One of the poorest in the state, the 3rd Legislative District needs leaders able to tackle fiscal emergencies and represent people who are navigating complicated state-run agencies on a daily basis. The district has a long tradition of being in the hands of Democrats. Current Sen. Lisa Brown (D), as well as House Rep Alex Wood (D), are both running for re-election against Republican newcomers, Mike Casey and David Stevens. The 3rd District's Position 2 Rep, Timm Ormsby, also a Democrat, was appointed just last year to fill Jeff Gombosky's vacated seat, and he is running for a full term against Republican Ryan Leonard, who ran unsuccessfully for the same seat last election. Can the Dems retain their stronghold in the 3rd, or will citizens decide it's time for a change?
If you want to hear Brown and Casey in person, Gonzaga University's Student Body Association will present a town hall debate between them at 7 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the Globe Room of Cataldo Hall on the GU campus.
Washington State Senate
As the 3rd District's Senator since 1996, Lisa Brown is the first woman in Washington state history to serve as the Senate Democratic Leader. Brown served the 3rd District in the state House in '92 and was the first politician to ever bring her baby into an evening legislative session, which sparked her reputation as a single-parent advocate (she is one), outspoken on family policies and "women's issues," such as domestic violence. Brown has a Ph.D. in Economics, and in addition to being a state Senator, she teaches at Gonzaga University. She says tackling the 3rd District's poverty should start at the root, with education.
"We're at a situation right now where basically the legislature hasn't been preparing for new high school graduates, and that's an investment we need to do at the state level, no one's going to do it for us," Brown says. "The federal government is not going to come in when it comes to higher education."
Though known for being, as former presidential candidate, Howard Dean would put it, "in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," Brown isn't opposed to restructuring the state's Labor and Industries system. "It's something we ought to do," she says, but warns that it's not as simple as slashing regulations. "I've heard Mike Casey's approach that says if only we could just cut taxes and regulations, it would be fine. How far do we go? Do we go to Idaho's level? Or India's? We're losing jobs to overseas [markets], and I don't think we should be reducing our laws to that level."
Brown says she's learned to think realistically about what can be done. "What I can do is strengthen workforce training and education so people in my district can improve their skills."
In addition, Brown says working to control the cost of health care and to help increase access are among her top priorities. Though she agrees that medial liability premiums are too high, she's against capping juries. Instead, Brown says she worked with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on a plan that focused on reducing medical errors, insurance industry reform and civil liability reform.
Brown says her voting record speaks for itself. She points out her uncompromising defense of families, working class and underclass individuals, military personnel and students. "When I've heard [Mike Casey] talk about the family, I've heard him talk about 'The Family,' the traditional family, and I think the 3rd District represents all kinds of families. I'm a single parent myself, for one thing."
A dentist by trade, Mike Casey says he's had plenty of life experiences that qualify him for the state Senate. He points to his charitable record -- traveling the globe to provide dentistry to people in need, helping to establish a dental program for the Spokane County Jail, participating in local clubs and the parish. All these experiences, Casey says, have opened his eyes to the fact that politicians can pass reforms that "lift people up." Besides, he says with a laugh, "If I can get along with those inmates [in the Spokane County Jail], I can get along with the Democrats in Olympia."
Casey doesn't have any doubt that the 3rd District needs a Republican at the helm. In fact, Casey says he'd do practically everything different from current Sen. Lisa Brown. Ask him to get specific, and he rattles of a list of bill numbers with brief descriptions of why Brown should or shouldn't have voted the way she did. "Primarily, her record is abysmal in the areas of business, health care and family issues," Casey says. "What she says and what she votes on are not compatible."
Casey says he doesn't think many people even know who their Senator is. "I've been to 15,000 homes, knocking on doors. The people do not know who Lisa Brown is; they don't feel like they've been represented. They want to get off public assistance and be part of the American Dream."
Casey insists that the 44 percent of the people in the 3rd District who are on some form of public assistance, and the 79 percent of kids (12th grade and younger) who benefit from public assistance need tax reform and the streamlining of state agencies to lift them up.
He says in order to break the cycle of poverty, the central issue must be jobs, and in order to create jobs, the central issue must be taxes. "The remedy is so wide open you could drive a Mack truck through it and cherry pick hundreds of bills that will bring relief." Casey wants insurance reform, L & amp;I reform, B & amp;O obliteration and deregulation in licensing and certifications. He says Brown is missing the mark. "She's on the wrong side of the 3rd District in terms of their basic needs. She's for bigger government... and taxation. She's not for the entrepreneurial spirit. We need to lift people up so that they can regain their sense of dignity and use their gifts and skills."
State house of Representatives, Position 1
As a prosecuting attorney for Spokane, David Stevens deals with the dismal cycles of poverty, drug abuse and violence on a daily basis. This, he says, is why he's ready to take what he's learned about criminal justice into the state legislature. "Crime," he says when asked what he'll be focused on in the House, "that's my expertise."
Before working as a prosecutor, Stevens was a federal civil rights investigator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); he investigated claims of institutional discrimination. Before that, he served in the U.S. Navy. He says he'll fight to pass a felony DUI law, make prison an option for sex offenders who fail to register and provide more funding to the criminal justice system, among other things.
