Democratic Sen. Nathan Schlicher and Republican Rep. Jan Angel debated at a breakfast forum Thursday, fielding questions about out-of-state contributions, campaign ads, education and taxes.
Schlicher was appointed to the 26th District Senate seat in January. The state Senate is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, and a victory by Angel would shift more power to the coalition.
The candidates were asked about the influence of outside money in a race has drawn more than $500,000 in independent spending.
One of the largest donors is Thomas Steyer, a hedge-fund manager and environmentalist from California who donated $300,000 to an independent committee opposed to Angel.
Angel said she was “shocked” at the amount of Steyer’s donation. “I’m an environmentalist too, so this man doesn’t even know me,” Angel said. “But he is putting all this money against me in this race.”
Schlicher said there is a “clear environmental difference” between his voting record and Angel’s record. He pointed to his 100 percent voting score by the Washington Conservation Voters, compared to 11 percent for Angel.
He said Steyer’s money went to an independent committee, similar to the Good Government Leadership Council which is funded by the Senate Republicans and has targeted Schlicher with negative ads.
Both candidates sought to set the record straight on attack ads.
Angel criticized an ad that said she wanted to take mammograms away from women. “As a woman, I personally have experienced breast cancer issues,” Angel said. Not only has she undergone breast surgery, she said, but her mother and cousin died of cancer.
Schlicher disputed a campaign advertisement that said he voted to increase taxes by $900 million dollars.
“When we left Olympia on June 28, we had a no-new-taxes budget,” Schlicher said. “On July 2, a hit piece came out against me from the Senate Republicans saying I was a tax-and-spend liberal for voting for it. I don’t know what happened in three days.”
The candidates also addressed several other topics at the event hosted by the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Among the topics they discussed:
How to improve the business climate:
Angel said small business owners are struggling with regulatory issues at the federal, state and local level. “We’ve got to get government off their backs,” she said. Angel also called for changes to the state’s business and occupation tax, or B&O tax, so that it is charged on net income, not gross.
Schlicher said the state needs to work harder to retain workers at the naval base, which is one of the region’s largest employers. “When we hear about base realignment, you don’t hear a lot from Olympia,” he said. The state also needs to improve infrastructure to lure more businesses to an area that relies on bridges and ferries, Schlicher said.
How to improve education and meet McCleary requirements:
Schlicher said the budget adopted this year puts an extra billion dollars into education, but half of the money was “balanced on the backs of teachers” by suspending their cost-of-living pay raises. “We can’t keep doing that,” he said.
To fix the state in the long term, Schlicher said legislators need to “take a fundamental look at our tax structure.” People who earn less than $25,000 a year pay 20 percent of their income in taxes, he said, and small businesses have to pay a higher B&O tax rate than big businesses. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Angel said she wants to give schools more local control. Funding should follow the child to their school, she said, and principals, teachers and the school board should be allowed to work together in the best interest of the school.
Angel said she also believes the state Superintendent of Public Instruction should not be an elected position. “It should be an appointed position by the governor so that if we’re not getting the results we want, that person can be fired and replaced,” she said.