Politics & Government

Three moderates compete in quieter 31st District House race

The gloves are off in the 31st District’s main bout, but so far the undercard is a friendly fight.

The candidates to succeed Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, who is waging a heated battle to unseat fellow Republican Sen. Pam Roach, conversely are content to talk about themselves.

Democrats Jonathon Dunn and Mike Sando and Republican Drew Stokesbary are the three competitors. All have positions that are closer to the center than most in their parties.

Voters in the Aug. 5 primary election will pick two of the three to advance to the Nov. 4 election in this swath of rural and suburban east Pierce and King counties.

The 31st is a right-leaning district, so it’s a bit of a surprise that just one Republican stepped up to seek an open seat.

Stokesbary, 29, has built ties in the Republican Party while working on a variety of causes in between and after college and law school. Now living in Auburn and working as an aide to King County Councilman Peter von Reichbauer, he has worked for the state GOP, the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington and campaigns for Rob McKenna and Stokesbary’s now father-in-law, state Rep. Mark Hargrove.

McKenna, the former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, is a role model. Stokesbary shares some of McKenna’s views on how to address a court order for more education funding, embracing his call to dedicate a set share of the state’s growing revenue to schools. He also gives tentative support to a McKenna plan to raise more money by swapping an increased state property tax for lower local levies. Some property owners would pay more under the swap, and if those end up concentrated in his district he said he might have to rethink his support.

He would consider closing some tax exemptions as part of raising the money, as Democrats have demanded.

Like the moderate wing of the Senate GOP, he’s willing to consider a gas-tax package that would fund Pierce County projects like extending state Route 167, but only if GOP-sought changes are made to transportation spending.

“If enough of those are adopted and we can get the cost of highway infrastructure a little bit more in line with the actual infrastructure itself that’s been delivered, I think I’d be willing to support a package,” said Stokesbary, who has worked on transportation policy for von Reichbauer.

While Stokesbary would be among the younger lawmakers if elected, Dunn, 24, would be the youngest.

Dunn is a Lake Tapps scientist who travels to hospitals and clinics doing training on behalf of a company that makes diagnostic tests, DiaSorin. Dunn counted more than 280 flights last year, he said.

Born in Arizona as a ward of the San Carlos Apache tribe, he said he moved among a series of foster families starting at age 4 before ending up with his grandmother.

Dunn, who lists himself on the ballot as an “independent Dem,” is a proponent of charter schools who also plays up his support for gun rights.

He might be the most hesitant of all three candidates about increasing gas taxes. But he doesn’t rule it out if done as part of a bipartisan deal that includes policies such as changing how sales-tax revenues from road projects are spent. They now go to the state’s general fund and Republicans have demanded to have them plowed back into transportation needs.

He is in favor of the levy swap idea as part of funding schools while making property taxes standardized and permanent. Dunn also said he wants changes to the business-and-occupations tax to make the revenue system more fair without adding an income tax.

“I see our tax system as being unfair both for people and for businesses,” Dunn said.

Of the three, Sando is the only one with elected experience after winning a seat on the Enumclaw City Council last November.

A history and government teacher at Enumclaw High School who until recently led the local teachers union, he said he has been frustrated with lack of money for schools and too much testing. So he jumped at the chance when the House seat suddenly opened, even though he had started on the council only months before.

Sando served as an aide to former state Sen. Valoria Loveland in the 1990s before becoming a teacher.

He said reducing testing can save millions of dollars for schools. Redirecting money from the state superintendent’s office would also help, he says. Those savings would likely fall short of the more than $3.5 billion that’s needed to meet the state Supreme Court order on education funding, but Sando said new tax revenue should be considered only after cuts and efficiencies.

Unlike Dunn, he is wary of charter schools pulling students and money away from traditional schools.

On transportation, he says any revenue package may need to go to a public vote.

Sando is a supporter of gun rights who says background checks should be expanded at the federal level, not in Washington. He also is a backer of abortion rights who said he probably would support a requirement for insurance companies to cover abortion, a requirement Dunn said he opposes in deference to views in his district. Stokesbary doesn’t see a need for such a mandate right now and said he wouldn’t introduce any legislation on abortion issues.

Stokesbary has raised more than $28,000 for his campaign, Sando more than $5,000 and Dunn more than $3,000.