A Republican-turned-Democrat and an advocate-turned-politician are vying for an open House seat in what may be Eastern Washington’s only swing district.
Republican Jenny Graham views taxes as the single biggest impediment to creating a safer and more just society, and condemns any measure that smacks of a new tax.
Dave Wilson, the Democrat, said his role as a legislator would be to help people and organizations navigate government, which he called “a partner. It’s a partner in our economy. It’s a partner in our society.”
The 6th Legislative District was dominated by Republicans for decades until 2006, when Democrats picked up two of the three seats in the district. But Democrats haven’t won a seat in the district since 2008. And in the past two election cycles Democrats have lost the races in the 6th by at least 10 percentage points.
But in the August primary for House Position 2 in the 6th, which is being vacated by Republican Jeff Holy as he pursues a bid for the state Senate, Wilson and one other Democrat won more votes than Graham and one other Republican.
The 6th District encompasses a western wedge of the county, including western and southern parts of the city of Spokane, and all of Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Cheney.
Before this race, Graham worked to reform state law and extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sex predators. Graham and her siblings were abused as children. Now, in her first political campaign to join elective politics, Graham is aiming to dismantle some parts of the state government.
“Government is out of control. People are getting taxed out of their homes. They’re getting taxed out of their businesses,” she said at a recent debate. “We are on track to becoming the highest tax state in the nation, and there’s real and genuine concern in that.”
By getting rid of some of the state’s taxes, Graham predicted greater protections for Washington families and more job growth in Eastern Washington. Graham also cited a lack of respect among elected officials that drove her to run for office.
Wilson, who ran as an independent for Congress in 2014 and 2016, is a former Republican who has said he became disillusioned with the party during the Iraq War, a divide that deepened with the formation of the reactionary tea party and the election of President Donald Trump. Now, as a member of the Democratic Party, his aim is to make government work for everyone.
“What people deserve is representation that is visible, accessible and responsive,” he said. “When I hear candidates, and especially officeholders, talk about tearing down government or obstructing government, I don’t think that that’s healthy. I think for society to work, for our economy to work, we have to have functioning government.”
Both agree that the Legislature they wish to join has left them wanting.
For Wilson, the Legislature’s inability to confront climate change or the national scourge of mass shootings has led him to endorse two initiatives on the ballot this fall, despite his criticism of the initiative process.
“I’m not a fan of the initiative process. I believe it’s the job of the Legislature to pass legislation,” he said when discussing Initiative 1631, which would place a “carbon fee” on polluters for the right to emit carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases.
“Sometimes an issue is so divisive or such a controversial issue, the Legislature refuses to act,” he said. “It’s apparent to me the Legislature is not going to do anything about this. We need to move the ball down the field. This moves the ball down the field. I think it’s important that we get something passed in this arena, to address climate change.”
Wilson used similar logic when discussing Initiative 1639, which would raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21 and require firearms to be stored safely at home.
“In my mind, the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. There aren’t enough safeguards for society,” Wilson said. “I’m not anti-Second Amendment. I’m not anti-self-defense. But in my mind, this has nothing to do with self-defense. These are not drastic steps. These are small steps. We need to get the pendulum swinging back in the other direction.”
For Graham, it’s less about what the Legislature’s not doing, and more about its overreach.
Asked if she would support the creation of a state income tax if it reduced other state taxes like property or sales taxes, Graham said Washington was becoming too reliant on taxes.
“When you look at the state income tax, and then you start looking at the grocery tax, then you start looking at the capital gains income tax increase, and you start looking at the carbon tax that’s coming up,” she said. “The mileage tax that they want to pass that’s going to put a transmitter in your car to measure how many miles you go and get more information, where we’re already in a day and age where you’re getting red light tickets in the mail, and school zone tickets in the mail. When I’m going to the door, people are asking, how much is enough? We are on track to becoming the highest-taxed state in the nation.”
Graham mentioned a man she spoke with who said taxes were driving him out of business. He closed one restaurant, she said, and was close to shutting a second.
“There’s only so much margin in a taco,” she said.
Both candidates support Initiative 1634, which would bar local governments from taxing soda or other groceries.
Graham said the state also has become overregulated. She said she opposed the carbon initiative and a state lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding its easing of rules regulating coal.
“I absolutely am in favor of our environment and protecting our environment,” Graham said, arguing that Washington was “already one of the greenest states in the nation.” She also cautioned against new forms of energy, saying wind turbines were dangerous to wildlife and said they had “problems with rust.”
“People talk about the oil business, but these other options are businesses, as well, so that’s something that also should be considered and not lost,” she said.