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Five candidates vie for Billig’s seat in the House

The last-minute decision of state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown to retire at the end of the year set off a quick, frenzied rush among Democrats to determine how to maintain control of the three seats representing the only Democratic-leaning district in Eastern Washington.

In the end, state Rep. Andy Billig became the standard-bearer for the party for the Senate seat. That left Billig’s House seat open.

Voters have five choices for Billig’s 3rd Legislative District House position. The two candidates with the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary will face each other in the November election.

The Democrats are:

• Bob Apple, a former Spokane city councilman who has a strong independent streak. He was the most outspoken councilman in criticizing the city’s handling of the death of Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006, but he has angered party faithful for some of his positions, including on global warming.

• Jon Snyder, a Spokane city councilman who has a large following among many Democrats, in part for his calls for broader transportation choices and willingness to sponsor a resolution in support of gay marriage to the City Council.

• Marcus Riccelli, Brown’s former senior policy aide, who has the backing of Brown and much of the establishment of the Democratic Party. That backing has translated into a big fundraising advantage. He’s gathered about $63,000 – nearly three times as much as Snyder, who has raised the second-most among the five candidates.

The Republicans are:

• Tim Benn, the co-owner of a day care center who successfully lobbied the Spokane City Council this year to write a letter to the state requesting to delay implementation of day care center regulations that Benn said were burdensome.

• Morgan Oyler, a moderate who owns a coffee stand and ran for a seat in the district two years ago.

The following is an excerpt of a 15-question Spokesman-Review candidate questionnaire. The full questionnaires are available at Candidates were allowed up to 100 words for each answer.

What is the first bill you hope to sponsor or co-sponsor next session?

Apple: Ones that will benefit my constituents and can be made into law. I will accomplish what can be achieved by building alliances as needed to accomplish expressed goals. Whatever the legislation, I will hold true to the goals intended and not diminish what is meant to be achieved.

Benn: Support the two-thirds majority vote to increase taxes.

Oyler: The first bill I would sponsor would be one establishing a stand-alone K-12 education budget to ensure that our schools are the first funding priority of the Legislature.

Riccelli: My experience has allowed me to be uniquely positioned to deliver on the medical school. We have set the table with the funding of the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building. We have the opportunity to make our community not only a center of health care excellence, but also bring economic development around clinical research. My first push would be for a bill or provision in the operating budget to fund additional graduate medical education slots. Spokane’s future is linked to growing the health care sector and this would help bring the medical school and 13,000 new jobs upon completion.

Snyder: Spokane needs jobs. The first thing I want to work on is a transportation revenue package. Whenever the state invests money to build it should have a triple benefit: 1) creating construction jobs, 2) improving access to employment, and 3) spurring the private sector to invest and create more jobs. If a project isn’t doing all of the above it’s not worth our time. We have great road, public transit and aerospace projects in the Spokane area that can do all three. Obviously one legislator can’t do this alone but the state has been laying the groundwork for years.

Do you agree with the state Supreme Court ruling from January that said that the state is not adequately funding basic education? Do you agree with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s assessment that tax increases are needed to meet the requirements of the ruling?

Apple: Yes, I support the court’s decision. It is addressed in the state constitution as a required responsibility and statistically has not been reasonably accomplished more recently. However, I don’t believe tax increases are needed. Administration of government should account for no more than 8 percent of budgeted money and that is being unreasonably exceeded by most state departments and, worse, by more newly created departments. So, in fact, this is a big problem throughout our state government.

Benn: I disagree with the court ruling from January but I have some serious concerns with the current education system and administrative structure. I also disagree with Gov. Gregoire’s assessment that taxes need to be increased. I believe we need to re-evaluate how tax dollars are being spent within education to get the highest quality education directly to the children and fulfill the state constitutional obligation.

Oyler: I agree with the McCleary decision. For too long, our elected officials have not met their constitutional obligations. I do not think we need new taxes to meet our obligations. If we put into place structural budget reforms that ensure that education is properly funded, we can avoid raising taxes.

Riccelli: As the son of an elementary teacher, husband of a school counselor, and newer parent, I know we have a responsibility to fully fund K-12 education and I agree with the ruling. In order to enhance education and produce better results for students, we must invest more revenue into our public education system. With a required two-thirds majority to put revenue options on the table, we have to find new and innovative ways to find the revenue necessary to support our public education system. Aggressively pursuing the closure of some of our more egregious tax loopholes is one way.

Snyder: We must fully fund our state education at the levels our state constitution requires in order to provide the opportunities our children deserve. If education at all levels is a top priority, we need to have the courage to fund it. We must always look for cost saving and efficiencies, but at some point we need to get serious about schooling the workforce of the next generation, and that will require new revenue so that all children in the state of Washington have access to great learning opportunities and have a chance to compete in the global economy.

Do you support same-sex marriage?

Apple: No, civil unions are provided for that occurrence. Otherwise, I believe the term marriage was contrived by our churches with a specific meaning that is contrary to that use.

Benn: No.

Oyler: Yes.

Riccelli: Like many young people from Spokane, I left for a bit after graduating college. I returned around two years later for a job and to court my future wife, and eventually we started a family. I would never think to deny that same joy to any committed couple. For me, I just don’t believe government should play a role in such a deeply personal decision, but I do support the exemption in the current law that allows churches to exercise their conscience in such matters.

Snyder: We must promote equality for all people, and that is why I am in favor of Referendum 74. Marriage is love, commitment and responsibility, and I believe that all couples in our state deserve the same recognition under the law.

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