Differing views on climate change, taxes and abortion rights separate the candidates in the 28th Legislative District, a politically moderate part of Pierce County that is home to one of this year’s most competitive state Senate races.
Each of the legislative races in the swing district feature a Democratic woman running against a Republican man.
Headlining the three contests in West Pierce County is the race between state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, and state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, which Democrats and Republicans alike think could determine who controls the state Senate next year.
In addition to disagreeing on environmental and social issues, the candidates hold starkly different perspectives on budgetary matters, such as whether to raise taxes to comply with a state Supreme Court order to fully fund education by 2018.
The 28th Legislative District includes University Place, Fircrest, Steilacoom, Dupont, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and parts of Lakewood and West Tacoma.
Democrats need to pick up two seats this fall to reclaim the state Senate, and Republicans are working hard to prevent that from happening.
Both parties are focusing their attention on the race between Green, a 10-year veteran of the state House of Representatives, and O’Ban, who was appointed to the Senate last year after serving about six months in the state House.
A political committee backed by Senate Republicans has spent $125,000 opposing Green, which is the largest independent expenditure campaign launched against any of this year’s legislative candidates.
To defend his seat, O’Ban has also spent $369,000 of his own campaign money, more than any other candidate running for the Legislature.
As of last week, Green’s campaign had spent just one-third of that. She’d also raised only $214,000 to O’Ban’s $493,000.
But Green might get some outside help soon. Late last month, a political action committee backed by California billionaire Tom Steyer announced it will be supporting Green’s candidacy.
The NextGen Climate Action Committee is focused on the race between Green and O’Ban partly due to the candidates’ contrasting views on the threat of global warming. Green said she believes that humans are definitely contributing to climate change and that the state should be making efforts to reduce carbon pollution.
O’Ban said he has seen conflicting studies on the subject and is concerned that efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions could increase costs for businesses and individuals.
In particular, the candidates differ on whether they would support a low-carbon fuel standard or cap-and-trade system, methods Gov. Jay Inslee has suggested to reduce carbon pollution.
O’Ban said several studies have shown that Inslee’s ideas would significantly increase the cost of gasoline, which he said would hurt the state’s ability to recover from the economic recession.
“I think we have to have a balance, and I think that the way we strike that balance isn’t on the backs of the citizens,” O’Ban said.
Green, a mental health nurse, said she is “not opposed” to a low-carbon fuel standard. She said she thinks it should probably be implemented gradually, to limit how hard it hits the business community.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Green said.
Still, Green said one of the biggest differences between her and O’Ban are their views on women’s rights to access contraception and abortion services.
In his work as a lawyer, O’Ban has defended pharmacists who — citing their religious beliefs — refused to stock the emergency contraceptive Plan B. In the House last year, he voted against requiring insurers to cover abortions, and this year he voted to advance a bill that would have required doctors to notify a minor’s parents if she seeks to end a pregnancy.
“Some men are able to represent women’s issues well,” said Green, who has repeatedly voted in favor of requiring insurers to cover abortion services. “I don’t think he can, or does.”
O’Ban wouldn’t discuss his personal views on abortion or access to birth control with a reporter. He said voters in his district aren’t concerned with issues such as abortion and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, in which the court ruled that some corporations could decline to pay for certain contraceptives if they object for religious reasons.
O’Ban said his constituents are mainly worried about the economy, job growth and “helping government live within its means.”
To that end, O’Ban said that he would satisfy a state Supreme Court order to increase funding for education by using existing revenues, rather than by raising taxes. When asked whether that was possible, he said the Legislature owes it to taxpayers to try.
“We have to make a diligent effort,” O’Ban said.
But Green said she doesn’t think the Legislature will be able to meet the demands of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision without ending some tax exemptions or enacting something like a new sin tax.
“I don’t think we get out of it just by growing our economy,” Green said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of obligations.”
