WALLA WALLA — Issues as diverse as same-sex marriage, student loans and the state budget were on the table before two candidates for the state House of Representatives Monday.
Incumbent Maureen Walsh and challenger Mary Ruth Edwards discussed their views at a forum sponsored by the American Association of University Women. The event at Walla Walla Community College drew about 50 people who also quizzed candidates for two seats on the Walla Walla County commission.
Walsh and Edwards are both running for the Legislative District 16 House seat. The district covers all of Walla Walla and Columbia counties, as well as portions of Benton and Franklin counties. Both have stated they prefer the Republican Party.
Walsh is running for her fifth term while Edwards is taking her first run at the seat. Edwards is a resident of Prosser and Walsh is a College Place resident.
While Edwards and Walsh have sharply differing views on same-sex marriage, Walsh having voted to support it and Edwards adamantly opposing it, both were in agreement that management of the state’s budget is a major issue. “We’ve gotten into a bad habit of passing unsustainable budgets,” Walsh quipped.
During the discussion, Walsh stressed her support for K-12 education and the need to increase the involvement of parents in helping school their children. Edwards cited her personal experience as a school teacher and said she supports an initiative on the ballot that would allow up to 40 public charter schools in Washington state over a five-year period.
Asked if they would favor tax increases to bring down student loan debt, Edwards said “that would not be my first option.” Instead, she said, she would favor budget cuts and elimination of entitlements, especially for undocumented immigrants.
Walsh pointed out that “a very startling statistic” for most people is that 65 percent of the state’s budget goes to education and 30 percent goes to social services. “That leaves 5 to 8 percent of the budget to work with,” which has led legislators to “really scrub those budgets” to find money without raising taxes.
Returning to the topic of undocumented immigrants, Walsh criticized the federal government for failing to address the issue and find some way to allow immigrants who want to work here to do so legally. “The fed needs to get off (its) duff” and make changes, she said. Furthermore, “if a child is born here, they are a citizen,” she said.
Edwards said she would agree the immigration system is broken and also criticized the fact that Washington is one of two states that allows people to obtain drivers’ licenses without proving legal residency, which she contended leads to voter fraud. “We need a guest worker program,” she said.
The charter school issue returned to the discussion as the closing question when an audience member asked “what are the good parts of the initiative?”
Edwards said that while not every district is going to have a charter school, the measure would allow state money to follow students into a charter school if that’s where they choose to go. Such schools could also benefit underperforming students, she said.
Walsh said charter schools would not only be for underperforming students.
“I think it’s an option for (school) districts to find a way to help students find a way to get an education,” she said. “I think being able to provide options for parents … I think I’m in favor of that.”