NCW — After former state Rep. Matt Manweller, who was facing sexual misconduct allegations, announced his intention of resigning if re-elected in November, voters chose the Ellensburg Republican anyway.
County commissioners from the 13th Legislative District appointed Alex Ybarra as a replacement in January. Now, the Quincy Republican is facing competition to keep his seat in the district, which includes Lincoln, Kittitas and parts of Grant and Yakima counties.
Kittitas County Democrats Chair Steve Verhey said he’s running to provide a choice of candidates. The Ellensburg resident said he’d like to see more voters choose based on the person and not party.
Although Democrats control both the state House and Senate, Eastern Washington tends to vote Republican. For Verhey, campaigning in a red district is about informing voters.
His priorities include climate change and tax fairness. Because everyone wants lower taxes, he said, it’s easy for politicians to convince people to be against all taxes.
“In Washington state, we are dead last in tax fairness in the country,” he said. “What that means is that our lowest income people pay far more of their income in taxes than our wealthiest people. ... I think if people understood that we, as a state government, have chosen to have such an unfair tax system and that it hurts the poorest people and it hurts all of us average people, that the way out of this is to have people who can perfectly well afford to pay more taxes actually pay more taxes.”
This past session, the Legislature passed a $52.4 billion operating budget that relies on a number of tax increases. The state was already projected to bring in an additional $4.5 billion over the next two years.
“I think what they passed this year was just unneeded, and I think those things just need to go away,” Ybarra said. “I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish that just because we don’t have the votes in the Legislature to make that happen, but that’s the biggest thing is just to get rid of those taxes that were imposed this year and even try to lower the ones that are already imposed at the moment.”
Along with education, Ybarra’s top priorities include energy and ensuring farmers have enough water for their crops and livestock.
He said he likes where the economy seems to be headed, particularly with agriculture and wine.
“One of the things I’d like to see is the economy get better for the small rural towns, like it has in Quincy,” he said. “We’re a good example of what can happen if we get all the pieces together and work on some things. But there’s a lot of other towns out there that need support. They need broadband or they need infrastructure in order to increase their economies in all those little rural towns.”
The 13th Legislative District is diverse and the counties have different needs. As far as Grant County, Verhey foresees a bright future.
“I think the sky’s the limit when it comes to agriculture,” he said. “We’re already seeing big California wine growers buying up land in Washington because they think it’s going to get too hot in California to grow grapes. California grows a lot of other really high-value stuff that I expect we’re going to be able to grow.”
Ybarra touts among his achievements passing a bill that will let higher-education institutions consider other qualifications instead of just one test when considering applicants for their teacher preparation programs. They must still take the test, but a low score won’t keep them from being accepted.
“I bet at least 10 people have come up and said, ‘I’m going to become a teacher because of the bill you passed. I can now get into teaching programs because I don’t have to pass that test I was failing before,’ he said.
He pointed out that even applicants with low scores on the initial test would still have to pass the program.
Verhey, a teacher at Wahluke High School in Mattawa, said he understands the reasoning behind Ybarra’s teacher assessment bill but believes it’s the wrong approach. Republicans argue that affirmative action would reduce standards, he said, but that’s what the new law does.
“We need more Hispanic teachers, but there are plenty of potential Hispanic teachers out there who can pass the test and would become teachers if they saw it as a profession that had a certain amount of value socially and if it paid reasonably well,” he said. “The other party has done more than anyone else to reduce the status of teachers and to oppose paying teachers what they’re worth.”
Voting starts July 19 for the Aug. 6 primary. In this partisan race, both candidates will advance to the Nov. 5 general election regardless of who gets more votes in the primary.