The candidates agree that a statewide transportation tax package is needed to pay for highway projects, such as completing state Route 167 and widening Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
O’Ban said he could support raising the gas tax to pay for those projects if lawmakers approve reform and accountability measures for state Department of Transportation.
Green is less focused on those reforms and more focused on securing money for public transit. She said the sooner the Legislature approves a transportation package, the better — even if it requires a special session after the November election.
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but we have to pay for things,” Green told attendees at a candidate forum in Lakewood last month.
HOUSE POSITION 1
In another 28th district race, Republican state Rep. Dick Muri is defending his seat against Mary Moss, a Lakewood city councilwoman.
Muri, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said he thinks the U.S. needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, but he doesn’t consider carbon dioxide emissions to be a major issue in the state.
“It’s a trace element,” Muri said of CO2.
Moss disagrees, and she thinks the state should be working hard to limit carbon emissions. She said she could support a low-carbon fuel standard to help curtail carbon pollution, while Muri said such a policy would be “very expensive.”
Moss also supports raising the statewide minimum wage to about $12 an hour, which she said would help lift people out of poverty. Muri said increasing the minimum wage would hurt businesses’ ability to hire workers, thereby harming the economy.
Beyond that, Moss highlighted women’s rights as a key area where she thinks she and Muri differ. She’s pro-choice, she said, and would support mandating that insurers cover abortions — something Democrats have been trying to pass for years. Muri, who is pro-life, said such a policy would be “unconscionable.”
The candidates’ views on tax breaks for businesses are another area of contention. Muri, who was appointed to the Legislature last year to fill an open seat, was among the majority of lawmakers who voted in favor of $8.7 billion in tax breaks to ensure Boeing will build its 777X airplane in Washington.
Moss said she feels the state is too liberal with granting tax preferences to corporations, and it needs to look at ending some to help pay for K-12 education.
“I do feel like we give tax breaks to larger corporations that could easily survive without them,” said Moss, citing last year’s aerospace tax incentive package as one example.
Muri said the Legislature needs to put all its available resources into K-12 education without raising taxes, and then examine whether to cut spending or raise revenue to fund remaining state programs.
“There’s enough money to fund education,” Muri said. “The question is then, do we have enough money for everything else?”
HOUSE POSITION 2
Christine Kilduff and Paul Wagemann both serve on school boards in the South Sound. Yet their ideas about education policy — especially how to comply with the state Supreme Court’s order that the Legislature boost public school funding — differ widely.
Kilduff thinks the Legislature needs to look at closing corporate tax loopholes as a first step toward raising the money needed to satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling. She said some new kind of tax revenue may be necessary to ensure the Legislature can fully fund education as well as pay for other legal obligations, such as treating mentally ill criminal offenders.
“I don’t think we can cut our way out of this problem,” said Kilduff, who is president of the University Place school board.
Wagemann, a member of the Clover Park school board, questioned whether increasing funding for public schools as the Supreme Court has ordered is necessary to improve the state’s schools.
“You increase someone’s budget 40 percent, they can’t even figure out how to spend it,” Wagemann said. “Some of it gets wasted.”
Wagemann said he thinks the state could save money on education by changing the grade structure of schools throughout the state: Instead of students moving to a new grade after a calendar year, they should advance as soon as they master a subject, he said.
Both candidates said they think the state needs to find a way to pay for new highway projects, including the completion of state Route 167, and said they’d support efforts to make the state Department of Transportation more efficient.
However, Wagemann said less funding should be put toward public transportation, while Kilduff said that support for mass transit would be an important part of any transportation tax package.
On social issues, the candidates’ views are similarly far apart: Kilduff is pro-choice, Wagemann is pro-life.
Wagemann said he thinks that business owners shouldn’t have to do things that go against their conscience, whether that means providing certain types of contraception or supplying flowers for a gay couple’s wedding.
Kilduff said that the state’s anti-discrimination statutes make it clear that businesses can’t refuse to serve customers — such as homosexuals — who are protected under the law.