Democrat Manka Dhingra and Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund squared off at a debate held on the Microsoft campus on Tuesday as moderators from KIRO 7 grilled them on issues.
The candidates are competing for a powerful seat in the Washington state Senate representing the 45th Legislative District. Whichever candidate wins will likely tip the balance of power in the Senate.
State races across the country have taken on new significance in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory last November.
When asked whether this race was a proxy for national politics, Dhingra said she was not running against Trump, but for her constituents.
A key element Englund brought up multiple times as a platform through the debate was her position that she was running against an “extremist” Seattle that she said supports measures unpopular in the 45th district like income taxes, injection sites and liberal hostility toward conservatives.
The possibility of safe drug-consumption and -injection sites being set up in King County as one part of a measure to address the opioid epidemic has become controversial in previous months.
Neither candidate said they would support a safe consumption site in their district.
“I do not believe that a safe consumption site is the right thing for the Eastside,” Dhingra said.
However, Dhingra followed up by saying if Seattle or other cities want a consumption site, they should be allowed to do so.
She framed the debate as a matter of public health policy and not politics.
Englund said consumption sites would enable drug users’ addiction. She said she would be open to a passing legislation banning injection sites statewide.
Englund also incorrectly claimed that the county wants to place a consumption site in the 45th district.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle has been receptive to placing a site there, but other cities are allowed to bar the sites.
So far, cities in the 45th district have not signaled they would welcome a site.
As the Trump administration rolls back protections for accessing birth control nationally, both Englund and Dhingra said there should be protections for women.
Englund said women should have birth control protections enforced by the state, but wouldn’t say she would support mandating insurance companies cover the cost of birth control.
Dhingra took a harder stance and said she would sponsor a bill making it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against women in Washington.
Also delving into national politics, the candidates were asked whether they supported state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuits against the Trump administration, notably over its travel ban on travelers from specific, Mulsim-majority countries.
“I think the attorney general is stepping outside his bounds,” Englund said, saying she would like to see him focus on issues closer to home.
Dhingra said she fully supports Ferguson’s actions.
Many questions dealt with strictly local issues, too, including traffic congestion, transit and green energy.
Dhingra said she would like to see investments in green energy that can spur the economy. She cited the decision by BMW to locate a plant in Moses Lake, which has an abundance of green energy, as proof of its economic viability.
Englund said the state should look to electric cars and getting fuel combustion vehicles off the road to reduce greenhouse gas, but that she would not support a carbon tax.
“At the end of the day, transportation solutions should be for reducing congestion,” she said.
She would support expanded bus service to help reduce congestion.
She criticized the state’s Department of Transporation as well as Sound Transit 3 (ST3) for mishandling transit issues.
Englund said she would seek to repeal the ST3 car tab tax that was approved by voters last November to pay for light rail and bus expansion.
The tab tax led to a large increase in many vehicle owner’s tab tax, which was tied to the car’s value but used old metrics that do not factor in devaluation.
She would also support making the Sound Transit board elected positions instead of appointments.
Dhingra said people in the 45th district need more transit options, and that light rail will be valuable for residents.
“We want light rail,” she said, referencing the fact that the 45th district voted for the ST3 expansion that will bring rail to Redmond. “We should have had it 10 years ago.”
Dhingra views the property tax increases, which hit the 45th district as part of the state Republican’s solution to fully fund education according to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision, as burdensome and promised to repeal them.
She said funding essential state functions through sales and property taxes was too unpredictable and supported a capital gains tax.
Englund said the state is already bringing in money from an economy growing by billions of dollars each year, and that it should look at how it’s spending the revenue it already receives.
“A Legislature needs to be nimble, it needs to be quick, it also needs to exercise fiscal responsibility,” she said.
Englund said she would not support a state income tax.
Regulations and taxes was also a contributing factor for Amazon deciding to locate a second headquarters outside of Seattle, Englund said.
Dhingra contested this, and said it was a lack of infrastructure spending that drove them away.
Ballots for the Nov. 7 election will be mailed out on Oct. 18.