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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

LIVE from Renton: King County executive candidate forum

It's a lively crowd at the Renton Carpenters Hall where the four Democratic candidates for King County executive, King County Council Chair Dow Constantine, 48th District Representative Ross Hunter, 41st District State Senator Fred Jarrett, and King County Council Member Larry Phillips are preparing to answer questions about the tough issues that they will face if elected.

The hall is packed with party regulars, supporters of the four campaign, and other interested citizens. There's hardly a free seat to be had.

All four candidates have strong backgrounds in public service and it will be interesting to see who makes it through our August primary.

King County Democrats Chair Suzie Sheary has just finished introducing the moderator, our very own executive director, Andrew Villeneuve, who is just walking up to the podium now to kick things off.

UPDATE: We are underway!

Ross Hunter was the first candidate to speak.

He touted his work in the Legislature working on the budget, passing education reform and also (proudly) gun safety reform.

Larry Phillips followed. He believes that we are at a "watershed moment" in the county (although he didn't specify what he thinks the watershed is). He also mentioned his relationships with cities within the county. He said he is proud of his work adding seven thousand acres to the county's green space and protecting the populace from the threat of swine flu.

Fred Jarrett is concerned with the efficiency of the Metro bus system (one of the "four things" he said he wanted to talk about tonight), yet he wasn't able to cover all the ground he staked out in his two minute opening statement because he didn't manage his time very efficiently.

Dow Constantine spoke of his work protecting green spaces, the time he spent as a lawyer, a state senator and now a county council member.

"We have to get past the old, tired politics of division. Rural, urban, suburban people need their government to work," Dow remarked.

He proclaimed himself ready to do the "heavy lifting" and gave what I'd say was the most inspiring introduction of the four.

UPDATE II: The candidates are now taking questions from the audience. Andrew is reading the first question, which was submitted in writing by an audience member. I'll try my best to summarize the responses.

Q: What will you do to get people more involved in county politics?

Constantine: It's our job as Democrats to make a "more perfect union."

Jarrett: Government must reach out to the people to include them and find out their needs. We need to focus on results.

Phillips: I have led the effort to reach out to the public with town hall meetings and budget meetings. Phillips opined that the most important thing he can do now is talk to people through his campaign. "We need your ideas for the future to make a better King County."

Hunter: People were excited by Sound Transit and Hunter wants to talk to people about the big issues, like transportation, that people really care about.

Phillips' answer was the most substantive and actually hews to the question.

Q: Do you support Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, which would severely limit the revenue that local governments can collect?

Phillips: "Tim Eyman is just flat wrong about this."

Jarrett: We need to be able to tell people what the government is doing that is making their life better. "We have to take his issues away and defeat him straight on." Nice answer: let's tackle causes rather than symptoms.

Hunter goes along with the consensus. "It's a bad idea," he declares.

Constantine: We have a responsibility to take Eyman's issue away from him by addressing the cost of government and make it work as efficiently as possible. We need to engage with public employees to find out how to make their jobs better and more efficient.

Q: What environmental project would be your top priority and how would you fund it?

Hunter: He would make storm water runoff a priority. He supported what he called a worthy bill that failed in the Legislature that would have imposed fees on businesses that pollute in order to fund storm water cleanup.

Phillips: He says he would improve public transit. He argued it's the number one thing we can do for the environment, and would decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

Constantine: He would tackle sprawl. Land use management creates runoff problems. Dow wants to "slow the death by one thousand cuts that are made by our poor land use choices."

Jarrett: Also recognizes that stormwater is an issue. He is the only candidate who mentions what effect dirty stormwater has - it degrades Puget Sound.

Q: Would you consider assigning health and human services to other jurisdictions?

Jarrett: He aegues we have a very broken health and human services in the state. He is working on a system to improve services to children. The state should work better with municipal governments to deliver services.

Constantine: Notes that we need to decide what services we will provide, who will provide them and how we will pay for them. Dow said he wants to take this information to the Legislature and make it happen.

Q: How would you change our regressive state tax system?

Jarrett: Has worked on two initiatives to create a state income tax. Wants to build citizen's support for the income tax and get it onto the ballot in 2010. Ultimately, citizens have to make it happen.

Phillips: Reflects that he also has experience working for a state income tax. One of the major reasons that King County can't provide the services that it wants is that it is underfunded. Phillips doesn't seem as passionate as Jarrett about launching a campaign to create a state income tax.

Hunter: He's pessimistic about the idea. Says he's looked at polls showing the public is highly skeptical about adopting an income tax. Puts the onus on the governor to get it done.

Constantine: Agrees that the biggest problem in our state is our regressive tax system. We need to fix business taxes to encourage job growth.

Q: How will you improve services to unincorporated King County?

Hunter: Observes that it's not possible to provide the services to rural areas in the same way as to urban Seattle. That's why we have cities.

Constantine: Must annex rural areas to get taxing authority. "The county's tax system is like a two-legged stool - it stands on property tax and sales tax."

Phillips: We need to transfer the last remaining pockets of unincorporated King County to cities so they can receive better county services.

Q: How can we find a workable compromise on the Critical Area Ordinance?

Jarrett: Believes we should give landowners the latitude to meet the regulations in creative ways.

Constantine: He lead the county council through the adoption of the CAO. He argues reisdents need to preserve their property for its future owners.

Phillips: Most of our work is behind us on the CAO. The guidelines are sound.

Hunter: "People hate it, fight it and don't think it's fair." He likes Jarrett's method of meeting its requirements creatively.

That's it for this post. More coverage on the way as the forum continues!


Blogger SquarePeg said...

Great live blog, Kathleen. Thanks so much!

May 6, 2009 8:20 PM  

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