Candidate forum focuses on people with disabilities

Care about political issues pertaining to people with disabilities? You should, Joelle Brouner told a crowd gathered earlier this month for a legislative candidate forum at Clark College.

Chances are, you will experience a disability at some point in your lifetime, she said.

The forum drew every legislative candidate from the 17th, 18th and 49th legislative districts.

It was the first time this election season that I could recall seeing state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and his challenger, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, together in the same room. The two appeared quite cordial, despite being wrapped up in one of the most competitive legislative races in the state.

Candidates at the forum all noted that programs for the disabled community, particularly those that allow the disabled to live as independently as possible, are programs they would protect. At the same time, many of them said that raising taxes to pay for such programs is never the answer.

Once the economy gets better, state revenue will increase, many said. Democrat Ralph Schmidt called out his fellow politicians.

“People are talking about how they’re going get jobs — they don’t give you a clue about how they’re going to do it,” Schmidt said. “You’ve got to clean up the tax code, or you’re not going to be able to do it in the long run.”

While speaking about government waste, Democratic House candidate Monica Stonier touted Probst’s campaign talking point that lawmakers who enter a special session because they couldn’t pass a budget on time should not receive per diem pay, which covers expenses such as food and lodging. This prompted state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, to fire back by saying the only reason the 2012 Legislature couldn’t reach a budget agreement on time is because Democratic leadership spent too much time on social issues (also known as trying to pass a same-sex marriage bill).

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, had the last word during the forum and used it to criticize Initiative 1185, which would require legislators to raise taxes with a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. Some opponents of the ballot measure say that the way it’s written also would require a two-thirds vote to close tax loopholes.

“I’ve heard a lot this evening about the budget, and to all my esteemed colleagues in both he House and the Senate: Boo!” Moeller said. “I mean, really.”

Moeller, addressing the audience next, said: “Most of you have come up and lobbied me up in the state House for more money for your programs … I am glad to do that, except there is one small problem. We don’t have any more money in the state other than what we have.”

“So many of you have come up and ask me to close loopholes as another option for new funding,” he continued. “I’m happy to do that, once we eliminate the unconstitutional two-thirds majority, we can do that.”

Brouner, the event’s keynote speaker, encouraged those in the audience to contact Gov. Chris Gregoire to tell her not to appeal a recent court decision regarding cuts to home care. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state had to mitigate the effects of recent cuts to its home care program.

Brouner said appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court could prompt the high court to undermine the ground-breaking 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision, which determined that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community. Before that, many had been confined to institutions.

Not to be outdone by the candidates, Brouner included a pretty good zinger of her own: “If you try to cut DD (developmental disability) services, you might end up with a disability yourself,” she joked.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or

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