(WSB video of each candidate’s opening statement)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
It may be challenging to be a non-Democrat running for office in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, with three Democrats also on the ballot, and at least one news source declaring them the only candidates, but Geoffrey “Mac” McElroy nonetheless scored a touché moment at the end of the 34th District State House Position 2 candidates’ forum on Vashon Island Friday night.
His closing statement was the last one, and it included his suggestion that his three Democratic opponents “never met a tax they didn’t like.” The three – Joe Fitzgibbon, Mike Heavey, Marcee Stone – had each voiced support for a “progressive income tax.”
After McElroy finished, Heavey broke format to address the audience: “Can we take a straw poll? How many of you are in favor of a progressive income tax?”
A majority of the 40-plus attendees raised their hands. Heavey: “Against?” A few hands went up. as was the case when he asked, “Abstain?” He concluded, “Well, then, keep in mind we [Democrats] represent you.”
McElroy parried back, “I’d just like to see you all come up with the same definition of what a ‘progressive income tax’ is.”
One person in the audience somewhere – affiliated with McElroy or not, we have no idea – clapped.
The exchange was the zingiest part of the forum, moderated by Vashon-residing Seattle University law professor Craig Beles and broadcast live on Voice of Vashon TV (which has posted the full video of this forum and the County Council District 8 forum that followed – here’s our earlier story on that).
(From left: McElroy, Stone, Fitzgibbon, Heavey)
Back to the start: We captured each candidate’s opening statement on video, and those clips are featured at the top of this story – keep in mind that since the forum was on Vashon, the openers reflect that, but if you haven’t seen these candidates yet, it gives you a sense of who they are, how they speak, what they find important.
As with the County Council candidates’ forum we wrote about earlier, the opening/closing statements bookended a fast-moving half-hour in which each candidate got one minute to answer questions written by audience members, read by Beles. First up: How would you create jobs?
McElroy, who runs Mac’s Triangle Pub on the West Seattle/White Center line, brought that to his signature theme, helping small businesses. He spoke of ensuing the state has accurate information on small businesses, then consolidating “redundant” programs to create a sort of SBA (Small Business Administration) II. That, he said, would generate jobs that don’t “go offshore.”
Stone, who lives in West Seattle and works at a law firm, suggested that “go(ing) forward with shovel-ready projects” would create jobs – and used the Highway 99 tunnel as an example: “No more political handwringing … we can’t afford it any longer.” She also stressed the importance of funding retraining programs such as those at West Seattle-headquartered South Seattle Community College.
Answering next, Fitzgibbon – a Burien resident who has been working as legislative assistant to Rep. Sharon Nelson, who currently holds the job for which he and the other 3 are running – focused on the Clean Water Act. It has stalled in the Legislature the past two years, but may, in his view, have a better chance next year because of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. He said passage would get some projects going, creating jobs.
Heavey, currently working for King County Councilmember Jan Drago, said he sees job creation in two tiers, short- and long-term – saying he agreed with Fitzgibbon that the “shovel-ready” projects in the Clean Water Act could help create short-term jobs, while in the long term, he sees “invest(ment) in the education system” as crucial, particularly science and math, since most new jobs are in fields relying on those skills. He also briefly mentioned Referendum 52, on the November ballot seeking voter approval of a bill that would lead to energy-retrofitting projects at schools around the state (and would extend the bottled-water tax that’s currently scheduled to end by 2013).
Asked about state finances, Fitzgibbon voiced “support for a progressive income tax” and said the budget deficit would “have to be addressed through revenue increases and cuts to places we’re not getting our money’s worth.” Heavey said he’d rather raise revenue than cut services, but then startled (audibly) at least one person in the room by saying he thinks voters will pass Tim Eyman‘s Initiative 1053 to reinstate the two-thirds-majority requirement for taxes, which would then require “some deep conversations about what role government should play.” McElroy said he expected to find some “efficiency that can be gained” in budgeting, adding, “This fantasy world that we’re living in that we’re going to raise taxes and raise taxes without looking at what we’re getting for them is a dead-end street,” though he added the qualifier: “I’m not against taxes.” Answering the question last – the order varied question by question – Stone observed, “All three (opponents) have touched on different aspects of what’s really happened here: We have a lack of leadership in the Legislature – that causes citizens’ initiatives … I agree with Geoff here that we need to do something different; I hope to be the one to do something different,” which she said would include her signature issue, public campaign financing.
