Economic crunch was theme at voter's forum

LANGLEY - The economy was the 800-pound empty-pockets gorilla in the room as about 100 people gathered for a candidates' forum at South Whidbey High School on Wednesday night.

The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island, and featured the incumbent and challenger in the races for Congress, state and county offices.

"This is a forum on the issues," said moderator Barbara Seitle, president of the League of Women Voters of Washington. "So don't go in for mud-slinging."

The candidates answered written questions from the audience and questions submitted earlier by e-mail. The questions were sandwiched between brief opening and closing remarks from each candidate.

Questions covered taxes, education, the environment, offshore drilling, healthcare, ferries, alternative energy, sex education in schools, abortion, elections, campaign financing, farming, the PUD proposal and county commissioner Phil Bakke's "no new taxes" pledge.

Bakke, a Republican and former county planning director who was appointed to the county commission about a year ago, is running against challenger Helen Price Johnson in the Position 1 race.

He insisted his support for a 1-percent increase in the property tax doesn't violate the pledge, because that's an increase in an existing tax, not a new tax.

He said the county isn't in bad fiscal shape compared to other counties, because it has spent responsibly, and has even set a little something aside for hard times.

But he added: "We still need to suck it up when we can and make do."

Price Johnson, a Democrat and a South End business owner, community activist and member of the South Whidbey School District board, agreed that times are tough, but she promised to work "to get everyone involved to find ways to save money."

"We need to change the culture of county government," she said. "I would bring a fresh set of eyes, a breath of fresh air."

Asked if being the owner of a building company that might someday bid on a county project constitutes a conflict of interest, she answered with Joe Biden efficiency: "No."

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