PORT ORCHARD — Emerging from a closely fought Aug. 7 primary election race in the 26th Legislative District’s state Senate race, Republican Marty McClendon and Democrat Emily Randall offered attendees at a League of Women Voters-Kitsap forum Oct. 3 considerably divergent views on a number of issues affecting district residents.
The two general-election candidates answered written questions from the audience during the second part of a political forum also featuring candidates for the two state representative positions in the district (their comments will be published in the Oct. 19 Independent).
Results from that primary race, in which vote totals for each political party in Kitsap County were nearly identical, are reflective of the partisan split in the nation overall. McClendon garnered 8,009 votes to replace incumbent Republican Jan Angel while Randall tallied 9,073 votes, or 50.3 percent of the county ballots, from Kitsap voters. Perennial candidate Bill Scheidler, who ran as an independent but whose views lean populist Republican, received 966 votes.
Question topics ranged from the death penalty to traffic congestion on SR 16 and 3, the opioid crisis, building construction impact fees, climate change, homelessness and public education funding.
Initiative 1639 Gun Safety
Gun control measures were part of the discussion at the forum, especially so with Initiative I-1639 — the gun safety measure — also on the November ballot. Not surprisingly, the candidates shared diametrically opposing views.
Randall, a first-time candidate and a longtime South Kitsap resident, said she grew up in a hunting family where guns were part of their life.
“My brother was gifted his first rifle at the age of 11,” Randall said. “I grew up in a family that has a familiarity with guns, believes in gun safety, believes in the Second Amendment.”
But the Democrat said the time has come for legislators and the public to embrace measures ensuring that the community becomes safer.
“The Second Amendment does say ‘well regulated’ and so we have the freedom to ensure that the kids on the streets and in the classrooms are safe. They are begging for us to do something about this gun violence epidemic in our country. They’re asking us to act.”
Randall said I-1639 measures, which would include not allowing people under 21 to purchase a pistol or semiautomatic assault rifle, are reasonable. She said the initiative doesn’t restrict parents from gifting a hunting rifle to a child.
The initiatives, she said, “ensures that young people under the age of 21 who might make rash decisions aren’t going out and buying their own. These are reasonable measures that almost every responsible gun owner that I’ve talked to in our community supports.”
McClendon, who labels himself a defender of the Constitution, said the initiative “infringes on our Second Amendment rights. I would not support that.”
The Republican cited the argument that while an 18-year-old can serve in the military and vote, that individual wouldn’t be able to buy a firearm.
“I don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s right.”
Instead, McClendon said the initiative’s measures do nothing to take firearms from criminals and those that have mental-health issues. He advocated strengthening safety measures at schools, citing a school in Oregon that is now using facial identity technology to keep out potential intruders.
“You can’t open a door unless you’re on record as a parent of your child. I think that’s a great way to go instead of taking away the rights of a law-abiding citizen.”
The candidates were asked whether the so-called opioid epidemic requires a criminal justice or a public health solution. McClendon said both are important responses. He said the issue is “like this nebulous thing. Opioids are over-subscribed. Some of it is brought on by mental health issues, some of it by economic issues.”
The Republican placed much of the blame on lax enforcement of existing laws, as is the case in Seattle, he said.
“We’ve seen examples in Seattle where, when you don’t enforce the laws, when your proposing policies that you’re going to have safe injection sites legalizing opioid and heroin injection sites for the idea of helping people, you’re actually inviting more of it. It’s not OK to exercise this bad behavior.”
Randall, by contract, said the opioid issue should primarily be addressed from a public health standpoint.
“It’s an epidemic that is touching so many folks in our community,” she said. “Nearly all of us know someone who is impacted by addiction and are struggling to get their life back on track. We know that we need substance abuse prevention programs and substance abuse treatment. We also know that many people don’t have any insurance to cover this. And we need to make sure we are removing those barriers so folks can build their life again and families have the support they need to help a loved one who’s in that situation.”
The issue of homelessness also illustrated a cleave between the two candidates. McClendon said the problem is endemic in Kitsap County, and getting worse. He said many people classified as homeless are migrating from Seattle.
