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State Sen. Mike Padden, former County Commissioner John Roskelley disagree on budget, prison reform in bid for Valley seat

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 7, 2020

John Roskelley, left, and Mike Padden vie for the 4th District Senate seat.  (Courtesy)
John Roskelley, left, and Mike Padden vie for the 4th District Senate seat. (Courtesy)

Though both candidates for Spokane Valley’s state Senate seat plan to prioritize the budget, they have different approaches to how the state should take on climate change and prison reform.

Incumbent Mike Padden has spent more than two decades in the Legislature between his time in the House in the 1980s and his election to the Senate in 2011. The Republican noted his record of legislative accomplishments, such as a bill to compensate parents of crime victims and his advocacy for greater Spokane Valley transportation projects. He said he will focus on criminal justice, prisons and the budget if re-elected.

Democratic challenger John Roskelley, a mountaineer and former county commissioner, said he hopes to focus on climate change and balancing the state’s budget. Roskelley said his experience as a commissioner has prepared him for hard decisions the Legislature will need to make when addressing the budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 4th District Legislative District seat covers Spokane Valley, Green Bluff and Mount Spokane.

The most recent state economic forecast predicts there will be a $4.6 billion drop in revenue over the next three years. Roskelley called for cutting costs, noting that when he was a commissioner, he and other commissioners went through department budgets line-by-line to find ways to reduce spending.

“There is always fat with these budgets,” he said.

He said at the state level, departments will have to find ways to spend less and cut down on nonessential expenditures, like travel.

Roskelley called for legislators to eliminate some sales tax exemptions on corporations.

Padden said the state likely would have to look at cutting costs, saying it had a “spending problem, not a revenue problem.” He said he did not have specific areas he would consider for reducing spending until the full Legislative body was able to meet again either during a special session or when the 2021 Legislative session begins in January.

He said he opposed Roskelley’s proposal to eliminate some tax exemptions on certain corporations, saying most businesses had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“I just don’t think this is the time to raise taxes,” he said.

Both candidates also called for reform in the state’s prison system, though they plan to focus on different issues.

Roskelley said he has researched prisons and talked to a former inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He said he hopes to write legislation requiring the state to provide prisoners with edible and nutritious food.

He said he also would look into finding ways to start programs that would allow inmates to grow their own food, which could reduce costs and provide other benefits to prisoners.

“Even if it costs a little bit more, these are human beings,” he said. “We have an obligation to feed and house them and not charge them an arm and a leg.”

He said if inmates are doing a lot of the work around prisons, they also should be paid enough to cover what they need to buy from the commissary, as well as fees and court costs from incarceration.

Padden, citing recent hunger strikes in the state’s prison system, said prisoners should have access to hot meals, but said he wasn’t focused on changes beyond providing for basic needs.

“I think prisoners are in there for a reason,” he said. “I don’t want to see them harmed in prison either, but I think our focus shouldn’t be to make life easier for them.”

Padden said he is concerned about the physical safety of prisoners, citing a recent killing at Airway Heights Corrections Center where a man was beaten to death after he ended up in the same cell as the brother of a child he raped.

Padden said he is joining a committee looking into the death and may work on legislation that could prevent a situation like that from occurring again.

“There should be a process,” he said. “Whether they would need legislation or not or whether they should adopt policy and procedure that would screen and vet these folks better so that couldn’t happen.”

Padden said he’s concerned the early release of prisoners because of the pandemic could undermine public safety, and he is against early releases to save funds or reduce the risk of COVID-19.

“It puts a lot of pressure and risk on citizens,” he said.

Another area Roskelley and Padden differ is the state’s role in protecting the environment.

Roskelley argues that state government has a responsibility to take the lead because of federal rollbacks in environmental protections.

“We have to set the standard,” he said. “It would be nice to say the federal government should step up, but that all depends who is elected in the next election and if they believe climate change exists or the environment needs to be protected.”

He also said the state needs to protect insects and habitats, and called for a ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that can be harmful to humans. A ban on the use of the pesticide passed the state Legislature this year, but was one of a series of bills vetoed by the governor at the beginning of the pandemic.

Roskelley criticized previous legislators who represented the district, saying they had voted against environmental protections.

Padden said he was hesitant to support any environmental legislation that could impact businesses that employ constituents, especially Kaiser Aluminum, which has historically been one of the region’s larger employers.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t kill off our jobs,” he said.

Padden noted Washington was a leader in environmental policy and said he preferred to focus on preserving hydropower, which he believes should be considered green energy.

Reach Rebecca White at (509) 459-5039 or rebeccawh@spokesman.com

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