Sharp differences, and occasionally sharp words, between three of the candidates running for 34th District State House Position 2 – Joe Fitzgibbon, “Mac” McElroy, and Marcee Stone – at a midday campaign forum on the South Seattle Community College (WSB sponsor) forum today. Fitzgibbon made a repeated point that he’s young; Stone countered that age doesn’t matter, but made a point of her gender; McElroy’s main point was that he’s not “the status quo.” The fourth candidate in the race, Mike Heavey, sent his campaign manager to read a statement and to apologize that Heavey couldn’t make it because he was prohibited from campaigning while on the clock for his King County job (assisting Councilmember Jan Drago). Even if higher education isn’t at the top of your interest list in deciding who to vote for as successor to State Rep. Sharon Nelson (who’s running thus-far-unopposed for State Senate), some of the discussion might prove instructive – read on for details:
While Mike Hickey (an SSCC faculty member and also Seattle’s Poet Laureate) moderated, the forum began with a few words from student body president Julie Rowe, who talked about students who are “really scraping” because of tuition increases. Next year’s 7 percent increase was at the heart of one of the five questions asked to each candidate.
Stone called the tuition increase “upsetting” and said she’d made it through college with a combination of federal grants and loans, so would “advocate with our federal delegation for more money.” Fitzgibbon called the increase “a tremendous burden” but said that if they hadn’t been implemented, the higher-education system might have suffered “a further loss in quality.” He suggested that if the Legislature had more “younger people” – he noted that two of its members were under 30 – the outcome might have been different: “We would do well to send more people to Olympia who look more like the voting-age people of our state.” McElroy acknowledged that the increase was “clearly a pain in the a*s – 15 percent is a chunk” but said, “We still have record enrollment – people are figuring out how to do it.” He advocated for a “model of self-sustainability” – perhaps partnering technical classes with business counterparts, and not only would that help cover the costs, but “ideally you have seamless transition into a job” and more community involvement with the community college.
Now, backtracking to …
The forum began with opening statements; Heavey’s campaign manager Trevor Wong read his, in which the candidate, 30, described himself as a “recent college graduate,” saying he could identify with SSCC issues. Stone called attention to her recent endorsement from the 34th District Democrats, (WSB coverage here) as well as the PCO vote that earned her the official party nomination. She declared, “I will say no to any more cuts – it’s unconscionable to go that route any longer,” and also recapped her leadership of Washington Public Campaigns, as well as her personal pledge to not take Political Action Committee or corporate money. McElroy ticked off his careers in the Navy, as a truck driver, and now as Triangle Tavern owner, while saying that running as an independent “doesn’t make me a bad person, doesn’t make me a Democrat, doesn’t make me a Republican, nor does it make me duplicitous.” Fitzgibbon highlighted his work as an assistant to Rep. Nelson, whom he’s hoping to succeed, partly helping with the predatory-lending-law reform passed in 2009. Specific to SSCC and its counterparts, he recalled “missed opportunities” in Olympia, including the chance to add a student trustee to the Community College Board, like the one on the Board of Regents for 4-year institutions. “It’s made a big difference to have a student rep … to talk about how policies like tuition hikes affect students.”
Fitzgibbon opened the answering round for the question “What policy and budget changes will you work for to provide ample funding for South and other 2-year schools?” He talked about the prospect of an income tax, with the first step being Initiative 1098, which he called “a tremendous opportunity to move us toward a tax system that is fair … (and) another stable revenue source to help us maintain funding for higher education in this state … I don’t think we can keep balancing the budget on the backs of students and teachers.” He also mentioned legislation passed this year to increase the funding for worker-retraining programs, and suggested that the state “move away” from sales-tax exemptions for industries/businesses such as coal.
Next, McElroy took a swing at the current Legislature for making “promises .. that weren’t taken care of” and for balancing the budget with money that “didn’t come from high earners … it came from … the tax on beer, bottled water, candy … Who’s that affecting? You and me. Me and my business. People in my community. Looking to your government to solve your woes (is not going to work).” At that point, he quoted John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” and again exhorted finding self-sustaining sources of money.
Stone said, “We have to do something about our broken tax system … 1098 doesn’t go far enough; there’s no offset for the sales tax. You’re still going to pay 10 percent … do you know that if we have a progressive income tax, that most people making $50,000 or less will see a very small amount of tax? And you can deduct it from your federal taxes, so you get it back.”
Another question involved courses and programs at South Seattle CC to prepare students for “the new green economy … students are concerned about jobs that may or may not be available once they finish. What will you do to help create (these) jobs?”
McElroy’s response boiled down to a suggestion that every job should be a “green” job. “I believe in the green movement, in reducing the carbon footprint, in business efficiencies that can be the direct result of training that you students are receiving … (but) I do not believe in trying to create a special segment of the economy that’s green. The best way to have a green economy is to go out into small businesses that will need your skills, and virally impregnate them with the green concept from the inside.”
