For two state lawmakers competing in a Nov. 5 special election, it was the first chance to trade jabs face-to-face.
Democratic Sen. Nathan Schlicher came out swinging, nearly a month after primary-election results left him trailing Republican Rep. Jan Angel in the 26th District race for state Senate.
Schlicher, appointed in January to replace Derek Kilmer and now trying to keep the seat, was on offense at the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum. He accused Angel of seeking to roll back mandates on health-insurance coverage and opposing closure of a tax break.
After winning the primary by more than 9 percentage points, Angel can afford to be less confrontational, but she did suggest Schlicher wasn’t being upfront on his position on tax restrictions.
The tone of the rhetoric will likely get even sharper over the next nine weeks because the special election carries big implications for control of the Senate, where a mostly Republican coalition holds a one-vote majority. Before the primary, Schlicher, Angel and their allies already had spent nearly $600,000 trying to win over voters.
Schlicher, an emergency-room doctor from Gig Harbor, on Tuesday targeted a proposal Angel backed but that never passed into law that would have ended dozens of state coverage mandates for insurance companies -- including some cancer screenings. Instead, federal rules would have applied.
Angel, a former banker and business owner from Port Orchard, has denounced such criticism in intensely personal terms, including in a mail advertisement featuring her daughters.
“If you think that I would ever take any kind of cancer screening away from any woman or anyone -- I lost my mother to ovarian cancer,” Angel said Tuesday. “I lost my cousin Jeannie to breast cancer. She left a six-year-old daughter and a husband.”
Angel spoke critically of mandates as they relate to abortion, however. After the forum she was more direct, saying she didn’t oppose mandating cancer screenings. She said she wasn’t familiar with the bill she co-sponsored that would have repealed such mandates, but pointed to another bill she backed that created a new mandate related to chemotherapy.
While Angel put her views on the record, Schlicher outlined his own on whether lawmakers should be required to summon two-thirds supermajorities before raising taxes.
Voters have repeatedly called for those restrictions, but the state Supreme Court struck them down last winter, and Angel said her rival didn’t support a GOP-proposed constitutional amendment to restore them.
Schlicher told the crowd he would support a constitutional change to fulfill the voters’ will, even though he personally has concerns about it. He wants the change to be part of a “grand bargain” lifting Washington from its place as the nation’s most regressive tax state.
“If you got everybody in this state to the national average on our state taxes, based upon income, 80 percent of Washingtonians would pay less,” Schlicher said. “But,” he added, “I’m not certain a state income tax is the solution that Washingtonians want.”
The constitutional change, he argued, should also maintain lawmakers’ ability to close tax exemptions without a two-thirds vote.
Schlicher criticized Angel over one specific tax break that would have benefited wealthy married couples.
Lawmakers this year, with Schlicher’s support and over Angel’s opposition, closed an exemption opened by a ruling from the high court. It would have allowed some couples to avoid paying estate tax upon their deaths. Schlicher said it would have cut off money to schools.
Many Republicans argued it wrongly penalized taxpayers retroactively and that money for education could be found elsewhere. Angel said she fought against more than 11 pages’ worth of taxes this year.
Angel also touted her proposal to administer drug tests to welfare recipients suspected of drug use.
“I wanted to make sure first of all that we’re feeding families, not feeding a drug habit,” she said.
The plan also calls for steering people to drug treatment at government expense, but Schlicher said funding for treatment is lacking.
“So it’s kind of like saying, ‘we’ll offer you help, right as soon as we get around to funding it,’” he said.