23rd District candidates face off at League of Women Voters forum

Candidates seeking to represent Washington’s 23rd Legislative District came to Poulsbo City Hall last week and answered questions from the public about where they stand on the issues.

The candidate forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters.

City hall wasn’t an unfamiliar setting for Becky Erickson, who also serves as mayor of Poulsbo. Incumbent Rep. Sherry Appleton has also served as a councilor for the city.

Demands of the job

With Erickson’s intent to keep her mayoral seat, some have questioned whether she can do both jobs.

“It is by constitutional statute a part-time position,” began Erickson. “If the Legislature is doing their job, it’s about three months. You have additional meetings throughout the year. You have to reach out to the public as a legislator throughout the year, but the time in Olympia is anywhere between three and six months. There’s many people who commute. There’s some who move down there, and I feel like I can do that.”

Erickson also pointed to Rep. Drew Hansen and Rep. J.T. Wilcox, who hold prominent positions in addition to the demands of Legislature.

Speaking to the amount of time demanded by the position of a legislative representative, Appleton said, “I think that we are really, in reality a full-time Legislature. No matter what, if it’s 105 days or a 60-day short session, that doesn’t stop you from contacting me. In Olympia, I get up at 6 in the morning. I am in committee by 8, and sometimes we don’t get off the floor until midnight. The longest was 7:30 in the morning; I hope I never see that again.

“I feel that you can only serve one master, and the Legislature controls everything that we do and the amount of time that we put in. So it’s not easy to go to another job.”

Gun initiative

Initiative 1639 would implement restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms. Erickson did not appear to clearly state whether she was for or against the measure.

“First of all, I don’t believe in registering guns and the reason why is this: There are too many of them,” Erickson said. “It will take forever, and it will not help the problems we’re facing right now.

“I do however like the piece where gun owners pass a test, like a concealed carry permit, go to the Department of Licensing — like you get a driver’s license or an ID card — and you put an endorsement on that ID that you’re a gun owner. Why? Because over time it will make gun owners be educated as to how they should use their guns, store their guns, deal with guns.”

“I do support the initiative,” Appleton said. “I think that there are parts of it that need to be changed … I don’t know what the answers are, but I think mass murders in this country [are] awful. It doesn’t happen in other countries because they work so hard to keep guns out. If you look at Australia, in 1999 they banned guns — and I don’t think we should ever go there — but they banned guns and they’ve never had a mass murder since. Maybe that’s the answer, I don’t know.”

Party affiliation

Party affiliation has been a question mark for Erickson’s candidacy with the mayor frequently saying that she is a moderate and registered as an independent.

“I would caucus with the Democrats,” Erickson said. “I have to caucus with somebody or else I don’t even get an office — it is that bad. I need to have some kind of an affiliation. I’m running as a political independent because I hold a nonpartisan office as a mayor. It’s kind of hard to be both, but in Olympia I have to sit with someone in order to have access to information, so I would caucus with the Democrats.”

Appleton did not appear to have any qualms stating with which party she would caucus.

“I’m a Democrat, and I will caucus with the Democrats,” she said.

Public records

On the issue of the Public Records Act — which the Legislature voted to exempt itself from in February, prior to Senate Bill 6617 being vetoed by Governor Jay Inslee — Appleton admitted that she was not without fault in the matter.

“This of course goes back to the Public Records Act that we in the Legislature mistakenly voted for,” Appleton said. “Before I got off the floor, I had a letter sent out that apologized to people, because we’re not infallible. It was going at such a fast pace, we all voted for it and it turns out it was a bad bill.”

“I knew it was wrong,” Appleton said before partially defending the rationale behind the vote to exempt legislators from the Public Records Act. “I’m very worried about people who write us — and they don’t write us the same things that they write to Becky [Erickson] or to Rob Gelder — they write us sometimes the most horrific emails about what’s happening to their life. That’s what I want to protect, but if I have to give it up, we’ll redact and redact whatever it takes to protect people’s privacy.”

“This is one of the reasons I ran, because I don’t normally vote for things that I don’t understand,” Erickson said, addressing the issue. “We deal with drug overdoses. We deal with mental health, concerned parents. I average about 120 to 130 emails a day — we get intensely personal emails — and you know what? We have to disclose them by the Public Records Act. That’s the law.

“Sherry, are you willing to disclose your emails? That is the question and you all should ask that question of every state legislator. It’s important. We need to know how the sausage is made.”

Appleton replied, “Yes, I will give up my emails if required by law. Right now, it’s not required by law, but as I said, I would heavily redact it to make sure that people’s privacy is upheld. It’s very important to me that we do that because otherwise people wouldn’t send us emails when they were in trouble.”

“They can be redacted by law right now. It’s part of the Public Records Act,” Erickson responded. “Client privileges can be redacted. That is handled in the law. All we need to do is have the legislators follow the Public Records Act. It’s pretty simple. We all do it.”

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