Democrat Zack Zappone believes the Republican-leaning 6th Legislative District is ready for a progressive newcomer, but incumbent Republican Mike Volz believes he’s earned a third term in the House of Representatives.
Touting a proven ability to work with colleagues across the aisle, Volz believes his voting record is in line with that of district residents who are wary of new taxes.
Zappone, a former history teacher with political aspirations, might face an uphill battle to win a seat in a legislative district represented entirely by Republicans since 2010. But Zappone is hopeful his message will resonate with voters, campaigning on the promise of creating opportunities for success through worker protections, access to health care, securing voter rights, and supporting transportation infrastructure.
The candidates differ on key issues, like how the state should address its impending budget hole left by the pandemic.
The winner will represent a broad and geographically diverse district, which includes Spokane’s upper South Hill but stretches across unincorporated Spokane County, Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Cheney.
In the primary election, Zappone finished behind Volz by about 10 percentage points, receiving 22,598 votes to Volz’s 27,620. They were the only two candidates on the ballot.
Whoever is elected will be forced to reckon with a sizable gap in the state budget, as revenues slip due to the coronavirus. Though its exact size has to be determined and forecasts are improving, the latest estimates put the state’s two-year budget in a $1.2 billion projected deficit when it ends mid-2021.
Volz argues the state has spent beyond its means in recent years – the state budget has grown 69% since 2010 – and that as it tightens its belt it should look to what’s been added to the budget most recently.
“You can’t spend like that and expect everything to work out. We should have had more realistic goals,” Volz said.
New taxes, he said, are not the answer to the state’s budget problems.
“The 6th District has been pretty adamant about saying no to tax increases, and I’ve voted that way,” Volz said. “A lot of businesses are suffering significantly. I don’t think you can tax your way out of this. It’s going to require some tough decisions.”
Zappone said state legislators should be demanding more support from federal representatives to help the state’s budget woes.
“That could alleviate a lot of the cuts to the vulnerable populations,” Zappone said. “We know the federal government can provide that help to us.”
The state has an obligation to fund education, should avoid cuts to services for those in need, and prioritize helping small businesses navigate the economic recovery, Zappone said.
To do so, Zappone said the state has to make sure “everyone is paying their fair share.”
“Washington state has some of the most regressive tax codes, and I think we have to look at how we can restructure our economy to make sure it’s working for everybody,” Zappone said. “I’m frankly tired of Eastern Washington not getting our fair share.”
Zappone said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of access to health care and protections for pre-existing conditions.
“We’re all in this together, and when some of us are left out of the system, we’re all at risk of pandemics or epidemics,” Zappone said.
The COVID-19 test, for an uninsured person, is often not free, Zappone noted.
“For someone that doesn’t have a job, that doesn’t have insurance, that is a big cost. And if you have to do that multiple times, that adds up,” Zappone said. “That’s a choice between buying groceries or getting a test.”
That choice could force someone to carry the virus and spread it to the community, Zappone said.
Volz has been among lawmakers to criticize Gov. Jay Inslee, who he said should have called the Legislature back for a special session to include lawmakers in the state’s response rather than issue “edicts.”
“There needs to be a more of a balance in this in addressing the business aspect. A lot of people are losing their livelihoods,” Volz said. “To be clear, COVID’s a thing and I’m not denying it. I have moderate to severe asthma, I certainly don’t want it. I stay away from people as best I can and understand the risk.”
The state Legislature also is expected to tackle police reform and accountability proposals in 2021.
Zappone said his approach to police reform would be to help officers focus on “doing what they do best – enforcing laws, deterring crime and responding to emergencies.” Zappone said he would support “common-sense reforms” like de-escalation and anti-bias training, as well as the hiring of addiction and behavioral health specialists to handle nonviolent calls.
Zappone said he also supports jail diversion programs, such as the mental health crisis stabilization facility planned in Spokane, that “get people back on track to being contributing, productive members of our community while also saving taxpayers money.”
Volz said he does not believe in defunding police, and by and large, they “do a good job overall,” but acknowledged there are areas for improvement.
