Elections

Transportation remains key issue for newcomers, incumbents in 25th District

Two newcomers are challenging experienced representatives in the Nov. 4 election for the 25th Legislative District, which includes Puyallup and Fife.

Democratic incumbent Dawn Morrell is seeking a sixth term – to continue her work advocating for mental-health care reform – in a Position 1 race that could be close. Her Republican challenger, Melanie Stambaugh, trailed by a slim margin in August’s primary election. Stambaugh wants to better connect district voters to their representative in Olympia.

Morrell has raised more than $168,400, while Stambaugh has raised nearly $113,200, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Both have received large infusions of cash from caucus campaign committees – Morrell collected $40,000 from the House Democratic Campaign Committee and Stambaugh $55,000 from the House Republican Organizational Committee.

Morrell’s seatmate, Republican incumbent Hans Zeiger, is running for his third term against Democratic opponent Eric Renz in the Position 2 race. The two candidates have a starkly different financial backing. Zeiger’s raised more than $142,600 while Renz has raised nearly $4,500, according to the PDC.

Zeiger said he’s built valuable relationships in Olympia. Renz, a retired minister who spent 20 years in human services management, said he counters Zeiger’s “very conservative” approach with his “progressive perspective.” His campaign focuses heavily on improving health and human services.

Renz, who received nearly 38 percent of the votes in the primary, said he and Zeiger agreed not to resort to political “mudslinging.”

The Position 1 race appears to be more heated.

Morrell said an unusual number of her campaign signs have been damaged and spray-painted. She doesn’t blame the vandalism on Stambaugh or her supporters, but said an unprecedented tone of “hate politics” is creeping into Pierce County.

Stambaugh, who denounced the vandalism, also called Morrell’s statement “hypocritical.” Stambaugh, 24, claims a push poll – an opinion poll meant to sway voters using loaded questions – went out to voters in June, asking a series of critical questions about her age, gender and “pro-abortion” views.

Campaign finance filings show that Morrell accepted polling valued at $12,000 from the House Democratic Campaign Committee as an in-kind contribution.

“I am in support of a woman’s right to choose. I am in support of choosing life,” Stambaugh said. “Those two things can exist together. I think it’s unfortunate they chose to use the term ‘pro-abortion.’ It’s against what I stand for.”

Morrell told The News Tribune the House Democrats’ campaign arm sent her polling questions that she didn’t read because she assumed they included “really terrible” questions about herself. She said she hasn’t personally engaged in negative campaigning.

“I take offense when people say that about me, too,” she said of the poll’s abortion remarks. “I don’t think there’s a person in the world that is pro-abortion.”

Morrell said her experience makes her a more qualified candidate.

“It takes a while to get to know the system,” Morrell said. “You can’t do that if you don’t have any kind of life experience.”

Stambaugh disagreed.

“I don’t believe age is an indicator of impact or effectiveness,” she said. “The deeper I get in the process, the more I value fresh eyes.”

TRANSPORTATION

Extending state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma is a top priority for all four candidates.

Zeiger said the highway completion is essential for jobs and freight mobility in the South Sound. He supports reforms such as expanded public-private partnerships for non-toll transportation projects – such as ferry terminals and park and rides – and expediting permitting and contracting for replacement of structurally deficient bridges. He’s worried about lawmakers adding burdensome taxes.

“I’m especially concerned when I hear talk from (Gov. Jay Inslee) about low-carbon fuel standards, which could cost jobs heavily,” Zeiger said. “I think talk of any kind of tax outside of transportation funding is a setback to 167.”

Renz believes that problems, including transportation funding, can be solved with tax reform. He wants to replace business-and-occupations and sales taxes with other revenue, including a state income tax for high earners and estate and capital gains taxes.

“The people who are making a lot of money will be paying their share of what we’re doing together as a community,” he said.

Stambaugh said the Route 167 completion project is “crucial to our community and Pierce County.” It would create a wide spectrum of jobs and improve the local economy, she said, adding that residents outside Pierce County would be more likely to travel to the 25th District and support local businesses if the trip were easier.

“It will generate new economic energy in the area,” she said of the completion project.

One of the biggest items facing the next Legislature is a possible transportation package that would include a hike in the statewide gas tax, which hasn’t been increased in several years.

Democrats generally support the increase while Republicans, including Stambaugh, say they’d support a hike with the right reforms in place. Stambaugh said she wants to see greater accountability and efficiency for road projects to cut back on wasted funds.

Zeiger has maintained support for the proposed gas-tax hike. Renz said he’d support it as part of a reasonable transportation package that funds vital local projects.

Morrell supports revisiting the gas tax, but she’s adamant that the revenue needs to be used to improve “lagging” infrastructure in Pierce County – especially for Route 167.

“We’ve all sent gas taxes to other areas in the state, it’s now Pierce County’s turn,” she said. “We should be at the top of the list.”

EDUCATION

Funding education is the most pressing issue facing the Legislature when the session begins in January.

The state Supreme Court unanimously held the Legislature in contempt last month for failing to meet the state’s constitutional duty to fully fund K-12 education.

Zeiger said the best solution is to create a separate budget for education, funding schools before anything else.

Once more, Renz stressed that tax reform is key. The Legislature should look beyond funding, he added. It needs to address what he considers a “missing perspective” on access to education.

“We need to get into education from birth,” he said. “We need to think bigger as we address McCleary.”

Morrell said she’s already worked on a budget, which didn’t pass the Senate, that would have avoided the high-court ruling.

She said the answer is piecing together savings from various reforms, such as closing tax loopholes for corporations, expanding Medicaid and reforming the mental-health care system – one of her top priorities.

“You look at the budget that you have and make sure the money is spent wisely,” Morrell said. “You can’t do it at the expense of health and human services.”

Stambaugh, who tutored students in Seattle while attending the University of Washington, said education is the top issue in her campaign.

“I learned very quickly the need for having advocates for students,” she said. “There’s no better year to bring that experience to the Legislature.”

Lawmakers need to look for inefficiencies in the state budget, Stambaugh said. Waste could be trimmed by ending unnecessary state spending and outsourcing tasks, she added, such as eliminating the state’s printing office. The state already outsources its bulk printing jobs to private companies, and the Office of Financial Management will review the rest of the printer's work for study in its next set of outsourcing reviews.

Stambaugh also would look to the private sector to help support education programs, and funnel into education any growth in existing revenue streams.

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