Both Rep. Brian Blake and his Republican challenger Joel McEntire say the 19th District race comes down to two different governing styles.
McEntire told The Daily News this week that he decided to challenge Blake (D-Aberdeen), who is seeking his ninth two-year term, because he will be a more independent, assertive representative.
“Brian Blake is pretty much universally said to be a nice guy,” said McEntire, of Cathlamet. “That calm demeanor has made it difficult for him to stand up against things that are unpopular with constituents or with his leadership. … I enjoy debate. I enjoy that type of dynamic conflict of combat and standing for something and getting your hands dirty.”
Blake responded Tuesday that the “firebrand” style of governing isn’t successful.
“I want to go there and make governments serve the people and serve communities. I think in many cases my opponent just wants to shrink the government,” Blake said.
Blake pointed to $85 million in state funding for a reconfigured Industrial Way and Oregon Way interchange in Longview, $25 million for a grade separation rail project in Kelso and money for a new reservoir in Kelso as well as ongoing support for new buildings on the Lower Columbia College campus as recent successes.
“We do those things as a team, so I don’t want to be seen as taking all the credit for any of this stuff, but I think solving the McCleary (school funding) court case, even as flawed as the solution is, is a win,” he said. “The last few years, we’ve passed some really good budgets.”
He said he wasn’t happy with how the McCleary fix handled teacher experience and said he still wants to work on funding special education programs around the state.
McEntire said he wants to expand vocational training to students who might not want to attend a four-year college.
“Setting them up for trade schools and other trainings and apprenticeships that are good paying jobs and can still bring fulfillment and happiness would be a good direction to move,” he said. “More options, not fewer; that would be the model of my education plan.”
Both candidates said they would like to leave school safety in the hands of individual school districts instead of creating state mandates.
McEntire, a Marine Corps Reservist, said safety measures could include metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs or camera surveillance. He also said arming teachers would be an option if they are trained, experienced and comfortable with it.
“When someone is properly trained, like I am, and has the desire to protect those they care about, there’s no philosophical way I could turn them down,” he said.
Blake said he wants to work on attracting private businesses to the Columbia Riverfront, provide funding for fish hatcheries to increase their production and fight cuts to salmon production.
The Department of Ecology’s decision to deny a water quality permit to Millennium Bulk Terminals based on “non water quality issues” made the decision look political instead of based in science and law, he said.
“That’s a distortion of the process and it creates a lack of confidence in the neutrality of Department of Ecology,” he said. “Somehow we’ve got to restore faith in the important work that the Department of Ecology does.”
McEntire said environmental regulation can cripple new businesses. And Ecology has overstepped its boundaries, he said.
“(Ecology) really just puts a bind on businesses that they can’t oppose them or they fear bankruptcy from courts,” he said. “In general, there is a climate of regulation and red tape that keeps businesses from being profitable in a way I think is unfair.”
It will take a change in representation to change this standard, he said, because Seattle politicians are not “sympathetic” to the problems in the 19th District, which covers Kelso and Cowlitz County west of the Cowlitz River, all of Wahkiakum and Pacific counties and parts of Grays Harbor and Lewis counties.
McEntire said Blake often favors tax increases as the only solution to problems, whereas McEntire said he is open to reducing, maintaining or raising taxes, depending on the situation.
Blake said McEntire’s accusation is a campaign move.
“He’s scratching for anything. I think I’ve fought to keep taxes low as much as anybody in the Legislature. In fact, this last year we’ve voted to reduce property taxes when we saw that there was enough money coming in for school funding,” he said.
In response to McEntire’s claim that his vote for a controversial public disclosure bill to exempt the Legislature from the state Open Records Act rushed through the Legislature in February was “cowardly” and “spineless,” Blake said the substance of the bill was good but the process was “repugnant.”
“We’ve got to do better ... and I intend to keep a close eye on efforts to do anything like that in the future,” he said.
McEntire was deployed with the Marines to Kuwait in April and was gone for much of the primary campaign season, but still beat out fellow Republican David Parsons with nearly 22 percent of the vote. Blake took 58 percent.
“I love this district,” Blake said. “My family got here in 1888. It’s in my blood and I’m looking forward to getting back to Olympia and fighting for the people of the 19th District.”
McEntire said he has campaigned every day since he returned on Aug. 30 to make up the ground he lost while deployed. He expects the race to be close.
“The question is what will the voters decide to do? When you have incumbent, they know what they’re going to get. That’s the political calculus. They can have something better, but … they’re not precisely sure what they’re going to get. Is this person going to be more in line with the district? That’s something every voter has to decide.”