Two Democratic state senate candidates met in Bremerton on Thursday for a forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Kitsap.
Educator and small business owner Irene Bowling, a progressive, is looking to unseat state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, in Washington’s 35th Legislative District, encompassing Mason County and parts of Kitsap and Thurston counties. Sheldon is the longest-serving member of the Washington state Legislature, having been a state senator for 21 years.
Bowling, a music educator, touted her creative problem solving while challenging Sheldon, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, on issues like gun control and taxation.
This isn’t the first matchup between the two candidates. Bowling unsuccessfully challenged Sheldon in 2014.
On the issues:
Sheldon and Bowling diverge on statewide Initiative 1639, which would ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons to people under 21, among other measures, and will come before the voters this year.
“I am a definite ‘no’ on this initiative,” Sheldon said. “It makes an assault weapon anything that is a semi-automatic rifle, which could be a .22 rifle. And makes it impossible for a young fellow, like my nephew who’s 19 years old and in the Navy, to buy that weapon.”
Sheldon also cited the measure’s $25 fee to purchase semi-automatics and an application process required to buy them, as reasons he opposes it.
“I don’t think that’s what the Founding Fathers” would have wanted, he said.
Bowling took a different tack, saying she thought the measure would make the state safer. She cited a clause that requires people to properly store their firearms or face possible criminal prosecution.
“School shootings are the main reason these initiatives have come, not only in our state but around the whole country,” she said. “The majority of school shootings were from teenagers getting these assault weapons from their families’ unlocked storage facilities or from friends.”
Bowling said she comes from a hunting family and is a supporter of the Second Amendment but said she wouldn’t be “bullied” by the National Rifle Association.
“These initiatives wouldn’t be necessary if people were conscious about how they’re keeping their guns,” she said.
Bowling and Sheldon had different views about solutions to homelessness in the region.
Sheldon said he believed homelessness would be the signature issue of the upcoming legislative session.
He stressed the need for local action from cities and counties to address the problem. He said he supported the “1/10th of one percent” initiative, passed in 2005, which allowed municipalities to levy a sales tax to support mental health and substance abuse programs.
Bowling took a broader view, citing declines in federal housing assistance through HUD as a contributor to homelessness. She touted affordable housing tax credits for developers.
She said she would support rent control and the construction of tiny homes.
“The bottom line is people have to have jobs,” she said. “They have to have a living wage salary so that they can actually afford to pay rent, afford to pay for a house.”
Washington is one of seven states that does not levy an income tax. Neither Bowling nor Sheldon said they support one – which would require a constitutional amendment – but they differed in their approach to generating revenue in Olympia.
Bowling said she supported a capital gains tax on people making $650,000 or more.
“As far as I’m concerned, richer people need to pay a higher tax,” she said. She added that she also would also support a luxury tax.
“If someone can afford a yacht, I think they can afford a tax to pay for our kids,” she said, adding, “I am not going to protect big corporations with tax incentives, like Boeing, and have them ship out their jobs after getting millions of dollars in cuts.”
Sheldon said he opposed a capital gains tax.
“It will morph into an income tax,” he said, siding with Republicans on the point that filing income returns with the state would inevitably lead to an income tax.
“An income tax would diminish our economic activity here in Washington state,” he said.
Nuclear power plants
Bowling has taken a strong stance against the development of nuclear power plants in the state.
Sheldon said it’s been used as a “wedge issue,” and nuclear power, which does not emit carbon, can be used safely and responsibly.
“Small, modular, nuclear power plants – very much like what we have surrounding us here in the Navy, that power our submarines and our aircraft carriers – have been commercially developed at Oregon State University,” Sheldon said. “The federal government is behind it.”
Bowling cited nuclear waste and other concerns in opposing them.
“I don’t want that for our state. We don’t need it,” she said.
“I trust the Navy,” she said. “It’s a whole other thing to have for-profit, private companies” managing nuclear reactors.
Sheldon added that the development of nuclear plants in Washington “is a long way off,” though Bowling disagreed.
Sheldon, a longtime member of the Senate transportation committee, said his top priority for future transportation improvements next session would be to address state highway congestion in Gorst.
“I want to make sure that the Gorst fix gets started and is completed,” he said.
Bowling cited long commutes for people living in Mason County and said she would support widening the highway corridor. She also said she would fully support the ferry system, saying she considers “the ferries a highway, just as important as Highway 3 or Highway 5.”