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Independent Wandler to take on incumbent Kretz in 7th District race

Oct. 5, 2020 Updated Mon., Oct. 12, 2020 at 8:08 a.m.

Longtime Republican state Rep. Joel Kretz is facing a first-time independent candidate in his bid for re-election for the Northeast Washington seat.

JJ Wandler, who said he doesn’t fit neatly into a two-party system, will take on Kretz, the deputy minority leader who is in his eighth term as a representative of the 7th Legislative District.

Kretz’s legislative career has focused on responsible land management and private-sector job creation. He sits on the Rules and the Rural, Development, Agricultural and Natural Resources committees.

In his voter’s guide statement, Kretz, of Wauconda, said he has worked to educate urban legislators on Eastern Washington issues, something he believes is “essential to getting things done for the people of the 7th District.” Multiple attempts by The Spokesman-Review to reach Kretz for this article went unanswered.

Wandler said he has waited a long time for a candidate that represents his views. His biggest issues are implementing universal health care in Washington and increasing taxes on the wealthy.

“When no one jumped into the race, I thought, ‘If not me, then who would do it?’ ” Wandler said.

Wandler called universal health care “one of the biggest things we need to tackle right now.” COVID-19 has shown that the country’s health care system is not up to the task, he said.

Wandler, who is currently uninsured, said insurance companies don’t have people’s best interests in mind. Having universal health care in Washington would benefit everyone.

“If we can’t get it nationally, we can do it on a state level,” Wandler said.

Another big issue for Wandler is the state’s budget shortfall, now projected to be $4.2 billion through 2023. He said there are parts of the budget that could be trimmed, but what he doesn’t want are property or income tax increases that he said will mostly affect working-class residents.

“That’s how they’re going to try to make up the budget shortfall,” Wandler said. “I think that’s wrong.”

Instead, Wandler said he wants to see a wealth tax on the richest Washington residents and a financial transaction tax on stocks and bonds.

In a legislative review after the 2020 session, Kretz said he would fight against any proposed state income tax to make up for the budget shortfall.

Wandler said the Legislature should have had a special session by now to deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19, adding he is disappointed in the state’s lack of an economic recovery plan.

He said he supports the governor’s decision to shut down in March, but now he believes the state is in a period of overreach. Too many businesses are being negatively affected by not being able to reopen, Wandler said.

Wandler said the state should move forward with phased reopenings, something Gov. Jay Inslee paused in July. He said he supports a statewide mask mandate and social distancing but said because of those rules, businesses should reopen.

“If they’re adhering to the most current rules and regulations, we gotta let them reopen,” Wandler said.

House Republicans, including Kretz, introduced a Legislative Republicans’ Safe Economic Restart Plan in April that called for the creation of a Restart Task Force, the exemption of sales tax for small businesses for one year and allowing businesses that are low risk to reopen, among other recommendations.

As an independent, Wandler said his views don’t match up with either party, citing his pro-Second Amendment, pro-property rights, pro-student debt forgiveness views. He also supports changing funding and the role of the police so they can focus more on what he called the “basic function of policing,” which he said is handling property and violent crimes. Wandler also said he believes human activity is a factor in climate change and supports aspects of a Green New Deal, such as imposing stricter restrictions on corporations.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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