A race for a state senate seat is one of the few contests that’s sparked any heat between candidates in local and state campaigns affecting Whidbey Island.
It’s a particularly important race for state political parties and should also be a close one.
Oak Harbor resident Barbara Bailey, a Republican, is near the end of her first term as a state senator for District 10. She is being challenged by Democrat Angie Homola, an Oak Harbor resident and a former county commissioner.
In the Aug. 2 primary, Bailey got 51 percent of the vote while her two Democratic rivals combined to win nearly 49 percent.
The outcome may be key in determining which party has the majority in the senate. Bailey’s win over Mary Margaret Haugen, a longtime senator, was key in shifting the senate to the Republicans.
While both women live in the same community and have strong ties to the Navy, they have very different ideas about a host of issues.
Bailey is largely a proponent of traditional conservative values; Homola supports progressive ideals and has a strong environmentalist streak.
Still, neither woman is one-dimensional when it comes to partisan issues.
Bailey said she is largely against raising taxes or cutting corporate tax subsidies, even with the ongoing crisis over how the state is going to fully fund education. She said an increase in tax dollars coming into the state because of the improved economy will solve the problem.
“It’s not that we don’t look at revenue,” she said of the Republican senate caucus. “We’re just not going to jump at tax increases first thing.”
She is proud of her work on a historic bill that reduced college tuitions at state and community colleges. Reductions were as much as 20 percent, she said. The measure was paid for by closing a tax loophole, according to The Seattle Times.
Bailey said she sees affordable college tuition as vital.
“We have students coming out of college with more debt than they could pay back over a reasonable period of time,” she said.
She favors limiting regulations, including environmental rules, in order to help business grow. She also sees limiting such regulations as important to increasing affordable housing, which she agrees has become a crisis on Whidbey and beyond.
On social issues, Bailey has sponsored bills and cast votes over controversial issues.
She was one of the sponsors this year of a bill, which some characterized as bigoted, that would have reversed the state Human Rights Commission’s ruling that people can use the bathroom that corresponds with his or her gender identity.
Back when she was a state representative, she voted against bills that would have allowed domestic partners the same rights as married couples when it came to parenting.
Bailey said those votes were based on her religious values and that people don’t have the right to question her about those convictions.
Bailey also played a pivotal role in the “Dream Act.” The legislation sought to allow children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. She initially was criticized for not allowing the bill to leave committee.
But she worked to change the bill the following session so that the students would qualify if they took steps to become legal residents through a program created by the Obama administration, she said. It became law.
Bailey said she took some flak for supporting the bills. But she argues that the students are in the country illegally at no fault of their own and the state shouldn’t make it more difficult for them to succeed.
On the other side, Homola said state leaders need to be realistic about revenues when it comes to fully funding education and not take funds from programs “for the most vulnerable,” which she claimed Bailey has voted to do.
She proposes that the state close tax loopholes for corporations, which she said will go a long way to fulfill the promise to fully fund education. She said the state should claw back the tax breaks given to Boeing because the company broke promises.
Homola said lawmakers should educate the public about the state’s regressive tax system and explain what is not getting funded, then let them decide if they want to change things.
When it comes to education, she said vocational education is important and she would like to see options expanded.
Homola is a big fan of the Growth Management Act, which is the foundation of many land-use regulations in the state.
“GMA was one of the best pieces of legislation the state ever adopted,” she said.
She said GMA isn’t the cause of the affordable housing crunch on Whidbey and beyond. She points out that the act has an affordable housing element that largely hasn’t been implemented by local jurisdictions.
She has a lot of ideas when it comes to the environment. She said lawmakers, for example, should explore incentives for weaning the state off fossil fuels and implement efficiency requirements for vehicles.
Homola is proud of her term as a county commissioner. She noted that she came into office at the height of the Great Recession to find that the county was millions of dollars in the hole; the former board of commissioners had relied on taxes from such unstable funding sources such as new construction and sales taxes, which then collapsed. The commissioners cut more than 20 percent of current expense and about 85 jobs.
Homola said she donated $40,000 of her income for programs like parks and seniors services, which were hit the hardest by cuts.
Her time in office wasn’t without controversy. Some elected officials, especially law-and-justice officials, criticized the commissioners for funding “non-mandated” programs — parks, senior services and WSU Extension — at the expense of basic government functions like law enforcement. While the non-mandated programs took the biggest hits by far, the commissioners said they didn’t want to do away with support altogether for the most vulnerable and things that affect the long-term quality of life in the county.
Homola said she pushed for transparency in government by getting video cameras into the commissioners’ room.
One of the most important things she accomplished, said Homola, was to fix a program that provides assistance to struggling veterans. After a volunteer board denied a request for help from a veteran with six children and a wife with cancer, she investigated and found that the county had an extra level of bureaucracy. She changed the program so that it now has a case manager and a fair system of helping indigent veterans.
She said she went to Bailey, then a state representative, for help in improving the state law governing the program, but instead Bailey sponsored a bill that would allow counties to forgo the indigent veteran program.
Bailey, however, claims that Homola’s attacks on her voting records are largely false and unfair. It’s an issue that has sparked testy exchanges between the two women at forums.
Homola claimed Bailey voted to sweep funding from important programs, such as public works projects and support for the most vulnerable.
The senator argued that Homola doesn’t understand the state Legislature and presents things out of context. While Homola claimed she supported a cut in funding for “the blind, disabled and aging,” Bailey said she voted against one measure but voted for another that provided funding in a better way.
Homola criticized Bailey, who has received campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies, for voting against a bill that would encourage the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada, where they cost much less.
“I’ve been accused of doing things that didn’t happen,” Bailey said.