Incumbent State Sen. Nathan Schlicher and challenger Rep. Jan Angel debated last Thursday morning during the weekly public affairs forum at Cottesmore of Life Care in Gig Harbor.
Both candidates are vying for the Senate seat in the 26th Legislative District, which covers Gig Harbor, Fox Island, the Key Peninsula and parts of Kitsap County.
Angel, R-Port Orchard, held a comfortable lead over Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, following the primary election in August. Angel is a three-time elected member of the House of Representatives, and Schlicher was appointed last winter to the vacated Senate seat after Derek Kilmer was elected to Congress.
Angel talked about limiting government, and Schlicher touted his medical expertise to the group of business leaders last week.
“I’m the only doctor in Olympia,” he said. “We need changes in the health care system. When I was working in the ER, we were told that asthma is not an emergency. As an ER doc, I knew that was wrong. I knew we needed some common sense back in Olympia. We improved the way we delivered emergency care. We saved the state $31 million a year.”
Angel praised small businesses and said they are the key to reviving the economy.
“We’ve got to get people back to work,” she said. “You, our small business people, are the way to do that. You can’t do that unless we get government off your back. You need flexibility. Government has got to walk the walk.”
Both candidates said the state needs to invest in education. Schlicher said the days when a high school diploma translated to a job are gone.
“The idea you can have a high school diploma and get a job doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “We need to focus on STEM education. We need to fight for living wages; minimum wage is not a living wage. Part-time, minimum-wage jobs do not create a sustainable future for our state.”
Peninsula School District board member Harlan Gallinger asked the candidates about their stance on the capital levy measure the school will put before voters on the same Nov. 5 general election ballot. Angel didn’t take a stance but said she hopes for clear explanations.
“It needs to be transparent,” she said. “The voters need to know what it’s going to do, and how it’s going to work, and let the people vote accordingly.”
Schlicher voiced his support for the capital levy.
“I think our kids are important,” he said. “This levy addresses one of the needs we have. An elementary school in Purdy with 800 kids is not a recipe for success. We’re asking the teachers to do it all in portables. The growth in Gig Harbor North is not stopping. We need a school up there. I think that is a critical need.”
Schlicher said he would like to see a renewed emphasis on education, one that goes beyond K-12. With the state’s recent budget struggles, he said the state has cut funding for higher education from 70 percent to about 30 percent, a trend he hopes to reverse.
“We have more student debt in this country than credit card debt,” Schlicher said. “We’re asking an entire generation of kids to ask to pay for mistakes that aren’t theirs. I want to get it back to 50 percent. It’s not going to happen next year, honestly. It’s going to take time.”
Schlicher said an unintended consequence of pulling financial support from higher education is that mounting student debt prohibits young adults’ ability to buy homes, and that affects the housing market.
Angel spoke often about her desire to improve the climate for small businesses. She said it primarily could be done by eliminating regulations.
“We’ve got to get government off their back,” she said. “There are too many regulatory issues. We have business and occupation tax on gross receipts — we should be looking at a fair, equitable tax based on their net income.”
Schlicher agreed that the B&O tax is problematic.
“It’s about fixing the B&O tax system,” he said. “Those with the least pay the most, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.