In what has chalked up as one of the friendliest races of the year, 10th Legislative District incumbent Norma Smith is defending the Position 1 seat from challenger Aaron Simpson.
Smith, R-Clinton, has held the seat since her appointment in late 2007. A former writer and operations manager for a communications firm, Smith’s political achievements include terms on the South Whidbey School Board and six years as special assistant to the late Congressman Jack Metcalf.
By comparison, Simpson, D-Langley, is a political newcomer having never held a position in public office. A barista at a South Whidbey coffee house, a musical composer and an aspiring pilot, Simpson says what he lacks in political experience is made up with passion and youth.
Each candidate was sent six questions.
What will be your top two priorities?
Simpson: “Education is my top priority. We need to fully fund education at all levels while working to ensure that we get the most for our dollars. I will also concentrate on improving economic opportunities for both individuals and businesses. By making our regulations more clear and sensible we can ease the burdens of growth for our businesses. By improving transportation, people will have access to more opportunity.”
Smith: “First, forging an economic climate that promotes private sector job creation and accelerates our economic recovery by working with our small businesses and employers across the state to address state obstacles to growth. We must help create certainty, protect our competitive advantages such as our energy costs (critical to the production sector of our economy) and improve our competitive disadvantages by focusing on regulatory reform and state costs of doing business.
Secondly, working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create sustainable, prioritized, responsible budgets that reflect our duty to our children’s education, public safety, the most vulnerable in our communities and the critical infrastructure needed for a vibrant economy.”
Would you be willing to raise taxes to improve education?
Smith: “’It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.’ Washington Constitution Article 9, Section 1. Our constitution is clear; ample funding of education is our paramount duty, therefore first dollars should be prioritized and utilized for properly funding education. If additional revenues are needed for other functions, then the case for those government programs should be made to the people, rather than holding our children and their education hostage to budget negotiations. Fund education first.”
Simpson: “Rather than raising tax rates as a whole, I would focus on eliminating wasteful tax exemptions. There are presently 520 tax exemptions in Washington State, many of which do not reflect the way we live our lives today. I’ve identified $3 billion to $5 billion worth of unproductive exemptions, the removal of which would allow us to fully fund education as well as create new exemptions for businesses that show real potential for growth.”
What problems do you see that are unique to Whidbey Island and how do you propose to address them?
Simpson: “Whidbey Island is very dependent on quality transportation infrastructure. I will work to ensure that our ferries remain well funded and that we are proactive in assuring a future for Deception Pass Bridge. Life on an island also has a huge impact on the opportunities available to our residents. If we continue to expand options like the Sounder train, we can expand people’s access to economic opportunity. We must also create more high-paying jobs on the island. Incentives for high-tech, low-impact businesses will allow people to make a living wage without having to commute.”
Smith: “Whidbey Island is unique in that our economy and communities are dependent on two ferry routes and one 75-year-old bridge over Deception Pass — I will continue working closely with a bipartisan group of legislators representing ferry communities to advocate for the importance of our marine highways … Efficient, cost-effective and reliable service is critical to our safety, our quality of life, and our economic well being.Another unique challenge and opportunity is our island’s perspective and experience at the intersection of aquaculture and agriculture. We must make wise decisions to ensure that both are sustainable into the future.”
If elected, what would be different on Whidbey Island two years from now?
Smith: “Working together with political courage and effective leadership, we can improve the business climate for small businesses and farmers on Whidbey Island and across our state. The resulting private sector job growth will provide more opportunities for our neighbors. As ranking member on the Community, Economic Development and Housing Committee, I work with businesses across our district and state, and know the reforms needed to unleash the creative innovation and potential of our diverse employer community. Common-sense steps like reducing state cost of doing business, cutting cumbersome red-tape, and providing relief for small businesses are essential for our economic recovery.”
Simpson: “My election will mean that our schools can thrive again. Not only will they be fully funded and free to teach more than just test preparation, but they will again have enough students to make their programs viable. Bringing family wage jobs to the island will bring more families to the island, which will balance our demographics and make our community stronger.”
With the Discover Pass not living up to financial expectations, how do you propose to properly fund state parks?
Simpson: “I would work to eliminate the Discover Pass program, and return parks to the sensible system of direct funding that was in place before. When people visit state parks, they also visit the surrounding communities, supporting local businesses. The economic benefit of our parks more than justifies the relatively minor amount of funding they require to remain open.”
Smith: “Prioritize them. It is wrong that budget writers over the last decade have spent hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing new lands, while not providing adequately for the operations of our treasured state parks that belong to the people of our state … Our park rangers and staff have offered excellent ways to save on costs and their expertise and guidance need to be heeded … Access to our state parks should be free, recognizing the enormous economic benefit they represent to our communities.”
What makes you the best candidate for the job?
Smith: “My demonstrated effectiveness in the legislature, working respectfully with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to forge good public policy, has been recognized by a broad coalition of supporters, from public safety and environmental advocates to business and trade organizations. My life experiences — from directing operations for two small companies, serving on our school board and on Congressional staff, to working in long-term care and as a young adult mentor — inform my decisions and help me find solutions for the complex challenges facing us. I will continue to give my best to restore trust in our legislative process.”
Simpson: The challenges facing Washington are enormous. We have a massive budget deficit, a crisis in education and a stagnant business climate. I will bring a balanced perspective to the legislature as we confront these problems. We can only balance the budget with a balanced approach. While we must ease the burdens on our businesses, we must remember that no business can grow without customers than can afford to support it. Our leaders tend to see only one way to solve a problem. I will bring a fresh perspective to Olympia and use every tool available to ensure our success.”