The retirement of Rep. John Ahern and the repackaging of the 6th Legislative District to include the West Plains have enticed one Democrat and three Republicans to contest his vacated seat in the Washington House of Representatives.
We strongly endorse Republican and just-retired Cheney School Superintendent Larry Keller, who is also a former vice wing commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base.
That combination of experience is impressive. His education credentials will be extremely useful as the Legislature tries to comply with a court ruling that it fully fund grades K-12. He supports the new teacher evaluation plan, but faults the omission of a fast-track plan for dismissing those found incompetent.
Keller would seek changes in the arbitration of labor contract disputes that put Eastern Washington governments at a disadvantage in negotiations. Unemployment and workers’ compensation programs discourage employers, he says, as does an overreaching Department of Ecology.
Ben Oakley has the local Republican Party’s endorsement and three years in Olympia as an aide to Kevin Parker, the district’s other representative. He is a marketer for a photography studio, soccer coach and referee, and overseer of a youth ministry.
Oakley supports efforts to create a health insurance exchange, with no caps on care, but would add tort reform.
He would fund schools first, then budget other programs. He says the state’s contribution to higher education should be bumped to $2 billion after reductions that have taken the amount down to $1.1 billion.
To get workers’ compensation premiums under control, Oakley would allow private insurers to write policies.
The most conservative candidate, and the one with Ahern’s endorsement, is Jeff Holy, a retired Spokane Police Department detective and attorney who ran for Spokane County commissioner two years ago. He lost, but he says watching winner Al French’s efforts to get a Caterpillar distribution center for Spokane has taught him much about how the state can get more new businesses. If they can be certain about permits, unemployment and workers’ comp premiums, and taxes – preferably a business and occupation tax levied on net, not gross – more will come to Washington, Holy says.
The Democratic candidate, Dennis Dellwo, has been in Olympia before as a representative of the 3rd District from 1983 through 1996. He held several leadership positions and helped draft a doomed, early attempt at health insurance reform that provided for exchanges.
Since he left Olympia, Dellwo has served on the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board and numerous nonprofit agency boards. Dellwo says he would consider creation of a separate fund – not, he says, normally a good idea – dedicated wholly to schools.
Schools, the state’s “paramount” responsibility, do need help. But we think Larry Keller can best advise his fellow legislators on how Olympia can address those demands, as well as those of the businesses on whose health a recovery in revenues depends.