Social issues key to state legislative race

Rep. Maureen Walsh is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage, positions Mary Ruth Edwards opposes.

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In the past year, state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, has become known around the world for her speech on the floor of the state Legislature in support of same-sex marriage.

Her break with the Republican Party platform on social issues such as this has drawn Walsh a challenger on the November ballot.

Mary Ruth Edwards, R-Prosser, is a teacher and former Marine. When Prosser became part of the 16th District after the 2010 redistricting, Edwards said she looked to see who her representatives were.

"I found that I had some ideological differences with Maureen Walsh, and felt that I would not like to be represented by her," she said.

Edwards cited Walsh's pro-choice viewpoints in addition to her support of same-sex marriage. She also said Walsh has voted to increase the size of government on multiple occasions, and that her views run counter to the Republican Party platform.

"When you vote against your own platform then I'm disappointed, because you haven't lived up to my expectations," said Edwards.

In spite of her challenger, Walsh remains confident heading into the election. She commanded a solid majority in the primary, and feels her positions on social issues are consistent with the founding beliefs of her party.

"Seems to me there was a time when the core tenets of the Republican Party platform were freedom and liberty," she said.

Walsh also said that she doesn't believe her district, especially in the Walla Walla area, is as conservative as it might seem.

"I've been here for 29 years. I've got a pretty good pulse on this issue," she said.

Although Edwards has criticized Walsh for voting with Olympia's Democratic majority at times, Walsh feels her ability to reach across the aisle has helped her get things done during her eight years in the Legislature. For example, she said, she helped to pass a bill extending a business and occupation tax exemption for agricultural products last session, largely by persuading Frank Chopp, a Democrat and the speaker of the House, to support her.

Both Edwards and Walsh acknowledge Washington faces tough decisions as the Legislature continues to work on solving budget problems. Both suggested bringing state worker pay and benefits more in line with private sector offerings was an important part of the solution.

Walsh said she favored investing in social services, like early childhood education, that provide good returns. Both candidates support reforming Washington's B&O tax to make the state more attractive for start-up companies.

Although Walsh has legislative experience, Edwards feels that she'll be able to get the job done in Olympia.

"I've got life experience behind me. I think I'm up to the challenge," she said.

Walsh hopes that even voters who disagree with her stance on some issues will respect her beliefs.

"What you see is what you get. I'm as transparent as Saran wrap," she said.

For Edwards, just reminding Walsh she's not unopposed is important.

"(Olympia) seems to have an impact on people's opinion. They lose that connection with their constituents," she said. "Sometimes they need a serious challenger."

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