Traffic, education and the economy were all up for discussion by 1st District candidates at an Oct. 13 election forum hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell (ASUWB) and the Office of Advancement and External Affairs.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat representing Washington’s 1st Congressional District, and her Republican opponent, Robert Sutherland, were the first to answer a series of questions from the event’s moderators, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations Kelly Snyder and ASUWB Director of Government Relations Tai Yang. The questions were generated both by the event organizers and through audience submissions.
Sutherland, who was defeated in the primary for the same position in 2014, served in the U.S. Air Force, has a degree in biochemistry from Gonzaga University and worked in DNA research and developing cancer therapies. DelBene has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2012. She has a master’s in business administration from the University of Washington and previously worked for Microsoft, drugstore.com and Nimble Technlology.
Given the location and hosts of the event, education was a frequent topic of discussion at the forum, and the candidates were asked what they would do to make higher education affordable.
“The interest rates are not pleasant,” Sutherland said of the government’s student loan program, adding he would like to see no or lower interest rates on federal student loans. “Who are we investing in: the federal government or the student?”
DelBene agreed on that point and said, “The federal government shouldn’t be making money off student loans.”
Sutherland also said the country’s loose immigration restrictions make higher education too competitive and costly, putting it out of reach for many Americans, and suggested tighter immigration restrictions.
DelBene said she would support ebook legislation that made textbooks easier for students to afford.
“Making investments in students is critically important,” DelBene said.
The candidates were also asked how they would work to boost the economy, both locally and across the country.
“We need an economy that works for everyone,” DelBene said, focusing the importance of the education system and making investments that allow businesses to thrive. “We do have a very diverse economy here in the 1st District.”
“Level the playing field: Tax American companies at an internationally competitive rate,” Sutherland said, adding too many taxes create an unfair burden on American businesses, especially compared to other countries. “That will go a long way.”
In addition to the local economy, the candidates also discussed the federal budget. Sutherland compared the country’s current debt to an irresponsible credit card user. “You cannot contine to spend on a credit card, just paying interest, and do well,” he said, adding the U.S. needs to be on a better trajectory to eliminate debt.
DelBene said the U.S. has made long-term investments that will have high returns, such as infrastructure, early education and education in general. “We make investments that are smart,” she said.
They also answered a question about how to fairly tax more wealthy individuals and companies. DelBene suggested getting rid of special tax benefits and breaks and scrapping the cap on Social Security.
“Tax incentives and exemptions are having an impact on our budget — there might be a revenue source there,” she said.
Sutherland went further and suggested scrapping the entire “73,000 pages of tax code to come up with something simpler.”
Population growth has been majorly affecting the Puget Sound area, most noticeably in road traffic congestion. The candidates were asked what they would do to relieve the congestion, and Sound Transit 3 came up for discussion.
“It will not do a thing to relieve our congestion,” Sutherland said, adding he’d like to see State Route 9 turned into an expressway, eliminating the stoplight intersections and replacing them with bridges and ramps.
DelBene indicated support for Sound Transit 3 and said, “Infrastructure investment has given us a great return.”
1st Legislative District
After the congressional candidates gave their responses, the moderators turned their questions to the Washington State Senate 1st Legislative District candidates, Republican Mindie Wirth and Democrat Guy Palumbo. They are running for the seat currently occupied by Democrat Rosemary McAuliffe.
Palumbo, who was defeated in the primary for the same position in 2012, previously worked for Amazon and now owns and operates Roscoe’s Ranch, a dog boarding business, outside of Maltby. He lives in Maltby with his wife and three children. Wirth, in her first campaign for elected office, is a Bothell High School and UW Bothell graduate who has worked at Microsoft for a decade. She lives in Bothell with her husband and three children.
Education was once again a major topic of conversation, with both candidates addressing full funding of K-12 schooling as a result of the McCleary decision, a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling that calls for the state Legislature to adequately fund education by 2018, meaning much of the 2017 legislative session will be dedicated to finding the money to do so.
“This is something very important to me,” Wirth said. “We’ve got more to do when it comes to funding education.”
In his answer, Palumbo suggested closing some tax exemptions as a way to find money for education.
Wirth and Palumbo also were asked about the partisan gridlock that has swept American politics and what they would do to promote bi-partisan legislation.
“I’m looking to represent this district, not my party,” Wirth said, adding she would work to make sure all of her constituents are heard from.
Palumbo said bi-partisan work will be necessary in finding the money to fund education. “It’s what we need — it’s the only way we’re going to solve it.
The 1st Legislative District candidates also discussed the Interstate 405 toll lanes, which both of them are against. Palumbo said he supports the repeal of the current lanes but indicated that actually happening would be a “long shot.” He said he would at least like to see the contract for the lanes changed when it comes time for renewal so more of the money generated by the lanes comes into the local economy.
When answering a broader question about reducing traffic congestion in the Puget Sound area, Wirth said she would like to see more innovation and alternative solutions, moving away from using “19th century technology to solve 21st century problems.”
“I’d love for Washington state to be the state that people look to (for solutions),” she said, adding the transportation department should take advantage of all the technology companies and employees living in the area.