Newcastle hosts forum for high-profile state candidates

November 3, 2011

By Christina Lords

Candidates for the state’s top office met Newcastle residents and laid out dueling plans for the future Oct. 22 during a forum at The Golf Club at Newcastle.

The candidates for governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee, touted education reform as top priorities for the state more than a year before voters choose a successor to outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire.

State attorney general hopefuls Reagan Dunn, a Republican, and Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, also participated in the Eastside Candidate Forum. The candidates — both King County councilmen — said more should be done statewide to protect consumers from fraud and foreclosure.

Jay Inslee

Rob McKenna

Reagan Dunn

Bob Ferguson

Candidates could speak for up to 15 minutes during the seventh annual forum. The event attracted about 100 residents and local politicians.

The major party candidates in the race for governor agree restoring funding to the state’s education system will bring stability to Washington’s job market and aid the state’s still-struggling economy.

How they propose to do that, however, is where some differences between McKenna, the state attorney general, and Inslee, a U.S. representative, begin to surface.

Inslee said the state must aggressively seek new ways to encourage development in the business and technology sectors, implement reforms for education, restore education funding and deliver government services more efficiently.

“We are no longer going to accept a two- to three-year delay in removing substandard teachers from the classroom,” he said.

The state must follow through with its pilot program for the teacher and principal evaluation process to set a quantifiable expectation of high achievement, he said.

Years of cuts to higher education — which McKenna said has been slashed to 1989-90 levels even though the system has about 34,000 more students today — must come to an end.

“Fewer than half of the jobs that require college degrees are being filled today by people who earn their degrees in Washington state,” McKenna said. “Thank goodness our employers are competitive that they are able to attract people to move to Washington state to take jobs, but wouldn’t it be better if the majority of those jobs were being filled by people who grew up here or earned their college degrees here?”

Without an educated work force, new businesses will see little incentive to make Washington home and employment opportunities will continue to be filled from workers from out of state, he said.

Inslee called for more opportunities — such as skill centers, apprenticeships and technical colleges — for students who don’t go on to a four-year university.

“We’ve got to set an expectation level that 100 percent of our kids graduate from high school,” he said. “By adopting some risk-based assessment programs and by focusing our mentoring … we know that we can do this.”

McKenna said teachers who are willing to work in high-risk or low-performing school districts should be paid more to even the odds for Washington students.

“The largest amount of money is spent in the schools with the wealthiest parents,” he said. “The least amount of money in every one of these districts is spent in schools with the poorest students, because the money follows the adults, not the kids.”

Candidates emphasize consumer protection

Ferguson and Dunn said protecting Washington consumers is in the long-term interest of the state.

“We know in our own experience that there are all sorts of unscrupulous businesses that prey upon folks who may be senior citizens, who speak English as a second language,” Ferguson said. “We see that all the time. The Office of the Attorney General is in a position to do something about that.”

Dunn said consumer protection applies to several different types of services.

“This is an ongoing challenge that every AG will face,” Dunn said. “Whether it’s telemarketing scams, Internet scams or even cyber bullying … we need to provide protections in that area.”

The state needs to enforce a new foreclosure law, Ferguson said. State lawmakers passed the Fairness Foreclosure Act earlier this year. The legislation aims to aid homeowners with finding resolutions to foreclosure proceedings with their lender or service provider.

Dunn said more education and preventative work by the attorney general’s office is necessary to protect the public’s safety interests, especially with increased gang violence in South King County.

“We need to give both the resources and the tools to fight those gangs,” he said.

Both candidates said they would continue to support work that protects open spaces and the environment.

Ferguson cited efforts to improve Puget Sound’s water quality as an example of how the attorney general can impact the protection of the environment. Dunn said he would support continued litigation to encourage cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington.

Event organizer John Jensen said the forum is an avenue for candidates to face the public and each other in a noncombative way.

“They all came here and operated in the spirit of what we wanted to have happen here today, which was just the opportunity to meet and greet them,” Jensen said.

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