Candidates running for local and state offices spoke on various issues at an editorial board meeting of the Goldendale Sentinel this past Friday, fielding questions from both the community and the board.

At the socially distanced meeting at the Goldendale Grange, in attendance were most candidates running for three separate races. For Dist. 14 Representative, incumbent Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima) and challenger Tracy Rushing attended the meeting, as did competitors for County Commissioner position No. 1 Joanna Turner and Jacob Anderson, and the competitors for County Commissioner position No. 3 Miland Willand, Dan Christopher and incumbent Jim Sizemore. William Razey, who filed to run in the race for Dist. 14 Representative, was not in attendance.

This reporter with the Columbia Gorge News attended upon invitation. A full-length video of the meeting is available on YouTube, courtesy of Nancy Kusky from Goldendale TV.

The meeting marked the first forum between the candidates, setting the stage for the Aug. 4 primary, where the top-two vote recipients will proceed through to the general election in November.

Editor/Publisher Lou Marzeles of The Goldendale Sentinel introduced the candidates and set the framework for the forum, allowing candidates three minutes to respond to a question and another two minutes for rebuttal.

Marzeles explained the forum was set up differently than it has in the past. Prior board meetings had not accepted community questions, but this time the board had accepted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. As Marzeles explained, “this is as close to a candidate’s night as we’re going to get this time around.”

Below are highlights from each race.

District 14

Tracy Rushing was first to field a question, which pondered if her candidacy was based on a concern for public health, and whether that makes her a “one-issue candidate” (Rushing is an ER doctor).

Rushing affirmed the reason for her candidacy was for public 

health and called it her number-one priority, “that being said there are a myriad of other issues that I think the pandemic has… magnified in our district that are underlying pre-existing conditions that have contributed to why our district has actually done such a terrible job in managing this pandemic, why we had so many sick people.”

Rushing highlighted education, housing and food security as specific areas which are being impacted by actions related to the pandemic. She also said “we are playing teams and that’s why people are dying, that’s why we’re having to send our own residents out of the district for healthcare.”

Corry pushed back on the assertion that he is “playing teams” and cited “unique challenges” the district is facing regarding pandemic management, like the higher rates of multifamily housing. He pushed the blame on Olympia for the divide Rushing cited.

“We’ve seen winners and losers picked as to who could and could not work. We’ve seen large scale failures coming out of agencies to provide the basic level of supports they were supposed to provide,” Corry said.

“My job has been supporting the district and I think we’ve done a really solid job of that. I’ve spent almost the last four months advocating for residents to get unemployment benefits to get food, to get the security they need,” Corry said. “All I do is spend my time focusing on how we help them, how we can help the community, and how we bring back local control back to addressing this issue.”

Rushing rebutted, arguing “the second you downplay a meaningful virus that we still don’t know everything about, that’s when you open up the door for people to put themselves in these positions.” Upon further inquiry, Rushing affirmed she directed the comment to “leaders in general but I am referring some of the actions (Corry) has made.”

In response Corry denied that he was downplaying the virus as charged, which he took to mean his personal lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We have very clear constitutional powers that are given to the governor to handle emergency pandemics, handle emergencies in general, and we also have these subsets of rules and RCWs in place for pandemic response, and it doesn’t fall on the governor’s office it actually falls on our local health districts,” Corry said. “The basis of my lawsuit isn’t that there’s no longer an emergency, we are in a crisis, it’s that response to this pandemic needs to be more locally controlled.”

In response to a question asking what the candidates believe are the safest options for returning to school in the fall, Corry argued the answer is not an easy one and cited options like rearranging classrooms and expanding access to online education, and providing voucher support for families to help pay for alternative education. “I think we’re going to continue to question this… It would be unwise of us to come in and say, ‘We’re going to do this because of what we know today.’”

Rushing said she is concerned about this issue, and argued the community wouldn’t give kids “the right opportunity, we’re not going to optimize the right opportunity to get back to school until we have the pandemic under control better.”

She argued other countries are seeing progress with returning their young to school but this district has “pre-existing issues” that impact the quality of distance learning, like access to broadband internet.

“That’s related both to how they set up the school days and how the pandemic actually looks in those communities,” Rushing said.

