Political experience often matters in picking legislators. But that’s a smaller factor to weigh than the positions candidates are taking on school funding in the two House races in the 35th Legislative District.
We favor Irene Bowling, an independent Democrat from Silverdale, over one-term Republican Rep. Dan Griffey in the Nov. 8 vote.
Bowling, 59, is a highly educated music teacher and for 37 years has owned and operated a small business; Griffey, 45, is a lieutenant firefighter in Mason County who lives in Allyn.
In the other race, we favor two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Drew MacEwen of Union over Independent Democrat Craig Patti of Allyn.
MacEwen, 43, is a professional investment adviser and solutions-oriented conservative. Patti, 37, is a firefighter, former 911 dispatcher from Thurston County and former North Mason School Board member.
The 35th District runs from Bremerton to Shelton, includes all of Mason County, and covers west Thurston County and a swath of suburbia along Olympia’s south boundary. The district’s representation has frequently swung between the two major parties.
Position 1: Griffey is showing signs of growing flexibility in representing the district, going beyond the hard-edged anti-tax rhetoric that animated his earlier campaigns.
The lifelong resident of the district coauthored and passed bipartisan legislation that addresses sexual assault in a constructive way by reducing the backlog of evidence in rape cases, known as “rape kits.” He favors collective bargaining rights for state workers, which earned him an endorsement from the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Bowling is the better candidate for the long term. She has the best grasp of K-12 school funding challenges facing the Legislature. She understands that simply replacing voter-approved property-tax levies with an increased state collection of property taxes is only a partial step.
Griffey backs the tax shift, and we commend him for acknowledging that such a shift may be in fact a tax increase. But the shift doesn’t raise all the funds the state likely needs to answer the state Supreme Court order in the McCleary case from 2012.
Bowling grasps that new revenue sources could be necessary to avoid cuts in the social safety net. She favors repealing some of the state’s 600-plus tax exemptions — such as the bottled water sales tax exemption, a sales tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers, and a tax break meant for pulp mills now used by oil refineries.
Though Griffey and Bowling oppose an income tax and a capital gains tax, electing Bowling at least helps ensure a House Democratic majority. This in turn makes it more likely that a smarter array of revenue ideas get considered during the 2017 session.
Position 2: Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, has earned a third term. He is becoming the kind of pragmatic leader that this far-flung legislative district needs. On the negative side, he can be a partisan who sticks with his caucus, and we’re leery of his desire to step back from state mandates for improving schools.
But he shows creativity and has helped lead others to embrace new and better ideas. This attitude is needed in the coming session as legislators tackle new funding for schools.
An example of this aproach is the school-construction proposal that then-Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee wrote jointly with MacEwen in 2014. Their plan would have bonded state Lottery proceeds to finance the addition of classroom space for local school districts in anticipation of the class-size teacher reductions necessary under the Supreme Court rulings in McCleary.
MacEwen wanted the state to finance all of the classroom additions for K-3 grades, relieving local taxpayers of the direct burden. After it passed in the House, the GOP-controlled Senate let it die.
Electing Craig Patti would move the House seat back to the Democratic side of the ledger, and we think most Thurston County voters in the district would welcome that. But Patti’s grasp of school issues is much less well developed than MacEwen’s or Bowling’s and smacks of Democratic talking points — just as Griffey’s position sounds more like standard GOP fare.
The Federation of State Employees also backed MacEwen, who supports collective bargaining rights.
The 35th District Senate seat is held by Tim Sheldon, who calls himself a Democrat but typically votes with the Senate’s majority Republican caucus.
Hiring Bowling and retaining MacEwen would give the district the pragmatic and balanced representation it needs.