Smith defends record against election latecomer

In the race for Position 1 in the state Legislature’s 10th District, incumbent Norma Smith, R-Clinton, very nearly won another two years in Olympia simply by default.

The filing deadline for the position came and went without the appearance of a challenger and it seemed almost a certainty that hers would be the only name to appear on the November ballot. But, a successful last-ditch effort by the Snohomish County Democrats to come up with an opponent insured that it was not to be so.

Laura Lewis, a Democrat from Stanwood and the vice chair of the group, took home 853 votes as a write-in candidate and hasn’t stopped swinging since. While stopping short of the television political attack ads so common to this year’s congressional races, Lewis has been highly critical of Smith’s voting record, from making claims that her opponent has never dealt with agriculture or addressed the state’s ferry problems.

In an interview before the Whidbey News-Times editorial board, Lewis said her opponent is a good person and that “the world needs more people like Norma.” But while she is vocal about many issues important to district residents, Lewis claims Smith’s voting record tells a different story.

“The problem with Norma is she doesn’t vote what she argues for,” Lewis said.

While Lewis has never held public office, she has long been on the political sidelines. She wracked up three years in Olympia working as a legislative aid, is a former campaign manager for Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, and has spent years participating in party politics in Snohomish County and on Camano Island.

Like all candidates seeking political office in today’s tough economic times, Lewis is thinking about the state budget and the tough decisions ahead. Cuts will invariably be needed and she is backing Gov. Chris Gregoire’s call for state agencies to tighten their belts through the reduction of middle management.

True to her party’s platform, Lewis supports the idea of a graduated income tax. While she stipulates that several other things would need to occur first, including hefty property tax reform and the elimination of both sales taxes and the business and occupation tax, she says its the state’s best untapped source of revenue.

“I think that’s the only reasonable way to fund what we do,” she said.

Smith, being true to her party platform, couldn’t disagree more.

“No new taxes; we cannot increase taxes,” she said.

Smith, who was appointed in 2007 to fill out the remainder of former Rep. Chris Strow’s term, is not a political newcomer either. Prior to the past three years, her resume includes distinctions such as president of the South Whidbey School Board, and six years as a special assistant to the late U.S. Congressman Jack Metcalf.

Smith says the Democratic-controlled Legislature has been living beyond its means for years. Republicans long bewailed what she called an “unsustainable model” and now the state is facing a fiscal crisis. The fix is not new taxes, said Smith, but the identification of priority spending and a balanced budget.

Smith also supports Gregoire’s call, especially concerning state programs such as General Assistance Unemployable funding, commonly referred to as GAU. The program provides cash and medical benefits for persons who are physically and/or mentally incapacitated and unemployable for 90 days. According to Smith, there is no state-residency requirement and 50 percent of the recipients are white males between the ages of 20 and 40 with substance abuse problems.

“We’re going to have to look at significant restructuring of how we are delivering services,” Smith said.

The candidates also disagree with state Initiatives 1100 and 1105, which are on the November ballot. Both bills would take the state out of the liquor business and privatize the industry.

Lewis said alcohol is a revenue engine that fuels counties and municipalities across Washington. Removing it at a time when governments are struggling to meet basic services would be “foolhardy,” she said. She also says it is expected to put up to 1,500 people out of work and job retention has never been more important.

“Rep. Smith says, ‘Well they can find other jobs,’ but no, no, no,” Lewis said. “There are no other jobs right now. That is the problem.”

She also sided with critics who claim that privatization would create a safety issue by increasing the availability of hard alcohol to minors. The current safeguards resulting from state regulation should remain, she said.

According to Smith, there is no reason the state can’t get out of the liquor business and still set up safeguards that adequately address concerns of underage sales. As for the revenue generated from current system, the fastest way to a healthy economy is to foster a sense of “certainty” in the business world and new and existing taxes is not the way to do it.

Smith, who has argued for general regulatory reform since her appointment, believes her greatest accomplishment while in office was the passage of her bill this year that provides small businesses attempting to comply with various state regulations with a two-day window before getting a fine.

“In a session where almost nothing happened that helped small businesses, that helped small businesses,” Smith said.

Lewis has attacked the bill’s overall effectiveness, saying that it would provide little real help as all it does is delay penalties. State regulators could still proceed with sanctions against such a business, she said. Lewis has also claimed that Smith has done nothing for agriculture or to address the problems within the state’s ferry system.

Smith denies both allegations as being untrue, saying she has been working closely with Western Washington Agricultural Association officials for three years, and was very involved in the effort to build three new ferries capable of serving the Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry route. She called Lewis’ allegations either “absolute ignorance or a willingness to deceive” voters.

“I’m all about a healthy debate on the issue, but we have an obligation to be truthful with constituents,” Smith said.

Norma Smith

• Age: 59

• Family: Widow; four children, three in-law children; four grandchildren.

• Years in district: 21 years on Whidbey Island.

• Career: Communications, nonprofit work, special assistant to U.S. Congressman Jack Metcalf.

• Education: Bachelors in theology from Puget Sound Christian College.

• Organization: Whidbey College and Career Fellowship mentor, member of Pacific Rim Institute’s board of directors.

Laura Lewis

• Age: 71

• Family: Married 32 years, six children, three grandchildren.

• Years in district: 30 years; currently lives in Stanwood.

• Career: 17 years in telecommunications industry.

• Education: Bachelors in business from Washington State University and masters in business administration from City University.

• Organizations: Currently the vice chair of the Snohomish County Democrats and treasurer for the 10th Legislative District Democrats, longtime member of the American Association of University Women.

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