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Mike Volz, Lynnette Vehrs grapple for House seat left vacant by Rep. Kevin Parker

Democrat Lynnette Vehrs and Republican Mike Volz debate at KSPS-TV Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The two are running for the vacated seat of Rep. Kevin Parker in the 6th House district in the Spokane area. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Democrat Lynnette Vehrs and Republican Mike Volz debate at KSPS-TV Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The two are running for the vacated seat of Rep. Kevin Parker in the 6th House district in the Spokane area. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

After a tumultuous primary race, a retired nurse and the chief deputy treasurer for Spokane County are competing for the seat formerly held by four-term lawmaker Kevin Parker.

Democrat Lynnette Vehrs has received substantial support from the Democratic Party in Washington state for her 6th Legislative District bid. Meanwhile, her opponent, Republican Mike Volz, has received little monetary support from the Republican party. Volz said that doesn’t bother him and points to the fact that he was outspent in the primary race.

“We’re just powering through,” he said.

Vehrs is a retired nurse and the chair of the Legislative and Health Policy Council of the Washington State Nurses Association. Her primary focus is continuing health care reform. Specifically, she advocates for universal health coverage in Washington and increased funding for mental health services, medical services and education.

“I think we are just barely keeping it band-aided together,” she said. “I have never backed away from explaining that ‘yes we need to increase revenue.’ ”

The 6th Legislative District, which includes parts of north Spokane, the South Hill and the West Plains, has leaned Republican in recent elections, but is the closest thing to a swing district in the Spokane area. Democrats won 6th District seats in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats did well across the board.

Volz, on the other hand, has said he will vote to lower taxes, while at the same time increasing funding for education. The chief deputy treasurer of Spokane County said he would cut funding for regulatory agencies, specifically the Department of Labor and Industries. He also questions the scope of Department of Social and Health Service regulations.

“On regulations, in general, I think there ought to be a sunset provision,” he said.

That money, he said, could be repurposed to fund education, although he does think the education system in Washington may need some trimming.

“Something has got to change,” Volz said. “If spending money were the answer we wouldn’t be where we are at in terms of the results right now.”

Another emphasis of Volz’s campaign is bringing more jobs to Spokane. Specifically, he said he would advocate for removing the state’s business and occupation tax, which taxes revenue. That has driven many business owners to Idaho, he said. Volz is opposed to a proposed minimum wage increase.

“Quite frankly in Spokane County our economy, our job situation, is not nearly as strong as it is in a few counties in the Puget Sound,” he said in a televised KSPS debate this week.

Vehrs does support the minimum wage initiative, and said she won’t back away from increasing taxes, although she said that wouldn’t be her first option. She said she wouldn’t support an increase in sales tax, but would support a capital gains tax, which targets investment earnings.

“I get so frustrated with the rhetoric, ‘No matter what, no taxes,’ ” she said. “No, we are not overtaxed.”

Both candidates expressed concern about the state of mental health services. Volz believes nonprofits and other nongovernmental agencies need to be more involved in the continuum of care. He supports lessening criminal penalties in an effort to divert patients from the court system and believes governmental agencies need to partner with nonprofits. Vehrs has a similar approach, although she would advocate for more funding for government agencies. She emphasizes her background as a psychiatric nurse.

Vehrs also is concerned with environmental degradation and wants to phase out the dependence on fossil fuels by increasing the use of wind and solar power. She supports more stringent safety measures for coal and oil trains traveling through Spokane.

After Parker resigned his seat, five candidates entered the race, three of whom were Republicans. Parker initially endorsed Ian Field, a 26-year-old press secretary to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

When Field failed to break through the primary scrum, Parker endorsed Volz.

The House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee donated $20,000 to Vehrs’ campaign in August and September. She’s also received money from the Washington Education Association and the Washington State Nurses Association Political Action Committee. To date she’s raised nearly $78,000.

Avista, the National Rifle Association and the Washington Association of Realtors all donated to Volz’s campaign. The Spokane County Republican party donated $100. To date, Volz has raised just over $39,000.


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