“There’s more resources here, there’s cheaper living, you name it,” he said. “That said, it is drug addiction, there’s mental health issues. There have been studies done that show that many come to our area and the Pacific Northwest because of our policy with drugs. With marijuana [legal], we’ve been open about being able to shoot heroin on the streets. We’ve allowed people to camp here. That can’t go on … we can’t allow them to break the law and stay here.”
McClendon advocated addressing the issue with “common-sense solutions, one by one.” First priority, he said, is to help homeless veterans.
Randall said she participated in Kitsap County’s “Point In Time Count” effort to gauge how many are living outside of a permanent living space countywide.
“I had one-on-one conversations with homeless people,” Randall said. “What we learned [over the past few years of the program] is that most of the folks who were homeless in our community are not from Seattle, they’re not from out of state, they are folks from our community who were one rent payment or one layoff away from homelessness. Something happened to put them under intense economic pressure that put them out of house and home.”
Randall said the cause is primarily due to a housing affordability crisis: “We’re facing a living wage jobs crisis and we need to deal with that issue. We also need to make sure that there are housing solutions coming across the pipeline.”
A growing concern for Kitsap residents is their ability to get to work in a timely fashion. One of the audience members asked the two candidates about their ideas to address congestion on state routes 16 and 3.
Both admitted solutions will be costly and will take time and effort to solve.
“I think serious investments in public transportation are a more sustainable solution,” Randall said. “As someone who commutes regularly in our district, [I know] we can’t add another lane in Gorst because we have water on one side and we have a quarry on the other. We need to ensure that there are fewer people in cars stuck on the road idling at low speeds. We need to protect our environment and get people home safer and more quickly.”
McClendon said part of the solution is already in the works.
“We’re working with the mayors of Port Orchard and Gig Harbor about what they want to do,” he said. “Both mayors want to move your on-ramps farther away from the freeway so you’re not stuck on the overpass getting on the freeway.
“There are simple solutions that have already been funded. I know at Sedgwick, they’re going to do some roundabouts there. And then Gorst — that’s a long-term fix. The bid for that was $220 million to fix Gorst. There is a way to alleviate some of that traffic from the shipyard by having a footbridge or a dedicated lane.”
Fast ferries to alleviate congestion
When queried about using the passenger-only fast ferry as a potential solution to transportation congestion, the Republican agreed it is a vital link to the area’s integrated system.
“I think an increase in the type of boats that we have, the efficiency of the boat, the frequency of the schedules, is important,” McClendon said. “But I know it’s not the answer to everything. I know that for me … part of my normal day is going to work. But on my way home, it’s picking up groceries, and from there, it’s picking up kids from school, and then going over to Tacoma for cheer practice. And that doesn’t work with bus schedules.”
Randall said the ferries “are part of our marine highway. They are the way so many of us commute or travel … We’re excited about the fast ferry expansion, but we also need to be thoughtful about the impacts on our community locally. The fast ferry means that more people are looking at Kitsap County as a reasonable option for lower-priced rent, so we need to make sure we’re investing in the needs of the residents in our community who aren’t commuting into Seattle for high-paying jobs.
“We need to make sure folks maintain the ability to stay in the community they grew up in where rents are rising.”
Construction impact fees
When asked if developers and builders should help pay for the costs of schools through impact fees, Randall and McClendon predictably offered different views.
“Our region has experienced dramatic growth,” Randall said. “Our roads and our schools are more and more crowded and we have developers from out of state who are coming in and building without the responsibility to make sure that they’re giving back to our communities.
“Yes, I think we need to ensure that developers are paying impact fees that are proportional with the impact [their projects have] to our communities.”
McClendon countered that builders already are paying impact fees.
“If the argument is, are they paying enough of an impact fee or not, I would argue they are paying too much of an impact fee in many cases … I know a builder friend of mine was remodeling a restaurant in Gig Harbor. They were going from a 4-inch water main to an 8-inch water main for the restaurant, and the impact fee was $80,000 to the builder.
“It makes you wonder if that isn’t punitive. Where did that come from? How do you measure that? We know that one quarter to one-third of the cost in constructing a home is through regulation, which includes impact fees.”