State rep candidates debate in virtual Sequim Sunrise Rotary meeting

State Rep. Steve Tharinger, challenger Brian Pruiett tackle issues at a Sept. 18 virtual debate

State Rep. Steve Tharinger and challenger Brian Pruiett tackled some real issues at a virtual debate hosted by the Sequim Sunrise Rotary on Sept. 18, detailing their contrasting views on state taxes, health care, education and the lingering COVID-19 health restrictions.

Pruiett, a Republican who lives in Carlsborg, insists “we all know it’s time for change in legislature” while Tharinger, a Port Townsend Democrat and state rep for the 24th District since 2011, said he’s about “finding pragmatic solutions for our future” in seeking support for another term as Position 2 Legislative Representative.

A real estate investor and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Pruiett said he’s against establishment of a proposed state income tax to help solve state budget shortfalls.

“I am against it; we just can’t afford it people can’t pay rent … their mortgage … their food,” Pruiett said Friday morning. “Even the state recognizes these problems. I don’t want to see one.”

Tharinger, who noted “I’ve been on record as being for a state income tax,” said such a tax would take an amendment to the state constitution.

A former small business owner and three-term Clallam County Commissioner, Tharinger said something like Idaho’s three-fold tax structure of income, state and sales taxes, if capped at a certain percentage, could provide a more even-handed approach to state revenues.

“They (Idaho’s taxes) generate more dollars that are more equitable for issues of the state,” he said.

Addressing questions about providing equitable education for Washington students, Tharinger said he would be amenable to see more funding go to charter schools but only if the funding went to local school boards for oversight.

“It’s not a one size fits all … (and) dollars should go to public school system,” he said.

Pruiett said he has confidence in education leaders to find solutions.

In his opening remarks, he noted that he’d like to see state funding for students follow them to schools they chose to attend.

“We need to look at outcome-based education, not just more funding for students,” Pruiett said.

Tharinger touted his work in the legislature as chair of the Capital Budget Committee as well as work on the Appropriations and Health Care & Wellness committees.

“Strengthening health care … is fundamental to life on the peninsula, but there’s a lot more of work to do there,” he said. “There are some real challenges for rural healthcare delivery.”

He said he’s hoping to see a regional approach to health care, a more “systemic solution” that “incentivizes wellness and prevention.”

Pruiett criticized Tharinger’s support for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’e proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) facility that sees a reimbursement rate for clients of multiple times more than established facilities on the peninsula/

“I want to see better health care for the state,” Pruiett said. “It’s not getting better; it’s getting worse.”

The candidates also addressed mask-wearing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and politicization of the pandemic.

“The laws give a lot of authority to public health officials (and) you need someone with a scientific background … to come in and give a scientific based directive,” Tharinger said.

“We’re obviously in unprecedented times with this virus … I think generally our state and out local health officials have I think done a really good job trying to control the virus and keep our economy going.”

Pruiett challenged Tharinger for the inaction after a pandemic response plan was developed in 2013, as well as his inaction: “You don’t come out against the rioting the pillaging the looting; we see that as a safety issue.”

In taking on COVID-19, Pruiett said, “We have to adapt and we have to keep using those measures. At the same time, we know we have the hard data. We have to adapt to what science tells us, not our opinions, not the headlines in media.”

Tharinger said people can help “bend the curve” and lower the COVID-19 case rate in simply following directions: washing hands, social distancing and other public health protocols.

“We can bend the curve on the virus that leads to us opening the schools and restoring the economy,” Tharinger said.

“It’s too bad these protocols … has been politicized. If you look at other countries around the world, where that isn’t the case, they’ve been able to control the virus much better.”

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