Incumbent state Rep. Mike Chapman and challenger Sue Forde clashed over taxes and a proposed Sequim medication-assisted treatment clinic Tuesday at a 24th Legislative District election forum.
They also expressed varying degrees of enthusiasm for wearing face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The 24th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and about half of Grays Harbor County.
Of the district’s 107,000 voters, 81,000 are in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
The Nov. 3 election is eight weeks away. Ballots will be mailed to voters Oct. 14.
Chapman, who wore a protective mask throughout the 70-minute Port Angeles Business Association program, said wearing a face covering will help the rural economy “continue to rebound and grow.” He applauded Costco for being among the first businesses to require customers to wear them in stores.
“I think leaders should model good behavior,” said the Port Angeles Democrat who is seeking his third two-year term.
“Until we have a vaccine, until we have a treatment, let’s wear masks.”
Forde, the Clallam County Republican Party chair, said she complies with the statewide mandate to wear masks in business establishments. She does not don one when she’s outside, but she does maintain 6 feet of social distance, she said.
“I’m careful to stay at a distance most of the time with people,” the Sequim resident said.
She said she believes the public is split 50-50 on wearing masks.
“To me, I think it should be a personal decision as to whether or not a person wears a mask if they are more than 6 feet away, and they are taking other precautions. I don’t know that it is necessary to wear masks all the time,” Forde said.
Forde, who ran unsuccessfully for Clallam County commissioner in 2003, disagreed with Chapman over the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s plans to build a 16,720-square-foot treatment center for people with opioid-use disorders in Sequim west of the city’s downtown. Chapman favored state funding for the project.
Calling it a regional methadone clinic, Forde said there is existing capacity at other clinics, that the proposed site was the wrong location and that Sequim residents were not consulted about the project.
“It’s unfair not only to the people who live in the city but to the people who are being bused in,” she said.
“They (will) come from Tacoma or Jefferson County or Forks,” Forde said.
“How many are going to go back?
Jamestown S’Klallam officials have said that the clinic will serve only Jefferson and Clallam counties and that it will provide daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol while also providing wraparound services such as counseling to people who volunteer for the services.
Forde said she favors other programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
“With methadone treatment, that’s an addictive drug,” she said
“And so they’re switching from one addictive drug to another addictive drug, and in my mind, that’s not a real good plan to use.”
Chapman said funding went through a public process and that he sponsored the capital budget request for the clinic for the tribe, which chose to build in an “opportunity zone” area under a bipartisan program championed by President Donald Trump.
The project also went through proper city channels, he said.
“It’s interesting that I just heard that there are criticisms that Forks and Port Townsend might come over and get services here,” Chapman said.
Residents of Forks are having to travel to Hoquiam for treatment, “so I am trying to provide services for the 24th District,” Chapman said.
“These are individuals who need treatment.”
In their opening statements, Chapman highlighted his procurement of infrastructure projects to Clallam County with fellow 24th District Democrats Steve Tharinger, a House member from Port Townsend, and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, both of whom are up for reelection.
He said the new Elwha River bridge should be built by 2021 and touted his role in obtaining funds for the Morse Creek curve safety project, the new Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula facility in Port Angeles and the Field Arts & Events Hall in Port Angeles.
“Infrastructure, that’s what the three of us are about,” Chapman said.
In prepared opening and closing statements, Forde criticized Chapman for supporting $10 billion in tax increases in 2019.
She criticized him for supporting the expenditure of $2 billion in surplus funds and not returning $1 billion to taxpayers in the form of $30 car tabs and putting $1 billion into the rainy-day fund, “instead, choosing to spend it on even more programs.”
Putting herself forward as an anti-tax and anti-regulation candidate, she also criticized Chapman for supporting “a state-mandated kindergarten-12 ‘comprehensive’ sex ‘ed’ bill starting as young as age 5,” and for supporting “a sanctuary state.”
Chapman responded that he never voted for a gas tax increase, opposes raising sales taxes and voted against the largest property tax increase in the state’s history, which he said was sponsored by Republicans.
“Those are the three taxes that are the drivers of our economy,” he said.
Asked how they would like to see the state and Legislature address the $8.8 billion projected shortfall through 2023, Chapman was confident spending would be rolled back, although he defended that spending, saying the public wants effective services.
“This isn’t going to be a time to raise taxes,” he said.
Forde insisted that Democratic Party leaders are talking about exactly that.
“There are a lot of different things that can take place, one of which would be to roll back the current budget that was just passed, and that would solve a lot of the problems right there,” she said.
Forde criticized Chapman for supporting a payroll tax that will support long-term care and for a tax on high-tech companies that pays for community college tuition for people earning less than $50,000 a year.
She said free college would be provided to undocumented U.S. residents.
“I believe it includes illegal aliens, and that’s an aspect I wonder about,” Forde said.
“Why would we be giving our tax dollars to someone who is not here legally?”