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In race for central Spokane senate seat, incumbent Andy Billig faces Libertarian James Apker in friendly contest

By Chelsea Bannach Corresponent

There can be a lot of vitriol in American politics, but a race for a seat in the Washington State Senate has been amicable, mostly.

“It’s refreshing that we have two candidates who have very different political views, but really get along well personally,” said Democratic Sen. Andy Billig, who is up against Libertarian James Apker in the 3rd Legislative District, covering central Spokane.

“I think my opponent is a good person who wants Spokane to be successful,” Billig said, adding, “We just have very different views about how to best help our community be successful.”

Apker, a residential construction business owner, says his Libertarian platform is a better fit for Eastern Washington.

“He’s a good guy, but in my opinion he’s not right for us,” Apker said of his opponent. “Not right for our city, not right for our county, and not right for our side of the state.”

Apker said he wants to make a more business-friendly climate in Spokane through less restrictive regulations and taxes. Specifically, he’d like to do away with the business and occupation tax and replace it with a flat tax system, actively seek out businesses to bring to Washington, and reduce state sales and gas taxes to help working families, according to his campaign website.

“Everything that’s attached to employment, everything that’s attached to small business, for me is very important,” he said.

He also wants to amend the state constitution to allow charter schools to receive funding, give school districts more freedom when it comes to teaching, replace Common Core curriculum with a basic, standardized test, and create a separate fund dedicated to K-12 education.

“We need to figure out a solution for our kids,” said Apker.

Apker is also a proponent of Second Amendment rights.

Apker wanted to run for office because he wants to improve the lives of his friends, family and neighbors in Spokane, he said, and because he thinks a voice – other than Democratic or Republican – is needed in government.

“We do have a mindset of, you know, liberty, of freedom, and of being able to blaze our own trail and make our own path,” he said of the region’s residents.

Apker grew up with a Republican, Protestant, white father and a Democratic, Catholic, Mexican mother. His family life growing up gave him the ability to work across the aisle today, he said.

“Life was interesting,” he said. “I learned very, very quickly that having that voice of reason in the middle is essential.”

He hopes he can appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

“My strategy is a pretty simple one,” he said. “As a Libertarian, I’m kind of the guy in the middle. I appeal to Democrats as much as Republicans.”

Billig is the incumbent in the race, having held the current seat since 2013. He’s the current deputy minority leader and serves as a member of the Education Funding Task Force.

He hopes to keep working on some of the issues that have been integral to his agenda, chief among them one of the biggest issues facing the Legislature: funding education.

“It’s vital that we live up to our constitutional duty to fully fund basic education, and that we do so in a way that focuses on improving student success,” Billig said. “We need to not just address education as a school issue, but make sure we’re doing things to support the whole child, which means access to health care, food, assistance, making sure that children and families have a safe place to sleep.”

Billig sponsored a bill for campaign finance transparency aimed at curbing the flow of “dark money” into political campaigns that was ultimately blocked by the Senate majority; he wants to continue working on campaign finance reform in the next session.

“Fair and transparent elections are essential for a healthy democracy,” he said.

Billig had raised nearly $140,000 for his campaign as of Tuesday. Apker’s campaign had raised $1,400.

Because Billig and Apker were the only two candidates in the top-two primary, they automatically advanced to the general election. In the primary, Billig landed 73 percent of the vote.

Billig said he is grateful and humbled by the support he received in the primary and is “working hard now to make sure to keep that momentum going.”

“Together with our community, I believe we’ve accomplished a lot, but there is still more work to do to create opportunity and build prosperity for the people of Spokane,” Billig said.

Ballots must be submitted or mailed, with proper postage, by Nov. 8.

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