A race for a state House seat in Spokane Valley is between two Republicans.
Even so, the candidates for position 2 in the 4th Legislative District have major policy differences.
Incumbent state Rep. Rob Chase believes the United States should go back on the gold standard. His opponent, former state Rep. Leonard Christian does not.
Chase supports a plan to break Washington into two states, arguing that people in Eastern Washington would be better represented by taking the West Side out of the mix. Christian says that effort is futile and would be a financial burden on Spokane.
Chase claims election integrity is a major problem and says outcomes of some elections suggest voting systems are easy to hack. Christian says Washington’s elections are secure and that such conspiracies undermine confidence and send a message that voting doesn’t matter.
But they don’t disagree on everything. Both strongly oppose abortion rights, for instance.
Inflation, public safety and COVID-19 recovery also are top issues under the debate the candidates running in the heavily Republican 4th Legislative District.
Chase, former Spokane County treasurer, is currently serving his first term as a legislator. He joined the Legislature in 2020 after far-right legislator Rep. Matt Shea did not run for re-election following an investigation that found he committed domestic terrorism.
As a legislator, Chase has followed Shea’s footsteps, sponsoring similar bills, such as one that would split Washington into two, and sharing conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 on his Facebook page. He joined onto a lawsuit in 2021 with other legislators who argued the state House of Representatives vaccine mandate for members was unconstitutional.
Since the 2020 election, he has continued to tout false claims of election fraud nationally and in Washington. There is no evidence that there has been widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
In a Thursday debate hosted by The Spokesman-Review, Chase talked about a number of conspiracy theories, including one that a deep state is running the government and that there was enough fraud in the 2020 election to overturn the results.
Chase said he is running this year because “the truth matters.”
Chase said he’s concerned that citizens are losing their freedom of speech and are being criticized for questioning science.
“It’s important that elected officials tell the truth until they’re proven wrong,” he told The Spokesman-Review.
This year, Chase faces Christian, a conservative with brief experience in the Legislature, having been appointed in 2014 to fill the remainder of Larry Crouse’s term. He lost the seat to Bob McCaslin in 2014.
In the August primary, Chase finished with 50% of the vote, and Christian received just over 46% of the vote. Write-in candidates received about 3.5% of the vote.
Christian is running this year because he said he felt that Chase has done “absolutely nothing” as a state legislator. He cited legislation that Chase has proposed that never made it out of committee, such as the bill to split Washington.
“His effectiveness is zero,” he said.
In response, Chase said this was only his first session. Many legislators don’t get bills out of committee after years in office, he said.
He said he introduced 17 bills in his first term and co-signed onto more than 100.
Chase pointed to a bill that he co-signed that eliminated high delinquent property taxes and interest rates on residential properties.
It was a bill he said he started working on as county treasurer.
For Christian, the top issue this election is tackling inflation.
“I truly believe we need to work on inflation to help the families out here and lower taxes,” he said.
Christian acknowledged that it’s easy to want to cut taxes, but that there’s more to it. He said the way to solve rising costs is to look at the state budget and find out which programs are not working, and either fix them or reduce them.
With an increase in state revenue and additional federal COVID-19 relief funds, the state Legislature has had an unprecedented amount of funding to allocate in recent years. Christian said the Legislature should be putting the money into emergency programs as opposed to long-term programs, and the rest should be put into the state’s rainy day fund because once funding for those programs is gone, the Legislature will look to taxpayers to pay for it.
On inflation, Chase criticized the Legislature for not giving back any federal funds or additional tax revenues to taxpayers, but he did acknowledge there could be a recession nearing so it’s important to hold on to some of the federal funds.
Another big issue this year for legislative candidates is public safety and crime.
Christian said he wants to support law enforcement as much as possible. He criticized legislation passed in the last two years to address police reform, including bills that limited the use of chokeholds, police dogs and military equipment, among other things.
One of the most controversial bills was one that limited the use of vehicle pursuits. A new law that went into effect after the 2021 legislative session allowed officers to engage in vehicle pursuits only when there is probable cause, a standard that law enforcement says is too high.
A bill that almost made it out of last session would have allowed officers to engage in pursuits when there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person has or is committing certain crimes.
It failed to make it out of the Senate by the end of the session.
Christian called the current vehicle pursuit law “foolishness.”
“There’s got to be resources and tools to be able to chase criminals,” he said.
Chase had similar thoughts on public safety. He said the first thing that needs to be done is to restore the ability for law enforcement to conduct vehicle pursuits.
Chase supports an effort from citizens and other lawmakers to get enough signatures for 11 initiatives to the Legislature, including one that addresses police pursuits. The “Let’s Go Washington” campaign also is gathering signatures for initiatives that deal with election oversight and auditing, reviewing the governor’s emergency powers and repealing a capital gains tax.
Another important issue lawmakers will encounter this session is the fallout of the State of Washington v. Blake Supreme Court decision, which found the state’s drug possession law to be unconstitutional. Prior to the ruling, a person found guilty of simple possession could be sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 under state law.
In an attempt to address the ruling, lawmakers passed a bill during the 2021 session that made possession a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. For the first two offenses, those possessing drugs would be diverted to treatment instead of jail.
But the law also says the Legislature must come up with a long-term plan to address the state’s possession law by 2023 or all prosecutions for simple drug possession would be eliminated in Washington.
Christian said law enforcement officers need the tools, such as a possession law, to help people who are dealing with substance abuse.
“Those are the tools that officers need to be able to get somebody started in the process of getting clean and improving the lives of the citizens in our society,” he said.
Chase said he wants to make “hard drugs illegal,” but said he was OK with keeping marijuana legal.
Chase voted against the law passed by the Legislature last year to address the Supreme Court decision.
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