Elections

Personality conflict dominates state Senate race in 31st District

Two Republicans competing for a state Senate seat in east Pierce and southeast King counties agree about many of the major issues facing the Legislature.

What they disagree about is whether the other person is mentally or emotionally fit to serve there.

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, faces a challenge from state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, who is trying to unseat Roach from the Senate position she’s had since 1991.

Both lawmakers represent the 31st Legislative District, which includes Sumner, Enumclaw, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Wilkeson and Lake Tapps.

Dahlquist said Roach’s history of conflict with Senate staff and Republican leaders shows she’s “definitely unstable” and not effectively representing voters in the right-leaning 31st District.

Meanwhile, Roach said that Dahlquist “can’t take the heat” of serving in the Legislature, citing how Dahlquist left her position on an education committee earlier this year.

The two lawmakers were nearly neck and neck in the Aug. 4 primary, with Roach winning 40 percent of the vote to Dahlquist’s 39 percent.

Also in the 31st district, an incumbent Democratic House member faces a Republican challenger, while two first-time legislative candidates are competing for Dahlquist’s House seat. The races will be decided in the general election Nov. 4.

SENATE RACE

The contest between Dahlquist and Roach isn’t about the candidates having wildly different visions for the state.

Both candidates think the Legislature should fund basic education before other parts of the state budget — an approach Republicans have dubbed “fund education first” — and are reluctant to raise taxes to pay for school or highway projects.

Dahlquist said the main reason she is running for Senate is to get rid of Roach, who she said isn’t able to work well with others.

During Roach’s Senate career, Senate Republican leaders have admonished Roach five times for what they termed “hostile behavior” toward staff, at one point expelling her from their private caucus meetings. In 2003, Roach was reprimanded and asked to seek counseling after several accusations that she mistreated staff members, including that she brandished a handgun at one.

“Who can wave a gun at a staffer and keep their job?” Dahlquist asked. “She’s definitely unstable — that’s well documented. And that’s not me saying that, that’s her own caucus telling her she needs anger management counseling.”

Senate Republicans exiled Roach from their closed-door meetings in 2010, after barring her from direct contact with staff in 2008. But Republican leaders lifted some of those sanctions in 2012 when Roach was needed as a pivotal vote on the budget. They removed the remaining sanctions in 2013, when Roach became a key member of a Senate coalition that had a narrow one-vote majority.

Roach said that the reprimands from her caucus are “old issues” that have since been resolved.

“My caucus leader, Mark Schoesler, has endorsed me,” Roach said, noting the support of the Senate Republican leader.

For her part, Roach has criticized Dahlquist as someone who can’t handle the pressure of the Legislature, mainly based on a speech Dahlquist gave at the end of this year’s legislative session saying she would no longer serve as the top Republican on the House Education Committee.

Dahlquist, upset with last-minute changes made to a bill dealing with high-school credit requirements, noted, “This place has a way of chewing you up and spitting you out.”

“We need someone who isn’t going to allow themselves to be chewed up and spit out,” Roach said. “Nobody’s spitting me out. I’ve never quit.”

Dahlquist, who served two terms on the Enumclaw School Board, said she left her role on the House Education Committee this year partly to focus on her Senate campaign. She said her knowledge of -ducation funding issues will be an asset in the Senate as the Legislature grapples with how to invest more money in K-12 education next year.

“(Roach) doesn’t understand what all the moving parts are,” said Dahlquist, who was elected to the House in 2010. “It’s truly my passion.”

Roach said her strength is fighting for her constituents, especially when it comes to tax issues. Last year, after the state Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved initiative that limited the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes, Roach sponsored a constitutional amendment that would have put the initiative into law.

“I’m not just voting for the people, I’m advocating for them,” Roach said.

HOUSE POSITION 2

State Rep. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw has spent much of the campaign season aiding Dahlquist’s Senate campaign, but the self-described independent Democrat is facing a challenge of his own.

Phil Fortunato, who previously served in the Legislature from 1999 to 2000, is running against Hurst, a former Black Diamond police detective who has been in the House for 15 years. Fortunato, who runs a startup advising businesses on how to comply with clean water laws, calls himself an independent Republican on the ballot.

