If there’s one thing to separate Republican Thomas Greisamer of Moclips from incumbent Steve Tharinger, a Democrat state representative for District 24, is his stance on no new taxes, he said.
The pair faced off on June 22 in the Sequim Transit Center in the first forum of the primary season held by the Clallam County League of Women Voters.
Tharinger seeks his third term against Greisamer and Dr. Stafford Conway, a Libertarian of Sequim, who did not attend the forum due to a scheduling error, he said. Conway plans to attend another forum with all three candidates at 6 p.m. today, Wednesday, June 25, in the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St. The top two candidates in the Aug. 5 primary move on to the Nov. 4 general election.
The Sunday forum swayed to topics of the economy, education and environment.
Greisamer’s response on taxes came after a question about improving education.
“Right now education is consuming 38 percent of our budget and 34,000 higher education employees get 16 percent and 100,000 teachers get 22 percent,” he said. “I think the business of education has taken on a life of its own.”
He said teachers need a raise but that should come from “the top of the pyramid who are not really educating students.”
Tharinger said he’s worked toward the McCleary decision to fully fund education that’s estimated at $4-$6 billion over three biennium, but with the recession hitting, it’s hard to meet.
“We have an additional $40 million for it this year and had a proposal of $750 million more but it did not pass in a Republican Senate,” he said. “We’re building a continued obligation.”
With higher education, Tharinger said it’s a priority in the upcoming legislative session to make it more affordable for students. He said state tuition has risen 10-12 percent each year over the three years.
“Right now college debt is larger than credit card debt in our country,” he said. “Students coming out (of college) aren’t able to buy houses and aren’t able to participate in economy.”
Greisamer said he doesn’t see why college can’t cut tuition. He emphasized that college isn’t for every student and not to judge the success of the K-12 education system by the numbers of students going into college.
When asked about ways to improve the business climate of Washington, Greisamer indicated it start with the Legislature working full time.
“Our legislature only works 105 days in odd years and 60 days in even years,” he said. “We have an amateur legislature. Don’t you think that budget of $75-$80 billion every two years deserves a full-time legislature?”
Tharinger said he finds Washington’s business climate is good with its diverse offerings.
“The thing I hear most about is businesses need skilled workers,” he said.
One possible job for residents asked of the candidates is whether to allow exports of coal, which they split on.
Greisamer said he is not a fan of coal but carbon energy will find its way to market anyway.
“Everybody wants clean air, clean water. Everyone wants a train that’s safe. There’s always potential for an accident,” he said. “But can this be done in a safe and efficient manner? I believe the residents of the 24th District, probably say if we can bring jobs to our district in a safe, clean manner without an undue risk to life limb and property, then we should probably do it.”
Tharinger said the bigger issue is climate change, which is something he feels needs to be addressed.
“I don’t think Washington should be making it possible to export more coal,” he said. “We also need to be more careful as it finds its way to market and its impacts are minimized as much as possible.”
Expanding on climate change, Greisamer debated its evidence.
“How can this little trace gas (carbon dioxide) be responsible for climate change?” he asked.
“Our economy is a matter of national security. Look at what we’re spending to mitigate use of fossil fuels. Look at farms of windmills … They only work a third of the time or less. Manufacturing one of these sun farms is very expensive and has a large carbon footprint by itself.”
Tharinger said he helped to begin plans to close the remaining coal production plant in Washington in Centrailia.
“There’s tensions in developing alternatives,” he said. “It’s a challenge that the globe needs to do this as we transition off coal.”
Health care concerns
As marijuana becomes available in the market, Tharinger said he anticipated legislation last session to go through unifying funding for cities and the state from recreational sales.
‘It’s a complex issue,” he said.
His recommendation is for zoning and usage to be determined locally and for consistency across the state.
Greisamer said he’s ambivalent and called medical marijuana a hoax.
“Ten percent of people really need it and the rest of them use it to get high,” he said.
“The message we send to young people is that it’s OK to use at a certain age.”
Yet, Tharinger commended Washington as one of the more successful states on health care reform.
“There’s a savings in the system for us being all in health care reform,” he said. “As we age and live longer, we need to have a system that is affordable, accessible and makes us healthier.”
Greisamer disagrees that reform is a success and said between Medicare and Medicaid it costs about a trillion dollars a year from two programs.
“The U.S. is No. 10 as far as providing healthcare and spending twice as month as other countries,” he said, “but the U.S. seems to think we have a lock in all methods and for them all to be equitable.”
He said he would start with tort reform.
Tharinger sees team doctoring approach saving patients money such as seeing a primary care physician or registered nurse and a specialist as a last resort.
As for other priorities, Tharinger said in the next legislative session, he intends to find better options for respite care and sharing of liquor revenues with cities while Greisamer wants more connectivity between the state and constituents on the phones, a maximum overcharge fee for banks at $5 and a ban on Depart-ment of Ecology buffers.