Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and her Republican opponent, Randall "Randy" Dutton of Montesano, sparred over the state's minimum wage, now the highest in the country, and alternative energy at Friday's Sunrise Rotary Club meeting at SunLand Golf and Country Club.
Kessler, along with Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represents the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and one-third of Grays Harbor County.
Kessler is running for re-election to a ninth term in her Position 2 seat. Dutton is a retired naval officer who lives near Montesano.
"I think it needs to be revamped," Dutton said of the state's minimum wage law that has been in effect since 1999.
Attempts to make the minimum wage a living wage have eliminated many entry level jobs and priced teens seeking those jobs out of the market, he said.
Removing those jobs affects more than just those businesses and teens because those jobs are supposed to be entry level to get new employees into the workforce, Dutton said.
But Kessler said changing or eliminating the law wasn't that simple.
"The electorate voted for it and we can't touch it."
Initiative 688, approved by 66 percent of Washington voters in 1998, increased the state minimum wage for employees 18 years old and older from $4.90 per hour to $5.70 an hour effective Jan. 1, 1999, and to $6.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2000.
Then it required the state to adjust the minimum wage on Jan. 1 each year after that based upon the federal Consumer Price Index. So it increased from $8 per hour to $8.07 on Jan. 1, 2008, now the nation's highest.
The next highest are California and Massachusetts at $8 per hour, Oregon at $7.95, Illinois at $7.75, Vermont at $7.68 and Connecticut at $7.65.
Kessler said she made 95 cents an hour when she began working in 1956 so $8 an hour 50 years later doesn't seem unreasonable. People working minimum wage jobs also are doing jobs others don't want to do, she said.
"The annual increases are a bad idea but you voted for it," Kessler said.
Overriding a citizen initiative after two years can be done by a simple majority vote. (During the first two years after passage, a two-thirds vote is necessary.)
But Kessler said the political will does exist to override
The two also disagreed over how much of a role alternative energy should play in the state's future.
Kessler said the state has increased its amount of wind energy "a lot." Property owners in eastern Washington are getting a lot of money for allowing windmills on their land, she said.
Wind energy is expanding across the state and has become the state's fastest-growing renewable energy source, Kessler said.
Dutton said the state must use all types of energy to become energy-independent.
Wind energy is more expensive than solar energy but new nanotechnology will make solar energy better, he said.
Wave energy is another promising alternative energy source but it has been opposed by some environmentalists, Dutton said.
Hydroelectric power helps balance the energy supply when the wind isn't blowing and new technologies will double the amount of energy from
off-shore wind, Dutton said.
The state's ethanol mandates should be repealed because ethanol is corrosive and damages engines unless they have been specifically modified for it, he said.
Kessler said when she worked as executive director for United Way Grays Harbor, she saw the "unbelievable" impact of the northern spotted owl decision on regular people and that's what made her run for the Legislature.
"Nobody deserves to live in poverty because of a political decision. That's why I ran for the Legislature, to bring a rural perspective," she said.
Kessler said Forbes magazine has ranked Washington as the third best state in the country to do business, up from fifth.
Washington has the country's fifth healthiest economy and the Legislature will have money in the bank when writing the next budget.
"That's why I ran, to create family-wage jobs for the 24th District," Kessler said.
Tax breaks approved by the Legislature both created and saved jobs, Kessler added.
Dutton said during his military career he was responsible for going in and finding the problem and then solving it.
"I believe the Legislature has been overspending for a while and both parties are at fault. They can't say no, so they say yes to everyone," Dutton said.
"I want to fund the priorities of government and say 'No' to special interests. I hope to bring common sense to the Legislature."
Dutton said government is essential for providing the infrastructure for jobs - roads and utilities and telecommunications - but otherwise should just stay out of the way.
Dutton is Kessler's first opponent since Teri Schwiethale of Port Angeles unsuccessfully ran against her in 2000.
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