Two candidates who have the support of their respective parties are being challenged by party outsiders in the race for state representative, position 2 in the state’s 10th Legislative District.
Dave Hayes, R-Camano, is running for a second term. He is facing three challengers in the primary election, including one candidate from his own party.
Island County residents should have received their ballots in the mail. They must be returned by primary election day, which is Aug. 5.
Oak Harbor resident Brien Lillquist, who admits to being unconventionally honest in his views, is running as a Republican. He previously sat on the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District board and ran unsuccessfully for the school board.
His reason for running is straight to the point.
“I don’t like any of the people down there,” he said. “My main concern is that nothing seems to change.”
Mount Vernon resident Nick Petrish, a Democrat, earned the endorsement of the Island County Democratic Party. He has many of the conventional views of Democrats, but a unique background. He grew up hunting and fishing in Anacortes and was an interrogator in the U.S. Army before becoming a union electrician; the Second Amendment and labor rights are both important to him.
“I’m all about guns, gun safety and gun rights,” he said, adding that he’s in favor of gun safety classes in schools.
Oak Harbor resident David Sponheim, on the other hand, is also running as a Democrat but has been spurned by the party. On its website, Island County Democratic Party warns against voting for Sponheim, stating that, “He is not actually a Democrat. Don’t be confused!”
Sponheim has run for president as a member of America’s Third Party, a centrist political party he co-founded, but he said his views most closely align with Democrats when it comes to the two major parties. Yet he wrote, “The Democratic Party is completely out of step with the people of America” in a letter to the Whidbey News-Times.
“I’m a fiscal conservative and a liberal on social issues,” he said.
Sponheim and his partner, Sarah Hart, have an internet video chat program where they talk politics and introduce a variety of creative solutions for world problems, including “a seawater pipeline [that] will bring fresh water to the deserts and help solve problems of drought by implementing passive desalination,” and “a transcontinental mag-lev rail system;” Sponheim, however, raised some eyebrows for wearing blackface in a parody of Barack Obama on his program, though he said he’s not a racist and was just practicing his First Amendment rights.
The four candidates have pretty diverse views on the issues, but they agree that funding education will likely be the biggest matter facing state lawmakers in the wake of the McCleary decision. The state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers aren’t meeting their constitutional responsibility by fully funding education, and ordered them to fix the problem by the 2017-18 school year.
All four candidates agree that additional funding for schools should go directly to the classroom and not to state bureaucracy.
Hayes, who is on the House Education Policy Committee, said he expects that McCleary will “absolutely overshadow everything else” during the next legislative session.
Hayes said small reforms can help schools.
He plans to work with local school districts to propose a way to streamline the audit process. He wants to prevent unfunded mandates from being passed on to school districts.
He said he fully supports the House Republicans’ policy of funding education first, and doesn’t think a tax increase will be necessary. He would only consider one as a last resort, and only after all the other options have been explored and implemented.
He said lawmakers should be able to find savings from reforms and streamlining government. He said the exact number in the education shortfall is a moving target that needs to be settled once “basic education” is realistically defined.
“People have been trying to grow the box of what is basic education,” he said.
Lillquist said he has little faith in lawmakers to solve such a big problem.
“My feeling is that the Legislature is going to wait until 2018 to do anything,” he said.
Lillquist said the state simply doesn’t have the billions of extra dollars it would take to fully fund education. He said part of the problem is that small, pet projects “nibble away” at the budget; but even without those expenditures, the money just isn’t there.
Lillquist said he wouldn’t be in favor of raising taxes to fund education, but he would make his voice heard in Olympia and in the district.
“At least people would hear from me before the next election,” he said.
Petrish is more optimistic about the McCleary issues and believes solutions are out there.
He said the state can raise money by closing corporate loopholes in tax law and “clawback” tax breaks from companies that don’t keep up their end of tax-break bargains.
“Extorting politicians for corporate welfare is just wrong,” he said.
He also proposed that the state could save billions of dollars by following North Dakota’s example and starting a state-owned bank. He said Bank of America currently makes billions by being the state’s banker, but he believes the tax payers could be making that money. He suggested an interim step would be to bank with a credit union, which he believes would save money.
“I don’t know if it would be enough, but it would be a start,” he said.
Petrish said he would likely support a small sales tax increase to support education.
Sponheim has many unique ideas for improving education and raising funds.
He supports the legalization of recreational marijuana and believes it can be a goldmine for the state, but he believes progress in opening dispensaries has been too slow. He said the tax revenue could be appropriated to schools.
Sponheim proposes that the state set up a scholarship fund that will be doled out to students based on test scores. He said he was a top student in high school, but later fell through the cracks. Scholarship funds could help other students like himself, he added.
Sponheim feels that the nation still hasn’t recovered from the recession and he wouldn’t be in favor of raising taxes, even for education. He said lawmakers should be able to find other ways.
“I want to get my feet wet,” he said, “get into local office and see what I can do.”