Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) and his Democratic challenger John Thompson seem more like friends than rival candidates for the 20th Legislative District seat.
They agree on a variety of topics: the importance of providing internet access in rural districts, creating trade apprenticeship programs in high schools, providing healthcare and promoting mental health counseling as a way to address the opioid crisis.
Thompson said he is challenging DeBolt, who has served about 20 years in the legislature, to give voters more options. DeBolt ran unopposed during the three previous elections.
In an editorial board meeting with The Daily News, Thompson said his main criticism of DeBolt’s representation stems from his vote against a jobs bill in 2010 which would have allocated $5 million for a Winlock industrial park.
“We've gotten along quite well, but traditionally Republicans do not support education as much as the Democrats do,” Thompson added. “I believe we can focus our money better in certain areas. Education would be one, and health care would be another.”
He also said DeBolt appears to favor Lewis County a little more than the rest of the counties in the district: Cowlitz, Thurston and Clark.
DeBolt said they differ the most in their philosophical backgrounds.
“The first vote (Thompson) takes the day he enters the legislature is the vote that matters the most: who the Speaker of the House is,” DeBolt said. “If you're electing Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) Speaker of the House, you're electing the Seattle, King County liberal agenda that is, to me, hard on Washington.”
DeBolt said his primary goal is to provide broadband to rural communities through a “reverse auction” system that increases subsidies as communities get progressively farther away from large cities.
He also said he wants to fund solutions to flooding in Kalama, Packwood and Rochester and improve dam management on the Cowlitz River.
“(Flooding) is hampering economic development. It’s hampering the widening of the interstate. Too many people are being displaced from their homes,” DeBolt said. “We need a solution. … That's been one of my main impetuses to stay in (the legislature).”
DeBolt also pointed to the detox and mental health beds in the capital budget as a way to keep people in Cowlitz and Lewis counties instead of shipping them to Western State Hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile, Thompson said his priority is to create apprenticeship programs that both provide alternative career opportunities for high school students and also help address the large number of retirements in trade industries.
He also said infrastructure is a top priority, especially along Interstate 5, where he’d like to see three lanes through Lewis County.
Thompson also said he wants to focus on providing healthcare for everyone in the state.
“Regardless of what you think of the (Affordable Care Act), the ACA actually provided health care for my daughter. If it wasn’t for the ACA, she would not have had any,” he said. “We need to do something to make sure (everyone) is covered.”
DeBolt said it’s important to provide healthcare to everyone, but said he doesn’t think the solution is a single-payer system.
Both mentioned the importance of reducing carbon emissions, but said the proposed carbon fee initiative on November’s ballot would hurt motorists with increased gas prices and would not translate into benefits to roads or infrastructure. Thompson said he’d rather see all parties discuss the problem and pass a bill through the legislature.
And both said they opposed the proposed gun safety initiative, saying it was poorly written. DeBolt said the initiative demonstrated a lack of understanding about rural lifestyles. Thompson said that while he supports "common-sense" gun safety laws, the definition of assault rifles in the initiative is too broad.
During both the editorial board meeting and a League of Women Voters forum this week, DeBolt and Thompson seemed to prefer discussing problems rather than challenging each other.
“He's a pleasure. You're not supposed to say nice things about your opponent, but he and I actually agree on quite a bit,” DeBolt said. “I like having somebody to run against. Apathy is horrible.”