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Four seeking to replace Ahern in 6th District

The announcement earlier this year from state Rep. John Ahern that he wouldn’t seek a new term has opened the door for a competitive primary for his Spokane County seat.

Ahern, a Republican, represents the 6th Legislative District, which surrounds central Spokane on the south, west and north. It has been a swing district in recent years, but Republicans swept the district’s positions in 2010.

Three Republicans and one Democrat are vying for the seat, which has a two-year term. The two candidates with the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary will face each other in the November election.

The Democrat, former state Rep. Dennis Dellwo, has returned to the campaign spotlight after taking more than 15 years off from elected politics.

The Republicans are:

• Jeff Holy, a former Spokane police officer who has the backing of Ahern, police unions, the Spokane Homebuilders Association and many local Republican leaders.

• Larry Keller, the recently retired superintendent of Cheney Public Schools who has a long military and education background and the backing of many officials serving the West Plains.

• Ben Oakley, the former legislative aide to state Rep. Kevin Parker, who is endorsed by Parker and leads his Republican competitors in fundraising. He’s collected about $43,000, compared with Holy’s $30,000 and Keller’s $13,000. (Dellwo has outraised each of his opponents with $49,000.)

The following is an excerpt of a 15-question Spokesman-Review candidate questionnaire. The full questionnaires are available at

Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?

Dellwo: I have been extensively involved in neighborhood and city affairs and have a clear understanding of our community and its concerns. I spent 13 years in the Washington state Legislature. While a legislator I held leadership positions, was chairman of important committees and architect of key legislation. I not only bring this experience to the 6th District, but I will be able to take the 6th and Spokane’s concerns to the table when legislation or budgets are considered. I will hit the ground running. I also spent 12 years as the attorney member of the Growth Management Hearings Board.

Holy: Residency. I’ve lived here 30 years, having graduated Gonzaga Law, completed a career with Spokane Police Department, raised my family and been involved in the community. I’m part of our community, people and issues.

Résumé. Local public service, community activity, education, existing legislative relationships, institutional memory, political involvement and public safety are all tools that no other candidates possess.

Responsibility. I have big budget experience (trustee for $6 billion state retirement system), I’m a small-business owner who understands Washington’s business climate, and my work as an attorney teaches me to place others’ interests before my own.

Keller: I am the only candidate that has been a CEO of mid- to large-size organizations. I have shown I can bring diverse groups with diverse opinions together to “get things done.” I have demonstrated that I know how to be a good fiscal steward, most recently as the Cheney school superintendent, with a $40 million budget and with $79 million of construction projects. I am also the only candidate who has a background in education and can apply that background on how best to satisfy the January state Supreme Court decision on the adequate funding of K-12 education.

Oakley: Washington state is at a crossroads. Having worked in the Legislature the last three years as the legislative aide to Rep. Kevin Parker, I have the experience and energy to bring sustainable and effective leadership to Olympia. I helped write and pass a Medicaid fraud reform bill in 2012 that could save the state $300 million. I have worked in the private sector, been an executive director of two nonprofits, and most recently worked in the Legislature, so I have the ability to bring a responsible balance to Olympia at a time when division and partisanship is plentiful.

Do you support the voter-approved rule that stipulates that the Legislature can only approve a tax increase when each chamber supports the increase with two-thirds majorities? Should the state constitution be amended to require two-thirds votes to approve tax increases?

Dellwo: I do not support a rule that stipulates revenue can be increased or loopholes closed only with a two-thirds vote. It is unconstitutional unless the constitution is changed. The Legislature will discuss a constitutional change, and a two-thirds vote of its members is required for such an amendment. That would be a big step and we need to thoughtfully think it through. The legislative process affords us the time to consider the wisdom of shifting the balance of power to a minority of lawmakers on tax issues. I will consider whether to support this amendment after considering the consequences.

Holy: Yes. The question of whether a two-thirds majority should be required to approve tax increases has already been asked of and answered by the people four times. How many times do the people have to speak to be heard? Sixteen other states have approved supermajority requirements for legislated tax increases. The people have clearly and repeatedly spoken. I will honor the will of the people. During the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Holmquist (13th Legislative District) intends to sponsor legislation for such a constitutional amendment. All 16 of the other states having supermajority requirements for legislated tax increases have enacted constitutional amendments.

Keller: I do support the two-thirds requirement, and yes, the state constitution should be amended. We need to elect legislators who will have the fiscal discipline to not make this an issue. Tax increases should be the last resort after we look for efficiencies within our current state government.

Oakley: Yes, I support the will of the people who have repeatedly asked the Legislature to live within its means by requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. The State’s General Fund has 7.5 percent more revenue this year over last year. We have the resources we need, but must reprioritize where we spend taxpayer dollars. I would also support the constitutional amendment requiring the two-thirds majority to raise taxes. Again, the voters have repeatedly spoken on the issue.

Dellwo: I do believe that we must allow marriage equality. I believe in extending equal rights to our gay and lesbian couples and the elimination of unjustified discrimination. No longer can the opponents of marriage equality ignore the general support for this change. I support marriage equality for all loving, committed couples.

Holy: No. My Catholic formation and personal beliefs compel me to support the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Keller: I do not support same-sex marriage and do not believe the state should be dictating an acceptance of this through policy. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and is based on religious beliefs. I would be willing to consider the access of same-sex couples to health care and other state programs based on a definition of a long-term civil relationship.

Oakley: In 2009, the voters supported the domestic partnership law granting all rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples, and the Legislature will respect that vote of the people. As a man of the faith, I simply cannot support a change in the definition of marriage in state law. Also, the bill that passed the Legislature earlier this year was similar to other bills passed in other states, which does not protect the religious freedoms of individuals, churches and businesses in our state that now can be subject to civil lawsuits.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana for adults, including for recreational purposes? If not, do you support the legalization of marijuana for medical use? How would you address the conflict that currently exists between state law allowing marijuana for medical use and federal law banning it?

Dellwo: I do support the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Because it is still a federal crime to possess marijuana, our legalization of recreational use of marijuana would expose users to federal prosecution and should not happen. We will need to work with our congressional leaders in showing the evidence-based benefits of marijuana for medical needs.

Holy: I won’t support legislation legalizing recreational use. In my 22 years as a Spokane police officer, I’ve witnessed the consequences of all types of drug abuse, including alcohol. I do support the medical use of marijuana. The conflict between the Washington state statute allowing medical use of marijuana and the federal law prohibiting such use will not resolve until the federal government changes federal law, or Washington state changes state law or the courts decide who has control of the issue.

Keller: I do not support marijuana for adults for recreational purposes. I would support it for medical use, but only when prescribed by a doctor. We need to work with the federal government to modify the existing laws on the use of marijuana.

Oakley: No. I support the current federal law and the enforcement thereof.

This article was corrected on July 20, 2012 to include the full answer to the question about tax increases from Ben Oakley.