Staying on the money theme, the candidates were asked their views on reinstating a statewide motor-vehicle excise tax (which was killed a decade ago in a process started by Initiative 695). Heavey: “I think it’s a good idea,” noting it links to one of his key platform points, initiative reform. He observed that he thought “at least two others would agree with me” from among his opponents, which brought McElroy to open his subsequent answer with, “I am not fundamentally against taxes,” explaining that he considered the motor-vehicle tax “a stopgap measure” because “I believe, as does Marcee, that we need to have the testicular fortitude to go in and change the tax system in toto.”
Stone: “I would agree that we need to bring it back, but municipalities need to levy their own as well,” to help invest in transportation. As for what form that should take, she said, “We can’t go on building highways, widening freeways” – light rail, buses, “things like that,” deserve more attention.
Fitzgibbon: “Yes, we need the motor vehicle tax” – and he elaborated on Stone’s point, saying it’s a problem that gas taxes are constitutionally limited to highway spending, though “luckily for this community, that means marine highways [ferries] too.”
That brings us back to a ferry-system question asked early in the forum. Asking for the candidates’ “analysis” and proposed “solution” to Washington State Ferries “spending a lot of money on overtime,” the question appeared to refer to a series of KING 5 TV news reports.
Stone called the situation “unconscionable and despicable … seems like double-dipping,” and called for “oversight.” Fitzgibbon said the Legislature “must establish clear guidelines for travel time and overtime pay.” Heavey offered that “the best solution is to engage our employees … those who know where we can save money are those who work there … engage them … to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” McElroy said he suspected this type of situation could be found “duplicated” in other areas of the state government and needs a close review.
If you’re elected, what are your three legislative priorities? the four were asked.
Heavey listed ballot-initiative reform (noting that while you can file an initiative for $5, it cost more than $400 to file to run for office), the “stormwater bill,” and “getting transportation back on track” through a “broader interpretation of the 18th Amendment” – the aforementioned requirement that motor-vehicle tax money goes toward highways.
For Fitzgibbon, the three are the Clean Water Act, the “limited service pregnancy centers” proposal (requiring “medically accurate” information to be provided by the centers that Fitzgibbon said “deceive” pregnant women, often by “misleading them into not having an abortion or not knowing what their choices are”), and marriage equality: “I feel very strongly we’ll look back and wonder how it took so long for us to allow everybody to marry the person they love … We will be very embarrassed in 20 or 30 years to realize it took so long to pass that.”
For Stone, the pregnancy-center issue, on which she said she “would like to take an activist approach”; she also listed the “employee-privacy act,” and the “Impartial Justice Act” (public funding of state Supreme Court campaigns).
And Mc Elroy listed “getting the right information to help our small businesses” as well as “legislation that allows for objective results for our teachers, holding (them) and administrators accountable for the progress they’re making with our students,” and an “overarching transportation authority” to coordinate the multiple modes of transportation, rather than having them overseen by many separate entities as they are now.
As with the County Council forum, the closing-statement time included a mention of written questions that had gone unasked and an invitation for candidates to incorporate answers if they chose. One of those questions was about differentiating themselves from their opponents; Heavey touted his private-sector work experience as well as his government work experience, noting he’d been a member of the Inlandboatmen’s Union while working at the Mukilteo ferry terminal. “I think my broad experience and skills wil make me an effective legislator.”
Stone, who had mentioned earlier in the forum that she had been endorsed by the IBU, went on to list other endorsements (including the 34th District Democrats) in her closing statement, also touting her experience having been “a working woman my whole life – I know what it takes to raise a family , run a household,” and she said it’s vital to guarantee workers paid sick leave, while identifying the “progressive income tax” as the most important issue: “We need to send somebody (to Olympia) with the guts to stand up there and say, this is what has to happen.”
Fitzgibbon said he would “like to broaden the tax base by using a progressive tax structure” but noted that it would have been nice had the Legislature decided to reduce the sales tax too. As for differentiation, Fitzgibbon cited his experience working at the Legislature, King County Council, and being on the Burien Planning Commission “prepares me well to be an effective advocate for this district right from the start.”
As pointed out atop this story, McElroy said that while his opponents seemed to be all in favor of taxes, plus “there wasn’t a social program they didn’t like,” he doesn’t think there’s a “whole lot of money to be found” in new taxes, yet whatever system is devised, it “needs to be constitutionally bound.” He once again noted his experience running a business, as a differentiator and qualification.
WSB coverage of this race is archived here (newest to oldest). Disclosure: The Stone and McElroy campaigns are currently running paid political ads on WSB.