WENATCHEE — From health care and education to taxes and the role of government, candidates for state representative in the 12th Legislative District made their positions clear at a forum Thursday.
The Wenatchee Rotary Club hosted the forum ahead of the Nov. 6 election. Voting starts Oct. 19.
District 12 covers Chelan and Douglas counties and parts of Grant and Okanogan counties.
Family physician Dr. Ann Diamond and Chelan County Commissioner Keith Goehner are looking to replace retiring state Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, in Position 1. Goehner, 66, of Dryden, is running as a Republican, and Diamond, 56, of Mazama, has listed no party preference.
Public school teacher Valerie Sarratt is challenging state Rep. Mike Steele, serving his first term in Position 2. Sarratt, 53, of Twisp, is a Democrat, and Steele, 36, of Chelan, is a Republican.
Diamond noted that none of the state legislators are doctors, even though they make decisions on health care policies. She said the district isn't effectively meeting addiction treatment and mental health needs.
"We have two state hospitals — Eastern and Western — and neither of them can handle the number of people who need to have a commitment," she said. "When somebody's gravely disabled, our small regions do not have the capacity. Western has lost $50 million worth of federal funding, and Eastern — for our entire region — right now has 10 beds."
She said another health-related concern is people buying medicine in Canada or Mexico because they can't afford it in the United States. Her own pharmacist buys asthma medication in Mexico, she said.
Goehner said that as a commissioner, he's seen how state legislation can have negative impacts on local governments. He criticized "unfunded mandates."
"The bigger the government gets, whether it's the state or the federal, the more demands there are on your limited resources," he said. Adding, "When you put something in place, it must have a sustainable revenue source. Too often, we've reacted to demands on government. We've put things in place and then, come to find out, we don't have the means to continue that."
Goehner said the state must fund certain things, like education, but could use discretion in other areas. Reprioritizing could mean more money for issues like homelessness and affordable housing, he said.
Sarratt said she supports policies focusing on clean air and water, fair wages, workplace safety, and protections for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. She stressed the need for affordable, universal health care.
"It's time for the majority to push back on the pharmaceutical companies and the private health insurance industries, whose obscene profits place in jeopardy the health of our citizens every single day," she said. Adding, "By including everyone in a health-care-for-all system and by eliminating corporate profit from it, we spread the risks and lower the costs."
Sarratt called for additional funding for early childhood education, reductions in class sizes and for preschool teachers to be paid the same as other educators. In addition, she said she wants a tax system in which everyone pays a fair share.
Steele, who also serves as executive director for the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, said economic development is a passion of his. One major concern he said he's heard is the need for workforce housing.
"It's becoming increasingly more complicated to find homes for these folks we want to recruit back to our communities," he said. "Where do we put our teachers, our nurses, our young professionals when places like Wenatchee have a less than 1 percent vacancy rate and the median home price in Chelan is $450,000?"
Steele said he's worked to bring money to local communities for things like infrastructure and hospitals. However, he said a two-year term isn't enough to meet all of his goals, as public policy can take years to go through the Legislature.