Editorial: Price Johnson, Homola, Paul for 10th District seats

Each of the three candidates offer experience valuable to district residents and the Legislature.

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By The Herald Editorial Board

After years of being represented by veteran Republican state lawmakers, the 10th Legislative District has seen a gradual succession in leadership among its legislators along with a shift from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party at one seat.

Until recently, voters in the district could be counted to stick with Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who served for nearly 17 years before retiring in late 2019, and Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, who served a dozen years before deciding not to seek reelection following this year’s session.

The 10th Legislative District encompasses all of Whidbey Island, Camano Island and their cities, as well as parts of south Skagit and north Snohomish counties, including the cities of Mount Vernon, La Conner and Stanwood.

Senate

Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, was appointed to complete Bailey’s term, and now will face Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat, in the general election for a full four-year term.

Muzzall is a fourth-generation farmer on Whidbey Island and before his appointment to the Senate had previous elected experience as a fire commissioner for North Whidbey Fire and Rescue and has served for 15 years with the boards of Skagit Farmers Supply and the Land O’Lakes Cooperative.

Price Johnson is a Whidbey native, too, a third-generation small business owner with a degree in administration and legal processes.

In a joint interview in mid-September with the editorial board, Muzzall described himself as a fiscal conservative, concerned with seeing that tax dollars are spent wisely. Muzzall faults Gov. Jay Inslee for not calling a special session of the Legislature following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, believing lawmakers should have had been making decisions on cuts necessary to address an expected revenue shortfall.

“The longer we put those cuts off, the less impact they’re going to have,” he said. Similarly, Muzzall said, the more “draconian” steps taken to shut down businesses could have been tempered by the Legislature.

Price Johnson agreed a special session is necessary, and those difficult decisions on cuts and new revenue will have to be taken up by lawmakers either in a special session or in the regular session that begins in January. Beyond cuts, Price Johnson said, lawmakers also will need to consider programs that will help small businesses and local economies recover and keep people in their homes with rental or mortgage assistance.

During this year’s short session, Muzzall was primary sponsor of three bills, including one that passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law. The legislation, drawing on his agriculture background, requires the state Department of Labor and Industries to reestablish a farm internship pilot program that provides experience for those wishing to start small farms.

Price Johnson identified housing shortage concerns, now aggravated by the pandemic, as a focus for her if elected. Tax subsidies that helped build housing stock starting 30 years ago have expired, she said, noting that a third of subsidized housing units in Oak Harbor are now on the open market. She advocated partnerships among local governments across the state and new tools from the Legislature to seek reforms to the Growth Management Act that would better use development in commercial areas appropriate for housing.

Price Johnson’s insights regarding housing are a good example of the depth of knowledge and experience she offers. Along with 12 years as an Island County commissioner, she also has served in a leadership position with the state Association of Counties, working with fellow county officials of both parties among counties facing a range of economic challenges. Prior to her election as the first woman commissioner in Island County, she served two terms with the South Whidbey School Board, representing the board on legislative issues.

Her tenure on the county commission came as the Great Recession began, requiring her to make decisions that cut the county budget by some 20 percent yet still delivered core services, insight that will be needed as the state confronts its revenue shortfall.

With nearly 20 years of public service, and noting her past support among Island County voters, Price Johnson would provide experienced and considered representation for the 10th Legislative District.

House, Position 1

A primary election field for the House, Position 1 for the district narrowed the field to Republican Greg Gilday and Democrat Angie Homola.

Homola lives in Oak Harbor and runs an architectural design firm. She served as an Island County commissioner from 2009-13, and as a plans examiner and building inspector for Island County from 2001-04. She has lived on Whidbey Island for 23 years.

Gilday lives on Camano Island with his wife and two boys. Gilday is an attorney and real estate broker, who earned his law degree from Seattle University in 2005. Gilday has served previously on the boards of Stanwood’s Safe Harbor Free Clinic and the Stanwood Camano Food Bank.

The editorial board, prior to the primary endorsed Suzanne Woodard, a nurse and health care educator. As Woodard was not among the two candidates moving on to the general election, the editorial board now endorses Homola for the House seat.

Homola’s past elected and planning experience with Island County prepares her to address her cited priorities for public health and safety, climate action and economic recovery.

House, Position 2

The earlier primary election left incumbent Rep. Dave Paul, a Democrat and administrator at Skagit Valley College’s Mount Vernon campus, facing Republican challenger Bill Bruch of La Conner, who declined an interview with the editorial board.

An advocate for higher education and workforce training, Paul said that prior to the pandemic, higher education was in an improved position, but will now face renewed challenges regarding funding and enrollment; he hopes to increase access to Running Start and College in the High School programs.

Paul said he intends to place additional focus on issues related to health care, the public health system, rural health and prescription drug prices.

Paul is the first Democrat to serve the district in several years, but he has provided good representation for constituents in a “purple” district and should be retained for the next two years.

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