Despite his hard line on crime, Stevens isn't overly ideological. He says voters are consistently surprised to find he's moderate on many issues. "A woman came up to me after [a candidates' forum] and said, 'I hate you. I hate you because I've never once voted for a Republican, and you're forcing me to do it.'" Stevens is particularly moderate when it comes to education. "I was a beneficiary of public education," he says, noting that what he paid for his undergraduate and law degrees was about 20 percent of what students are now forking over. "I believe in funding it. When we educate the citizens of our state, we all benefit."
And unlike most Republicans, Stevens isn't sold on tort reform. "I understand why everyone is talking about it," he says, "but there have been decisions by our Supreme Court where they've tried to cap [jury awards], and they've said no. I'm not convinced health care costs are out of control because of the courts."
In addition to wanting some reform in the criminal justice system, Stevens vows to fight to protect DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act,) which he says activist judges have taken away unconstitutionally. "I would prefer to leave it to the citizens of the state."
After four terms in the House, Alex Wood is ready for more. "I say, don't fix it if it isn't broken," Wood quips, regarding why 3rd District voters should keep him in his seat. "We've gotten money for capital projects, like the academic building in Riverpoint Center -- $31million just to get that building going."
Wood points to the tax break for the convention center expansion and the forward push for the North/South freeway as proof that he's working with other state representatives to get things done for the 3rd District. When it comes to the economy, Wood is optimistic, despite the widespread claim that Spokane is lacking for jobs. "In the last 12 months, we've created 4,000 jobs in Spokane," he says, noting most of those jobs are in construction and real estate and due to the capital projects. "We now rank 64 out of 294 in job creation and job growth for cities. People just aren't getting the message and don't want to believe it."
After eight years in the legislature, Wood promises to continue pounding away at his pet projects: the North/South freeway, the widening of I-90 out to the state line and more money for city and county projects, specifically advocating for funding for the proposed science center.
Wood is a U.S. Navy Vietnam Vet who served in the Submarine Service; he's also a former journalist, and says he's able to make decisions and form opinions based on the non-biased way he gathers information. "Neither party, neither philosophy has all the answers. I take the best points of both views to get what I can get done."
Wood adds that when it comes to finding solutions to the area's taxation debate, business and labor should "stop throwing bombs and initiatives at each other," kill the rhetoric and start trying to work on realistic solutions. He says he goes by the Three C's: Compromise, Consensus and Comity. "Comity is a word that applies to the political system, and it means respect for other people's views."
State house of Representatives, Position 12
He's a typical concerned citizen: Ryan Leonard works as a telephone service representative for Pitney Bowes, has a degree in journalism and is making his second run for the 3rd District's Position 2 House seat.
"The number one thing is to bring more and better paying jobs to Spokane's 3rd District, [which] has been the poorest legislative district for several years," Leonard says. "A lot of people are relying on public assistance, even if they are working." Leonard's main concerns center on taxes, higher education and sex offenders. "If you lower taxes, businesses can use that money to expand their base and hire more employees," Leonard says. "It's worth taking a look at lowering B & amp;O taxes and possibly lowering property taxes," he says. "We have high taxes and overly stringent regulations. You have to comply with so many regulations, it's hard to stay in business."
In addition, Leonard believes the state's schools are overcrowded; he says charter schools could remedy that. "I've looked at statistics from the Department of Education and talked with teachers who have expressed the same thing. Charter schools do provide ultimate classroom environments, and students can get specialized attention." He also recommends redirecting existing revenue -- from the state's lottery -- into public education.
Leonard attends the Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church and is a member of two Masonic organizations in Spokane. He says he'd use his power in the House to crack down on registered sex offenders and is opposed to allowing offenders undergo "alternative" sentencing other than jail time. He says his lack of political experience shouldn't be turn-off for voters. "I've been in Spokane for 10 years and have always been a hard worker. I listen to both sides of an issue before casting a vote or making a decision on an issue."
Appointed to the House in 2003 by a unanimous vote of the Spokane County Commissioners, Timm Ormsby filled the open seat left by Jeff Gombosky, who left to work in governmental affairs at EWU. This time, he's seeking to serve a full term.
A Spokane native, Ormsby went into the construction trade after high school and has long been a union man. As the president of a local union, president of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, former business owner and a community advocate (Ormsby was the treasurer of the Save Our Streets ballot initiative in 2002), he says he's got the credentials to continue serving the 3rd District.
His main focus is on health care, education and the economy. "One in five jobs [in Spokane] is health care-related," Ormbsy says. "We must shore up and provide more equity to medical institutions." Eastern Washington has some of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the state. "We're in crisis mode. I think one of the immediate fixes, and you'll get Republicans and Democrats to agree, is adjusting the reimbursement formula. We need to adjust the formula to be more reflective of the costs our medical institutions are actually covering."
Ormsby serves on the state's Higher Education Committee and advocates strongly for workforce training and programs that prepare people for jobs outside traditional fields of academia. "My big focus is how important non-academic education is, and it's not getting funded at the levels that are proportionate to how important it is. We have a constitutional mandate for education; it's the state's paramount obligation. We need to honor that."
Ormsby advocates reforming the B & amp;O tax, but says he doesn't think deregulation is the "magic bullet" for creating more jobs. "Our responsibility is in providing the kind of education that will land people decent jobs."
To read about the candidates for the 6th District, go to www.inlander.com and hit the "Election Coverage" button under "Quick Links."