Transportation, taxes and economic development were the main topics of a Wednesday panel discussion featuring seven candidates from the 45th and 48th legislative districts.
The forum took place during the Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce's monthly membership luncheon at the Hyatt House Hotel in downtown Redmond. Seven of the two districts' eight candidates participated; Bill Hirt, Republican challenger to Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), declined an invitation to attend, according to the chamber.
In the 45th District, Democratic incumbents Rep. Roger Goodman and Rep. Larry Springer—both Kirkland residents—are being challenged by two Republicans from Redmond—Joel Hussey and Jim Thatcher, respectively.
In the 48th District, Democrat Cyrus Habib, a Bellevue attorney, is facing off against Republican Hank Myers, a Redmond City Council member and transportation economist, for the seat left vacant by retiring Rep. Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland). The other seat in the 48th is current held by Hunter, who is being challenged by Hirt.
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The discussion was cordial, with candidates taking turns to answer five questions they received ahead of time in two minutes or less. Each candidate also gave an opening and closing statement.
All seven candidates said education was one of their top priorities, but many offered different ideas on how to better prepare local youth for college and the workforce.
Springer argued for more teacher training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, along with more one-year state certificate programs. Thatcher, his opponent, pointed out that "not every child wants to go to college" and said it's important that students are made aware of the alternatives.
Hussey said one of the main problems with today's K-12 education system is that not enough students graduate on time, while his opponent, Goodman, said it's vital to provide more funding for early childhood education programs.
"It's the best return on our tax dollar," Goodman said.
With regards to transportation, all seven candidates said they support brining light rail to downtown Redmond, but Myers said he is concerned the rail system could cause reduction or elimination of service on the 545 express bus, which makes frequent trips from Redmond to downtown Seattle. Regardless, Myers said he supports the project.
"It's something we need to have happen," he said.
Habib, Myers' opponent, said the Redmond council member has not always shown such strong support for light rail and that the candidates have been engaged in a "he said, he said" argument over Myers' track record on the issue.
"As a state legislator, I will support (light rail) wholeheartedly," Habib said.
Springer, meanwhile, pointed out the need for housing density near future light rail stations, calling the city of Redmond a "poster child" for smart increases in downtown density. Thatcher, his opponent, said he is concerned about how people will travel to the future light rail stations and called for an expansion of rapid bus networks.
"Give us a way to get to that train line, please," he said.
Regarding road projects such as improvements in the Bel-Red corridor, Hunter said an increase in the state gas tax will be necessary to provide funding. Additionally, he said, a toll on I-90 will be necessary to ensure the new State Route 520 bridge is built.
Hussey argued for a bi-partisan, comprehensive approach to the region's transportation issues.
"We can't look at these individual projects in isolation," he said.
I-1053, the state initiative that would require a two-thirds majority for tax increases, was one question that received contrasting responses. Hunter called the measure "dysfunctional" and fellow Democrat Springer said he believes the two-thirds rule "is undemocratic."
"It's simply bad government to govern that way," Springer said.
But Thatcher said he will support an amendment to the state constitution if voters approve the measure, arguing that the "will of the people has been expressed several times" on the matter.
Fellow Republican Myers pointed out that so-called super majorities are used to determine matters such as school bonds, and argued that the two-thirds idea is not as "arcane" as some suggest.
"I think it helps us work together," he said.
Redmond City Television filmed the entire discussion and will begin airing re-runs on Friday on Comcast 21/Frontier 34. The video will also be available for online streaming by Friday evening at redmond.gov/rctv.