Three-term Walla Walla senator faces challenger from Waitsburg

Scott Nettles says incumbent Sen. Mike Hewitt is not responsive and has too narrow a focus.

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As he prepares to run for his fourth term in the state Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is confident the 16th District will send him back to Olympia.

"I think I've worked really hard for my constituents and stayed in touch with them," he said.

Hewitt's challenger Scott Nettles, D-Waitsburg, disagrees.

"He's not listening to the people he's elected to represent. His focus is very narrow," said Nettles.

Nettles works at the Washington State Penitentiary and serves on the Waitsburg City Council. He acknowledges Hewitt has done good things for local agriculture, but still feels he's not representing the 16th District well. Nettles said that as a constituent he's contacted Hewitt several times via email without receiving a response.

Nettles also cited Hewitt's campaign contributors, who he said were mostly large corporations.

According to votesmart.org, Hewitt's top campaign contributor is Delta Dental. A variety of businesses and organizations are tied for the second largest contribution, including the Washington Bankers' Association, the NRA and Weyerhaeuser.

Both candidates know that the state is likely to face continuing budgetary challenges, but their approaches to solving the problems Washington faces are very different. Hewitt believes economic growth is the key to improving Washington's prosperity, and supports actions that limit the power of state employees' unions.

"I'm not anti-union. I just don't agree with them philosophically," he said. "I don't believe that everybody works equally well, so why should everybody get the same pay?"

Nettles said he believes the state can balance the budget without large layoffs of government employees or cuts in benefits.

"By cutting your wages, you cut your spending power. That hurts businesses downtown," he said, adding large cuts were likely to hurt the state in the long run, even if they save money now.

He said Hewitt has consistently supported anti-union policies.

"He's almost a rabidly anti-union individual," Nettles said.

Nettles believes Washington's financial problems can be solved by addressing inefficiencies in the budget. As an example, he pointed to the large markup that Correctional Industries charges on its finished products, which many state agencies are contractually required to purchase.

"It's all the little drops in the bucket that count," he said.

Hewitt disagreed that small cuts could solve the problem in the long-term, noting most of the state budget goes to education and social services.

Nettles received about 30 percent of the vote in the primary. Hewitt said he's not worried.

"Those people who voted for him probably don't even know who he is. They just see an 'R' by my name and they don't like it," he said.

Nettles is optimistic, noting he didn't campaign at all before the primary.

"That tells me there's a larger section of people out there who are not happy with the way things are going," he said.

If re-elected, Hewitt said he hopes to continue encouraging the growth he's seen over the past decade in Walla Walla.

"When I got elected 12 years ago, I couldn't get anybody to come here for a meeting," he said. "I'm happy that I never left Walla Walla and really got to know the place. I've really got some deep roots here."

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