Election 2020: Tharinger fends off Pruiett to keep State Representative position

Incumbent Steve Tharinger said positivity, experience and teamwork with fellow legislators helped him retain his state representative seat this fall.

Tharinger held a strong lead in the race for Legislative District 24-State Representative Pos. 2 after Tuesday’s initial ballot count, fending off a challenge from Republican Brian Pruiett of Carlsborg in the general election.

The pair vied for the two-year legislative seat Tharinger has held for five terms in a district that represents 108,000 voters. It covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and half of Grays Harbor County.

Tharinger joined fellow Democrat incumbents in victory Tuesday, along with State Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and State Senator Kevin Ven De Wege of Sequim.

“I think we’ve got a good team, with Kevin and Mike and I,” Tharinger said Tuesday night, shortly after election results were posted in Clallam County.

“I think we deliver for the district,” he said. “Obviously, I think folks know us and trust us. We do a good job working and advocating for the peninsula and defining what’s different here (at the state level).”

The former Sequim resident who now calls Port Townsend home said backing funding for local organizations such as the Dungeness River Audubon Center and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, as well as advocating for local healthcare funding in the form of Medicare reimbursements, seemed to resonate with voters.

Tharinger — the House Capital Budget Committee chair and a member of the Health Care and Wellness Committee and Appropriations Committee — said the cooperation between he and Van De Wege, who focuses on natural resource issues, and Chapman, who focuses on transportation, was a draw for peninsula residents.

“We do make an effort to work together (and) that serves the district well,” Tharinger said. “(Voters) in this challenging time, want to continue that.”

Pruiett, a 34-year Army veteran and a career civil servant with the Bureau of Land Management, was unavailable for direct comment because of a family emergency, but on election night emailed a comment through his campaign staff:

“It’s still early and thousands of votes remain to be counted. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in the coming days, but for now, know that I appreciate the honor you have given me, to be your candidate for state representative.

“Thank you to everyone that walked with me, made calls for me, donated, and walked alongside me every step of this campaign. I couldn’t have made it this far without you. Most of all, thank you to the people of the Olympic Peninsula that voted for me.

“I have deeply appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with voters, speaking to people across our Peninsula community, learning about their needs. I look forward to continuing those relationships and continuing to lead in our community.”

Campaign issues

During the campaign, Pruiett said he is against a state income tax, which Tharinger said he has supported. Pruitt also said he is against business and occupation taxes “that keep increasing every year,” opposes a carbon tax, is “pro-life,” and is for choice on schools.

Pruiett challenged Tharinger in debates, attempting to verbally spar with the incumbent while Tharinger touted his legislative accomplishments.

Tharinger, a former Clallam County commissioner, said this was the first time in six election campaigns over 20 years that he’d seen negative mailers sent to voters.

“I think the voter knew they were not substantiated; I’m not against law enforcement,” he said Tuesday. “I think they wasted some money.

“I would like to think there’s an advantage in problem solving (approaches) rather than negativity.”

Looking ahead

Tharinger said the state budget will be a priority for legislators in coming weeks and months.

“It’s a challenging time on (local budgets), the state budget, everyone’s budget, the economy in general,” he said Tuesday.

“First, we’ve got to get the virus (under control), and Clallam and Jefferson County has done a good job,” he said.

Tharigner said he wants to focus on linking educational opportunities with open job positions on the Olympic Peninsula. He pointed to the cooperation between Peninsula College and Olympic Medical Center to fill local healthcare positions as a model.

“We need to do more of that,” Tharinger said. “The jobs are here; we’ve got to gear the training toward the jobs.”

He also said legislators should be looking at filling in the missing gaps of broadband coverage across the peninsula.

“We just need better connectivity,” Tharinger said. “The virus has pointed that out.”

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