April Berg, left, and Ryne Rohla.

April Berg, left, and Ryne Rohla.

44th Legislative District: Q&A for April Berg and Ryne Rohla

Candidates competing to represent the 44th District answered nine questions about their campaigns.

SNOHOMISH — Public safety, the high cost of living and education are the top three priorities for Democratic state Rep. April Berg and Ryne Rohla, her Republican challenger, as they vie to represent the 44th Legislative District.

Berg, of Mill Creek, is seeking a second term representing the district that now encompasses Snohomish, Silver Firs, and parts of Mill Creek, North Creek and Maltby. The former Everett School Board member resigned that post earlier this year to focus on her duties in the Legislature. Rohla, of Silver Lake, is making his first run for office.

Berg beat Rohla in the August primary with 56.6% of the vote, a difference of 4,929 votes.

In interviews with the Daily Herald last week, the two candidates tackled the same nine questions, and their responses were edited for clarity and space.

Question: How would you describe yourself?

April Berg (D): (I’m) a 25+ year resident of Snohomish County. I’ve got six amazing kiddos — two Husky grads, two Western Washington grads, one who just started at UW and one who’s still in high school here in Everett — and an amazing husband. Former school board director, former city planner, a former aerospace worker and a former small business owner — I used to own a bed and breakfast in downtown Edmonds.

Ryne Rohla (R): I’m a PhD economist. I’m also a husband, father, and I’ve lived in Snohomish County for most of my life. I went to Eastern Washington University for my bachelor’s degree and got my PhD in Economics from Washington State University. I did a lot of research on economic and social impacts of political polarization. I took a job with the State Attorney General’s office with the antitrust division, so now I’m an economist for them.

Q: What are your top three issues?

AB: Public safety, education and the economy. There are lots of intersections that also hit on health care and transportation and the environment. When I listen to voters, it’s public safety, education, the economy.

RR: The No. 1 thing that’s impacting everyone is (the) high cost of living. Public safety is a pretty big issue, which could also include mental health, drug use and homelessness. Then I’d say our education system.

Q: How do you plan to tackle public safety?

AB: The chase law, that’s not the official name, but …we’re working to fix that. I think the bigger issue, for me talking with community, is the feeling of rising personal crime. We passed a fantastic bill that really hit at where (stolen catalytic converters) were being sold, and we’ve seen a marked decrease in those thefts. That’s the type of approach I want to bring this next session. We’re looking at a retail theft bill that would go after, not shoplifters, but actual retail (theft) criminal rings. The other piece of it is having regional training academies for law enforcement. I’m very confident it’ll pass.

RR: I’m not a fan of the pursuit law, for example, that was passed last year. I think there’s strong evidence that vehicle theft shot up the exact month that it went into effect. I think that needs to be heavily modified pretty much right away. I think that we need to put a lot more resources into addiction treatment programs. I’m a fan of medication assisted treatment programs like the Snohomish County jail has. I think that needs to be a much more widespread thing across the state.

Q: What would your initial steps be regarding economic issues?

AB: We have a regressive tax system. Our top earners are paying less in taxes than our bottom earners. Everybody can agree that being 50 out of 50, in terms of tax policy, is not a good place to be. If we had the same taxation model that (Idaho) has, for instance, if you’re earning less, you’re gonna pay less in taxes. If we had their tax structure as a state, we’d actually have an additional $11 billion [Editors note: Idaho has both sales and graduated income tax]. One of the bills I’ll be introducing is a property tax exemption on the first $250,000 of assessed value. I’m also really excited about the work that the joint Tax Structure Work Group doing. It’s Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate coming together to talk with people about how to give folks relief, in terms of our upside down tax system.

RR: The average Washington family is down about $8,300 in real income in the last two years. And that’s a yearly basis. And it’s really hurting income, mobility and ability of people to get ahead. Generally speaking, what you want is to increase things like market competition. You want to reduce inefficiencies that have been put in place by government policy, or that are just inherent in the market to reduce production costs for businesses. If you’re looking at, say, the health care markets, we might be talking about the need to increase price transparency. I really want to use my economic expertise to get at the root causes of all that inflation and high cost of living.

Q: How do you plan to approach education?

AB: I want to fully fund special ed (education). And that means removing the artificial 13.5% cap that we have on funding special ed. I want to move us towards fully funding school lunches. We have what we call the prototypical school funding model. And it basically says hey, for this many kids, you get this many counselors, nurses, custodians. Well, functionally, if you look at some of those numbers, they are ridiculous. You can’t actually run the school based on those numbers. So for me, that’s the foundational issue that I’m trying to solve. Per the Constitution, our paramount duty is to educate our students, period.

RR: We’re just not doing a good job of meeting students where they are. And, for example, I think that we need to have more emphasis on trades in high school. We need to have something like a running start equivalent for the trades. There’s a lot of people who end up getting forced into going into college who really, I don’t think, want to be there and don’t have the interest or skill set to be there. So they end up in a much worse position because they were forced into college.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

AB: I had a bill that passed at the beginning of this last session that removed the co-pays for reduced price lunches. That crazy 40 cents that you’d have to pay? We got rid of that as a state. So right now, you either get free lunch, or you get free lunch because you have reduced-price lunch and the state is picking up that 40 cents.

RR: My academic research portfolio. I published my original research in Science, for example. It’s one of the most prestigious journals in the world. I published a paper in there about the cost of political polarization. And I have other journal publications as well. And my work for the Attorney General’s Office. The money that we’ve recovered for Washington consumers from corporations that didn’t play by the rules — (such as) Amazon and Tyson.

There’s a $274,092 disparity between your campaigns contributions (Berg raised more). What do you attribute that to?

AB: I think having passed a historic eight bills — actually eight bills signed into law — my first session, some of that could be why folks are getting behind me.

RR: The majority of my money has come from individual contributions, and almost entirely from people within either my friends or family or from people within the district. Whereas my opponent has gotten a lot of money from outside groups.

Q: What is your stance on abortion?

AB: I am pro choice 100%. This is between a woman and her doctor. And yeah, I can go on all day. Abortion is healthcare.

RR: I don’t think that we need to be looking at putting restrictions on it.

Q: Do you believe claims that the 2020 election was rigged?

AB: It was not fraudulent. Joe Biden won the presidency.

RR: I am unequivocally opposed to any of the election fraud stuff.

Kayla Dunn: 425-339-3449; kayla.dunn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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