Decisions should be made on facts and figures, he added, which support a broader embrace of community-based policing.
“I think it’s important, too, to have police departments that are maybe more reflective of their communities, which is positive,” Volz said, adding officers should have a “sensitivity and awareness to the communities that they serve.”
While speaking with voters, Zappone said he’s learned Volz is often inaccessible or does not return constituents’ calls. As a representative, Zappone said he would make it a priority to be responsive to 6th District residents.
Volz said he’s heard the opposite, and pointed to a meeting he had after a call from the proprietors of Beerocracy, in the Garland Business District . Between Volz and his full-time legislative assistant, he said “we do the best we can with a two-person shop.”
Zappone highlighted Volz’s 2017 opposition to the legislation that created the Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which Zappone supports. But Volz likened it to the push for minimum-wage increases under Initiative 1433 in 2016, which was supported by a majority of voters statewide but not by those in District 6.
“It was definitely driven by, I would say West Side liberal politics, even though we rejected it here,” Volz said.
Zappone graduated from North Central High School before attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Zappone returned and became a teacher in Kennewick, where he taught English and history.
“I became a teacher to make sure everyone has a fair shot,” Zappone said. “To me, that means good schools, good jobs and good health care.”
Volz has worked in the Spokane County Treasurer’s Office for a decade.
As a legislator, Volz said he was proud of his support for the Multiple Pathways to Graduation bill, which allows students opportunities to graduate even if they don’t pass state tests.
“It has a very positive impact on our high school and public school students in Washington state,” Volz said.
Volz said he can work with Democrats and Republicans, and noted he’s collaborated with Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, to support funding each others’ capital projects.
“If they’re projects that are good for the region, we’ll work together,” Volz said.
If re-elected, Volz said he will continue to push for legislation that would reduce the interest penalty for delinquent property taxes, which is 23%. The harsh penalties most negatively impact the lowest income residents, those on fixed income, the disabled, and minorities, Volz said.
“You go down the list of the people on the bubble, it hits them the hardest,” Volz said.
While he doesn’t have a political résumé to speak of, Zappone pointed to his experience as a young leader in education in a school where 90% of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.
Zappone started a YMCA youth legislative program to bring a group of students to Olympia, brought classes to D.C., and worked to craft a more rigorous curriculum for his students that demanded more reading.
“I spent a lot of time just dedicating myself to my students and my community to make a change and provide those opportunities for students,” he said.
Do you support Washington Referendum 90, which if approved would require public schools to teach comprehensive sex education?
Volz: No. Opposes the requirement for public schools to teach comprehensive sex education.
Zappone: ?????? Says he supports letting voters decide if schools should be required to teach comprehensive sex education.
Did you support Initiative 976, the measure that capped vehicle tab fees at $30?
Zappone: ?????? Now that it has been approved by voters, says the state should follow Initiative 976 since it was approved by voters.
Volz: Yes. The voters have repeatedly asked for $30 car tabs.
Do you support the statewide mask mandate?
Zappone: Yes. I believe in following the guidance of public health officials to safely reopen our economy and schools. I also think it is our patriotic duty to help stop the virus.
Do you believe Spokane County should still be in Phase 2 of the Governor’s reopening plan?
Would you support raising taxes to cover the state’s budget shortfall? If not, can you name specific cuts you would make?
Do you support a tax on carbon emissions?
Zappone: No. Says he prefers incentives and clean air standards to hold polluters accountable to improve the quality of our air.
Volz: No. Says a tax on carbon emissions is regressive in nature and would have a negative impact on low-income and working families.
Do you believe the state should create a decertification process for police officers?
Do you support a ban on the use of chokeholds by police officers?
Zappone: Yes, I support a ban on chokeholds. Police officers should not use methods that restrict breathing.
Volz: For all but in life threatening situations.
Do you think funding for the North Spokane Corridor and other Connecting Washington projects should be preserved? Or should some of it be shifted to ensure the state has sufficient money for maintenance and preservation?
Volz: Yes. It should be preserved.