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Mike Volz, Zack Zappone square off in debate

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 23, 2020

Zappone, left, and Volz.
Zappone, left, and Volz.

Incumbent state Rep. Mike Volz and challenger Zack Zappone clashed Thursday over the two-term representative’s voting record and which candidate is best equipped to lead the state through fiscal challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The second debate between the two candidates for the 6th Legislative District’s House Position 1 was spicy, as Zappone scrutinized Volz’s commitment to school funding, LBGTQ issues, and more.

Volz defended the choices he’s made over four years in office and contended his opponent’s policies would increase taxes on District 6 residents.

The two offered starkly different approaches for tackling the state’s budget shortfall, which was recently estimated to be $4.2 billion through 2023. And while both supported re-examining the state’s tax structure, they’d do so in different ways.

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

Though he voiced opposition to raising taxes on working and middle-class families, Zappone called for overhauling the state’s tax structure, including implementing a tax on capital gains – profit from the sale of stock or other assets –over $50,000.

Volz said there would likely be a push to raise revenue in the Legislature, but he argued the state should ensure it’s spending money effectively. District 6 residents, he said, “have clearly voiced their objection to the taxes and policies coming out of the West Side.”

Volz, Spokane County’s deputy treasurer for a decade, has and leans on that experience when making his pitch to votersserved in the House for two terms and believes his voting record is aligned with the wishes of 6th District voters.

Zappone is a 29-year-old former history teacher and first-time political candidate who is looking to translate his masters degree in public affairs from Princeton University into public service in the Legislature. The Spokane native has focused his campaign on improving the state’s education system and ensuring Washingtonians have access to affordable health care.

Zappone will have to make up substantial ground since the primary. Volz won the primary by about 10 percentage points, earning 27,620 votes to Zappone’s. Unlike the other 6th district race, Democrats did not split the vote – Volz and Zappone were the only two candidates on the ballot.

The district includes the southern tip of the South Hill and stretches across unincorporated Spokane County, Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Cheney.

Zappone forced Volz to defend his record, particularly on funding for education. He noted Volz did not support legislation to reduce fees paid by low-income students for extracurricular activities at schools.

“Rep. Volz has shown us that he’s out of touch with our Eastern Washington values and the experience of students here,” he said.

Volz described himself as a commonsense legislator and noted his wife is an educator. In response to Zappone’s criticism of a 2017 vote against a bill to fully fund the state’s basic education system, Volz said he followed the voters’ will:

“I’m absolutely committed, we just have a different approach and perspective.”

Zappone criticized Volz for voting against a bill in 2018 that restricted conversion therapy, a scientifically discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling. The bill was later signed into law.

“That was a bipartisan vote to protect LBGTQ youth from trauma,” he said.

Volz said he voted against the bill because it could limit access to counseling even for those who want it, but said he does not believe anyone should be forced to undergo conversion therapy.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Volz said he understands his personal risk from the coronavirus and recommends wearing a mask, but said there should be a “certain level of personal responsibility.”

Zappone agreed that personal responsibility is important, but if people choose not to wear a mask “that is putting more people at risk and is holding our economy from recovering and businesses from reopening.”

Talks for additional federal aid have stalled in Congress, but should the state receive more funding, Volz said Washington “should take a comprehensive look at how we support our local public health officials.”

Funding should be prioritized for those highest in need, Volz said, pointing to the cases in nursing homes.

Zappone said the state should prioritize access to personal protective equipment and making testing widely available. He’s also spoken with 6th District residents unable to qualify for rental assistance.

“There’s a lot of need in our community,” he said.

Mentioning the 2000 Saturn he drives without air conditioning, Zappone said he doesn’t believe in bells and whistles and the government should not be wasteful. He criticized Volz for earning a salary at his county job and an additional salary as a representative.

“That seems like an example of waste,” he said.

Volz supports restructuring the state’s tax system, and noted he’s a certified public accountant.

“I have the skill set in working with public policy on these tax laws for decades in the treasurer’s office and Spokane Transit (Authority),” Volz said.

The battle between Zappone and Volz is one of two contested races in the 6th District.

The debate was hosted by The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Bookclub and is available to view online. Incumbent GOP Rep. Jenny Graham has declined to debate Democratic challenger Tom McGarry, including one hosted by The Spokesman-Review. McGarry will be interviewed by the Northwest Passages Bookclub at 3 p.m. Friday.

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