Corry in response suggested there were ways to free up public dollars for school districts to purchase hotspots for youths who do not have access to internet.

County Commissioner Position 1

The candidates for County Commissioner position No. 1, Jacob Anderson and Joanna Turner, fielded questions about committee appointments, rural infrastructure, and a perceived divide between the east and west side of Klickitat County.

In an opening statement, Turner charged that “in this county, we’ve had a political machine that has been training its replacements for a long time. So when we have this machine that’s vested in training its replacements and continuing making the same product that it’s been making for a long time, it doesn’t give us the opportunity to have a diverse perspective at the table or to have diverse voices.”

Anderson responded saying he has worked to get younger generations involved.

“…The most important thing that I’ve seen in this county is that, we have to pass on our knowledge to the next generation. And what I have always tried to do is not find just people of a political machine or a political mindset, but I have always tried to bring people from my generation and get them involved, so that the generation above them can pass on all of the history, all of the culture, and all of the knowledge so that that next generation will be able to become leaders sooner, quicker, and better so that the next generation can be successful,” Anderson said.

One question posed why residents in rural areas are not receiving access to broadband internet, to which both Turner and Anderson shared in their frustrations.

Turner said it is unacceptable that nothing has been done on this issue, which she has faced both personally as well as professionally on the Trout Lake Community Council and said she would work to develop creative solutions.

Anderson, who has worked on this issue in his professional roles, explained that millions of dollars have been invested in Klickitat County in old infrastructure. He argued cell service is more reliable and cheaper, yet because of the county’s setting and low population, cell providers have largely ignored the area.

“Everything that I’ve been working has been trying to get them to build more cell service out here and work between emergency management and cell companies to try and get those companies to invest in our rural area,” Anderson said.

One theme raised in the conversation between Turner and Anderson was a sense of unity within the county. Responding to multiple questions about a perceived political divide in the county, both candidates rejected the notion that there is a “political game of golf.”

Anderson argued the rural, agrarian identity that residents have long known is shifting as the tech industry takes a hold, “but I still see that as one county identity, and I think the reason that we have that county identity is because we have the county commissioners, what we’re always doing is try to do is be on the same team.”

Turner said a love of the land is what ties residents all together, and that it is important to seek out diverse opinions to bring together a consensus.

“…The Board of Commission needs to be accessible to all residents of the county, and we need to be able to work with all residents of the county… I think the majority of the people share the same concerns,” Turner said.

County Commissioner Position 3

The three-way conversation between incumbent Jim Sizemore and challengers Miland Walling and Dan Christopher was derailed as Christopher and Sizemore entered a heated discussion surrounding the topic of the County budget, which Christopher charged had not been balanced in two years while Sizemore refuted that, saying, “We don’t build the fund just in perpetuity, we save money for projects that we need to do.”

Christopher alleged he had been called a liar from the Sizemore campaign “because I say when he quotes on his website that he’s worked to keep the budget balanced and work up cash reserves, the budget hasn’t been balanced in two years, it’s going sky high versus cash reserves, and revenues are going down, that’s a false statement.”

Sizemore said he was not aware of anyone from his campaign calling him a liar. Sizemore later called Christopher’s campaign, which included a widely-circulated letter that Sizemore called“disparaging, denigrating, and maligning my family, friends, and the good hard people of Klickitat County with his comments” but also said “I’m the incumbent, so my defense… is my record.”

Christopher responded saying the letter was a matter of policy differences and disagreed with assertion that the tone of the letter was aggressive.

Candidates listed their priorities in response to a question from the editorial board. Walling argued for more economic activity to happen in Klickitat County, and said having his connections at the state level he has made through his professional career can help support such an endeavor.

Sizemore said his priority is navigating the county through the coronavirus pandemic, and cited recent small business grants as one example of support he has worked to achieve.

Christopher also argued for more economic development, specifically in Goldendale. He also argued for more support for local youths, citing the single youth center in White Salmon that Goldendale residents do not ordinarily benefit from.

All three candidates expressed that “all lives matter” when posed with a question asking if they support the political organization Black Lives Matter, except for Walling, who said “Black lives matter, and all lives matter.”

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