Hurst has parted ways with his party on several pieces of legislation in recent years, including voting against a gasoline tax increase proposed by House Democrats in 2013 and backing reforms to the state’s workers’ compensation system in 2011.

Still, Fortunato said that Hurst is not conservative enough for the 31st district.

“He says, ‘Vote for me because I vote like a Republican,’ ” Fortunato said. “Well, I am a Republican.”

The candidates’ views diverge on how to fund road projects, such as extending state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma.

Hurst said he could support a gasoline tax increase to pay for transportation projects only if the tax was phased in incrementally — such as a penny increase per year over 10 years — and if the plan was sent to voters for approval. Hurst said the state should also consider indexing the gas tax to match the rate of inflation, something that also would require a vote of the people.

But Fortunato said he wouldn’t support any kind of gasoline tax increase, even if it is phased in gradually.

Instead, Fortunato would pay for transportation projects by reappropriating sales tax revenues from motor vehicles. That proposal wouldn’t generate new money for the state, but rather would take about $300 million a year from the general fund and put it toward transportation projects, he said.

Hurst said Fortunato’s plan would hurt the state’s ability to fund other programs, including K-12 education. Legislative staff estimate that meeting the demands of the state Supreme Court’s order in the McCleary case will cost at least another $3.5 billion every two years.

Hurst said he would support asking voters to raise the state sales tax by “no more than a fraction of a penny” to help pay for education. He said he doesn’t think that the state will be able to cut enough from other programs, such as social services, to find the extra money to pay for schools.

“I think we can continue to make government efficient, but there’s very little fat in our prison system today, for instance,” said Hurst, who chairs the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

Fortunato disagrees, and thinks there are innumerable savings to be found throughout the state budget. He said he thinks that there are useless regulations placed on teachers that are also driving up the cost of educating students. When pressed for details, he was short on specifics.

“I’m not willing to look at increasing spending until someone is willing to come back and look at getting rid of some of this stuff,” Fortunato said.

HOUSE POSITION 1

Two first-time legislative candidates are competing for the open House seat being vacated by Dahlquist.

Republican candidate Drew Stokesbary is a lawyer from Auburn who works as a policy aide for King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer.

Attempting to claim the seat for the Democrats is Mike Sando, a teacher at Enumclaw High School and an Enumclaw City Council member.

Stokesbary takes a moderate stance on many issues related to taxation. He wants to see a large part of projected increases in sales tax revenues — three-fourths of them — go toward education funding next year, echoing Republican sentiments that education should be funded before other parts of the state budget.

But Stokesbary and Sando share the view that a combination of taxes, cuts and government changes will probably be needed to fully fund education as demanded by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Stokesbary said while he thinks the state needs to look at cutting spending before raising revenue, he is willing to look at ending some tax exemptions to help raise money for education. He said he considers eliminating tax breaks to be different from imposing a blanket tax increase.

Stokesbary also thinks a portion of sales tax revenues from recreational marijuana should be used to help fund education.

Sando, meanwhile, said he thinks some of the biggest problems with the state’s education system are the constantly changing accountability requirements forced on school teachers and administrators. He said the state could save money by easing the regulations placed on local school districts and classroom teachers, particularly when it comes to standardized tests.

“We’re spending so much on the reform things that we’ve done,” Sando said. “Perhaps we need to back off some of those.”

On transportation, both candidates are focused on completing state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, but they have different ideas about what would needed to be included a tax package to fund that project and others.

Stokesbary said the Legislature would have to change how it handles sales tax on transportation projects for him to support raising the state’s gasoline tax to pay for road projects. Right now, sales tax charged on transportation projects goes into the state’s general fund budget; Stokesbary would like to see that money stay in the transportation budget, he said.

“What we do now is arguably unconstitutional, because it takes money that is supposed to be dedicated towards transportation and diverts it into the general fund through a back door,” Stokesbary said.

Sando said he’s not opposed to such an idea, but that the state would then have to come up with funding to offset the financial loss to the state’s general fund. The Democrat said he thinks some of the reform ideas from Republicans are good ones, but that insisting on all of them just gives Republican lawmakers “more of an excuse to be able to say no” to a transportation package.

Stokesbary also wants to loosen prevailing wage rules for smaller transportation projects that cost less than $250 million, something Sando said he wouldn’t support.

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