Andy Billig and Nancy McLaughlin are well-known and, judging by past election results, popular.
And that’s what makes the race for the state Senate seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown much more interesting than any recent November election in the 3rd Legislative District.
While Billig, a Democrat, and McLaughlin, a Republican, both have reputations as friendly and approachable, they differ significantly on many of the big issues of the day.
The race became somewhat prickly in the primary after McLaughlin sent a mailer that falsely described a tax bill Billig co-sponsored. She apologized after a complaint was filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.
More recently, the two have been mostly smiles on the campaign trail. They even made plans after a debate on Wednesday to carpool to three candidate forums next week.
On economic issues, their positions can perhaps best be summarized by their positions taken at Wednesday’s debate sponsored by the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association about the prevailing wage – requirements in state law that construction workers be paid at certain levels on public projects.
Billig, part-owner of the Spokane Indians Baseball Club, said he might be open to tweaking the rules, but that he supports the prevailing wage.
“What really helps us create jobs and have a successful business is when people can buy our product, when people can buy a ticket to the game, when people can afford to get their kitchen remodeled or their bathroom remodeled, that’s what creates jobs,” Billig said.
McLaughlin, who owns a small construction company with her husband, has argued that the state has too many regulations. She supports a loosening of the rules on prevailing wages.
“It hinders small businesses who want to get into doing other projects if they can’t afford to pay a prevailing wage, if they can’t even bid on those projects and can’t even get into that realm of competition,” she said.
The following are excerpts from a 15-topic Spokesman-Review questionnaire. Each candidate was allowed up to 100 words to address each topic. They are listed in the order that they will appear on the ballot. Find other candidates’ questionnaires at spokesman.com/elections.
1 . Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
Billig: I have a successful record of delivering results on the issues most important to our community: jobs, health care and education. Job creation is my top priority, and I am uniquely qualified in this area with 20 years of experience leading a successful small business and a positive record in the Legislature. I am committed to supporting great public schools, protecting women’s reproductive health rights and safeguarding the Spokane River. As state senator, I will continue to advocate for our community values of justice, freedom and equal opportunity while maintaining a clear focus on jobs and a prosperous Spokane for everyone.
McLaughlin: As your city councilwoman, I have been in touch with moms and dads, singles, retirees, employers and employees of Spokane. I understand your frustration with reduced job opportunities, high taxes and fees and extensive regulations. That’s why I voted against the $20 car tab fee and excessive water rates. I can be a greater part of the solution as your senator. With fair, common-sense leadership I can help ensure a climate for job creation, education reforms to include more local control and accountability, and sustainable budgets that won’t leave an oppressive debt burden on our children and grandchildren.
2. 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?
Billig: The Washington State Constitution is clear that taxes can be raised with a simple majority vote of the Legislature. I have taken an oath to uphold our state Constitution and I cannot support any measure that violates that Constitution. I am not in favor of a constitutional amendment on this issue, because the supermajority requirement undermines our system of representative democracy and allows a small number of legislators to block the will of the majority. I support the principle of majority rule and the basic tenets of representative democracy.
McLaughlin: Yes and yes. In the years when the two-thirds requirement was in effect, tax hikes were a last resort resulting in more reform and fewer taxes. In 2010 the Democrat-led Legislature overruled the voters again by suspending the two-thirds requirement, resulting in almost $800 million more in taxes with few, if any, needed reforms. Later that year, 64 percent of citizens in the 3rd District voted in favor of I-1053, reinstating the two-thirds requirement. The Legislature has failed so miserably in multiple budget crises that a state constitutional amendment would assure less talk and more action concerning necessary reforms.
3. The Legislature decided in 2011 to reduce the eligibility for the state’s Basic Health program and thousands of people were kicked off the plan. Benefits of the program also were reduced, including the elimination of adult dental coverage. Should the level of services of the program be cut, maintained or increased? If you support increased services, would you be willing to raise taxes to pay for the improvements?
Billig: The Basic Health Plan (BHP) is successful and particularly important for Spokane. BHP increases access to health care for people who would otherwise be uninsured. Without BHP, the cost of care for the uninsured eventually falls upon those who have insurance, raising premiums on families, governments and businesses. The value of BHP particularly hit home when I was doorbelling recently and met a woman named Dawn who told me BHP saved her family financially and saved her life. Using existing resources, I support increased access to BHP, which will improve quality of life and save money.
McLaughlin: The Affordable Care Act will require millions of matching state dollars. Increases to Basic Health are unaffordable now because of our obligations to Medicaid and public employees’ health insurance. We can maintain funding through reforms: restrict coverage to state residents only, redirect resources by realigning public employee contributions to match the private sector, shift to consumer-directed insurance plans by funding Health Savings Accounts, use competitive plans for catastrophic insurance and reduce mandates. In Indiana, these reforms save the state $17 million to $23 million each year, while employees save $7 million to $8 million by making wiser health care decisions.
4. Do you support same-sex marriage?
Billig: I support equal rights, including the right for two people in a loving, committed relationship to marry, regardless of sexual orientation. I also believe it is important for religious institutions to have freedom to decide how they want to handle this issue. The Marriage Equality Act that passed gives religious institutions the final word on solemnizing unions within their faiths and protects the religious freedoms guaranteed in our state and federal constitutions.
McLaughlin: I support the right of people to agree to disagree on issues. The lifestyle choices that people make are up to them and I respect those choices. However, I am not in favor of changing the definition of marriage to anything other than a union between one man and one woman.
5. Current plans for completing the north Spokane freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including on-ramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration? Would you support asking voters for a state gas tax increase if it included money to help complete the north Spokane freeway?
Billig: This is the right time for transportation investments. We can create immediate construction jobs, which helps our working families and businesses now while also building the backbone of our region’s future economic vitality. I support the North Spokane Corridor and eventually hope to see the full plan completed. For now, we should focus on an interim connection strategy that connects to I-90 more quickly so our region can realize the economic benefits of this project as soon as possible. I would support a transportation revenue package if it includes funding for road maintenance and projects in Spokane including the NSC.
McLaughlin: Refinements to the existing design have already resulted in approximately $300 million in savings and can be staged to provide an interim drivable section with the ability for future expansion. Additional state and federal funding must be pursued first before asking citizens for more, especially with Washington’s already high gas taxes and prices. Furthermore, this project is ranked 19th of 80 on the Congressional High Priority Corridor List for the National Highway system and will result in gas savings, improved air quality, improved safety and provide economic growth opportunities for commercial and industrial development, ultimately resulting in needed jobs.