Halfway through a debate Saturday afternoon with three other candidates for an open 24th Legislative District seat, Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger paused to assess accusations against him.
"A lot of people are talking about me; I'm flattered," he joked.
Not in the most positive sense. Larry Carter and Jack Dwyer, candidates seeking the office held by House majority leader Lynn Kessler for nearly 20 years, each took verbal shots at the Democratic commissioner at the League of Women Voters-sponsored debate at the Sequim Senior Activity Center on July 24.
Tharinger and Sequim Republican candidate Jim McEntire spent most of the afternoon talking about the state budget and how to get citizens of the 24th Legislative District - from Grays Harbor and Forks to Port Angeles and Sequim - out of an economic funk.
McEntire said more fiscal responsibility and less regulation is the key to promoting a thriving economy.
"The principal task before us is supporting business formation and business growth," he said. "We need to take out existing regulations that get in the way."
Tharinger said a key to building back the economy is working together with other leaders, including stepping across party lines.
"Jobs and the economy are huge (issues)," Tharinger said. "We're facing a worldwide recession. We need to get our economy going ... it's collaboration, being unified (and) making sure the organization responds to being fiscally responsible."
Dwyer, a Democrat and small-business owner from Montesano, joined Carter, a Port Ludlow Republican, in decrying what they see as Tharinger's shortcomings: his focus on salmon recovery rather than "human" issues, his "politics as usual" approach and his plan to fulfill the rest of his county commissioner term at the same time as working in Olympia as a state representative.
Dwyer said Tharinger's proposal constitutes "double-dipping," as he'd be taking in two paychecks and trying to work both positions for a year.
"We don't need double-dipping at the taxpayers' trough," Dwyer said.
Carter wondered aloud if the county commissioner could be fair in voting for issues in Olympia that have connections to the county.
The charges prompted Tharinger to respond, "I'm more than willing (to) take an unpaid leave when Legislature is in session."
McEntire, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, said he'd resign his position if he were elected.
Position 1 candidates focus on jobs, budget
Candidates for the 24th Legislative District's other office (Position 1) also focused on the economy and job growth.
Incumbent Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim legislator and volunteer firefighter, said he hopes to focus on making government as efficient as possible while still maintaining services.
Dan Gase, a Port Angeles Republican and real estate broker, said he's concerned with what kind of economy legislators are leaving for future generations.
"We've had a terrible spending problem," Gase said. "We have plenty of tax dollars coming in (to the state)."
Craig Durgan, a Port Ludlow Republican, echoed Gase's sentiment that state legislators are overspending.
"We must cut off this crazy, out-of-control budget," Durgan said. "Kevin seems to think the only way (to do that) is more taxes. I disagree."
Van De Wege defended legislators' suspension of Initiative I-960, a tax-limiting measure subjecting increases in state fees to a simple majority vote of the Senate and House instead of a two-thirds vote. (Legislators suspended I-960 in February).
Van De Wege pointed out that the state budget called for such an action, and that other initiatives also have been suspended.
Gase said the Republican party is open to starting new programs but insists he and others in the party are seeking fiscal responsibility and no new taxes.
Durgan said he'd promote cutting out bureaucracy in government, particularly in schools.
"Teachers need to teach, not make reports to administrators," Durgan said. "Principals need to be able to hire and fire a teacher. They can't do that right now."
Van De Wege insisted the state can't keep providing services with measures like I-960.
"You can't have it both ways," he said.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.
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