Stone talked about increasing the “green jobs” training program and “fostering” connections between education and industry. She added, “I have a fundamental disagreement with Mac … I don’t think government is the problem … the problem is that we base our revenues on a sales tax.”
Fitzgibbon, meantime, said he agreed with “something that Mac said … Green jobs are not just one little center of the economy; we would like all jobs to be green jobs.” Some already are, he said, while then advocating for investment in renewable energy – “I’m proud of backing Initiative 937 … we are not going to be on the cutting edge of a green economy if we roll back (such measures) because of special interests.” He also mentioned that energy retrofits for schools “will be on the ballot this fall” (hours after the forum, we got the news advisory we mentioned on WSB this afternoon, with that measure, Referendum 52, to have a campaign kickoff tomorrow in West Seattle).
The three were also asked about funding for college teachers’ salaries; Fitzgibbon said cost-of-living allowances “need to come back, otherwise we will have the best faculty and teachers at our schools looking for other jobs in the private sector, and we will see the quality of education diminished. … I don’t think our economy is going to be on the right track until we take education seriously.”
Next, McElroy acknowledged that “cost-of-living allowances are hugely important” while observing that the state is not alone in a budget crunch: “This is a statewide fiscal crisis, the dimensions of which we haven’t seen in generations. We’re going to have to make do with what we have. It’s unfortunate … the reality is, we’re in a fiscal crisis, really affecting the public and private sector. My business has taken a hit too.”
Referring to Fitzgibbon’s earlier remark about younger legislators being better able to relate to being in college, Stone began, “I wonder if the age of the legislators had anything to do with the freezing of the COLAs … ” and after talking about a “lack of faith in Olympia” regarding “unfunded (education) mandates,” she then circled back to another age-related remark he’d made, that younger legislators might also identify more with reproductive-rights issues. “I would beg to differ (with Joe) that reproductive rights are not passing because of (key legislators’) age … it has more to do with well-funded, well-organized right-wing (groups) that come in with a busload of people and say, ‘you’re not going to pass that crisis pregnancy law because we don’t want it’.” She urged people to counter such efforts by talking about important issues with their friends and relatives – “organize people, get their voices.” She also talked about restoring a balanced relationship between constituents and representatives – “It’s a matter of trust.”
Hickey then asked the final question: “Many students need child care; many need the Basic Health Plan … (and ther were cuts) … How would you support (those programs)?”
Warning first that, again, “I’m going to be the guy to tell you what I think,” McElroy declared, “Do I think (funding) child care for students is a priority? No.” He clarified that he didn’t think it was unimportant, just that there are higher priorities for funding, and then criticized Governor Gregoire: “Did the governor choose to cut these funds? She did. Was it the right thing to do? I don’t think so. Do the people of the 34th think that’s reprehensible? It hasn’t been brought up yet.” If he heard from potential constituents that child-care funding was a priority, however, he said, he’d vote for it. And he vowed to fight for health-care funding.
“I believe health care is a right for all,” Stone said. “I am grateful they were able to pass the bill they passed in Washington, D.C.” – now, she said, her daughter, who’s about to become a college graduate, can stay on her insurance, “and that’s a huge relief to me.” She then turned to her most outspoken opponent: “I have to say something to Mac, that child care isn’t important to him … If you are a 22-year-old mother trying to climb out of welfare, you bet your sweet …” (she trailed off) ” … that child care is important to you. We have to get people the help they need, maybe through the federal system, so they can climb out of the hole they’re in.” She talked about working nights when her daughter was young, and handing off the baby to her husband when he came home from his day job. And finally, still turned to her right: “Maybe it’s not important to you, Mr. McElroy, because you’re not a woman.” He reacted audibly to that – a sound of surprise – and she said, “Well, you’re the one who brought that up.”
Then, Fitzgibbon’s turn: “Well, I don’t have kids.” Uneasy laughter greeted that, around the auditorium. He expressed interest in making sure that child-care programs provided “an actual learning environment” to get kids a better start when it’s time for school, and he also pointed out that some of the beverage/sweets taxes would restore “funding for a program so working people can have help paying for child care. I’m very proud of our state.”
Candidates Fitzgibbon, Heavey and Stone are running as Democrats; McElroy, as an independent. Regardless of party affiliation, the top two vote-getters in the August 17th primary will advance to the November 2nd general. While these four are the only declared candidates right now, the filing period is not over until June 11th – it’s open right now for those who file by mail, while in person and online, it is not open until June 7th. To find out more about the candidates – follow the links in the first paragraph of this story, which links each candidate’s full name to her/his official website.