicker wants to see fewer economic restrictions mixed with hygiene and safety education.
In the second debate, incumbent Republican Skyler Rude faced off against Democrat Carly Coburn, a political activist and community organizer from Pasco.
Rude and Coburn talked about taxes and both showed mixed feelings about Washington’s tax burden.
“There are so many taxes in this state,” Rude said. “... There are probably some too high and some too low.”
Rude leaned toward keeping income tax off the table while Coburn said the high sales tax in the state places an undue burden on low income people.
Coburn called for a study of Idaho’s tax system to see how an income tax could help.
“I would really love to see a study of Idaho’s tax system, which includes partial income tax,” Coburn said.
Rude rebutted by saying that there are already many safety nets set up by other taxes in the state.
When asked about what they would do to serve the Latinx communities of the area, Rude said frankly, “I can do more. And I’m realizing that right now.”
He pointed to his voting record, which he said shows that he supports immigrants.
Coburn thanked Rude for his pro-immigrant voting.
“I don’t know that I really have a rebuttal to him,” Coburn said. “I think that we can all do better. Every single white candidate can do better; there’s always another step we can take.”
In the final debate, Democrat Danielle Garbe Reser — former Sherwood Trust CEO — and Republican Perry Dozier — former Walla Walla County commissioner — squared off.
Dozier placed an emphasis on his roots in the area and political experience while Garbe Reser focused on the need to the tear down the east-west divide in Olympia, which she said must be done in the room of the Democratic caucus.
“We’ve had some of the fix in 2018,” Garbe Reser said. “But it just highlights again the differences in our rural communities. ... We’ve had voters tell me that they were frustrated when Nestle tried to come in and set up bottling water plants, and my opponent tried to change zoning so that he could bottle and sell water on his farm.”
Dozier said the biggest problem with water rights in the state is the ability for land owners to sell off tiny chunks of land and create “exempt wells” that use up valuable water from the shallow aquifer.
“I really feel that the Hirst decision is correct and moving forward that we need to have ample water,” Dozier said. “... Danielle is absolutely incorrect about what I was doing with my personal property rights ... I was not involved with the Nestle company as Danielle was eluding to ... If people would understand what we were doing, this would not be a big issue ... I was not going to utilize (my water rights) and sell (them) to a big corporation.”
Garbe Reser and Dozier found common ground on some issues, including the rights and safety of farm workers. Both said that fair wages and good health and safety protocols are paramount.
The night concluded with Chamber CEO Kyle Tarbet.
“I really want to commend all the candidates on how respectful and cordial they were,” Tarbet said. “And modeling for us as citizens that we can have an informed discussion about issues over which we may disagree and do so civilly.”
Tarbet did conclude with one note of partisanship.
“There (has) been a lot of theft of ... political signs from yards,” Tarbet said. “I just want to remind (viewers) that that is a misdemeanor crime ... Please do not vandalize or steal yard signs.”