Rep. Rolfes faces fiscal conservatives in primary

Seeking her third term as representative of Washington’s 23rd District, Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) faces competition from two Republican candidates who believe spending and the size of the state government have spiraled out of control.

Republicans James M. Olsen and Aaron Winters both preach the message of fiscal conservatism and reduced taxes in a time when many sitting legislators are receiving criticism for their spending habits.

“I’m not a big government person,” said Olsen, who also lives on Bainbridge. “I believe the answer is not more government. I’m a fiscal conservative; I believe taxes kill – kill businesses, kill opportunities.”

Winters, a Poulsbo native, also bemoaned the difficulty businesses face in the area as a result of taxes. He would like to see a streamlined permitting process for businesses where the applicants are either rejected or accepted within 90 days, and he supports the idea of repealing previous tax increases to give businesses a better shot at succeeding in the ongoing economic downturn.

Rolfes, who along with her colleagues in Olympia cut to fill a 25 percent budget gap and have a similar task ahead this year, said controlling waste, and overspending is a constant battle for any elected official regardless of party.

“The silver lining to the recession is it’s really forced the Legislature and state agencies and citizens to look at how agencies are working and not only prioritize activities but admit where programs aren’t working and make the necessary changes,” she said.

But the reduction exercise was just a band-aid that didn’t cure the wounds of a state government that is too large, and unorganized at many levels, the challengers said.

Both pointed at the Department of Social Health Services and the Washington State Ferry system as two state organizations in need of change. Olsen suggested partial privatization of both agencies would lead to greater efficiency.

Winters felt the privatization of the ferry system wouldn’t benefit anyone, specifically the commuters who use the boats every day. He said DSHS has become so large that its size has actually held workers back from delivering quality care.

“DSHS is so large the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” Winters said. “If you downsize that, those folks would get higher quality care.”

Rolfes has dedicated a large chunk of her time as a legislator to reforming the ferry system. She is a part of a legislative team that works on ferry issues. That group has helped stop large fare increases and is working on rooting out some of the wasteful overhead costs associated with the system, Rolfes said. She said she continues to fight for the ferry system and the thousands of residents that use it daily.

“We’re making sure that ferries stay at the top of the transit system and are considered a marine highway,” she said. “They’re not luxury cruise lines, they’re crucial transportation links.”

Though it remains early in the race, Rolfes has a big lead in campaign contributions. According to the Public Disclosure Commission, the incumbent has raised more than $80,000 so far. Both Olsen and Winters have yielded few contributions. According to the PDC, Olsen has raised approximately $890, while Winters has taken less than $200.

“The money will come,” Olsen said. “Once the primary clears, there are groups that appreciate the fiscal positions I have.”

Winters filed with the intention of raising less than $5,000. For Winters, donations and spending aren’t a priority. He said he’s gotten his name out by going door to door and using business contacts.

“I didn’t want to mess with the paper work, and I didn’t think people should pay for me to get in there,” he said. “If they like me, they’ll vote for me. It’s not their money that gets me there, it’s their votes.”

The Candidates

James M. Olsen (R) Bainbridge Island

Experience: Olsen served with the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 30 years. He earned several commendations for his work. He retired as a captain and has been a small business owner in the real estate market. “Being in a contentious, big federal agency I understand the concept of right-size manning, overstaffing and overbudgeting. I believe the state’s problem is being overly manned, and overly paid.

Why are you running?

“The reason I’m running is things are so bad, I’m coming out of retirement. Washington State is in the throes of a severe fiscal crisis.”

What unique skills/talent/background do you bring to the table?

“First and foremost I bring a fresh voice. I am not a career politician and I don’t want to be a career politician. I’m stepping up for duty.”

Christine Rolfes (D) Bainbridge Island

Experience: Rolfes has served communities and districts as an elected representative for the last decade. Rolfes was elected to the Bainbridge City Council in 2000. She made the jump to the state representative level and was first elected in 2006. She won her re-election bid with a 61/39 split in 2008 and is looking for a third term. “I’ve been active in the community, not just Bainbridge Island, but the whole community for 18 years.”

Why are you running?

“I have enjoyed the work to make sure that Kitsap’s priorities are at the top. I want to continue to bring that kind of representation to our area; make sure we get the attention we deserve.”

What unique skills/talent/background do you bring to the table?

“I am able to bring a balanced approach to resolving issues because I have a natural tendency to look at both sides and listen to them. I think we need a balanced approach as opposed to an ideological approach to solve some of our issues.”

Aaron Winters (R) Poulsbo

Experience: Winters has been in construction since he graduated from North Kitsap High School in 1993. He has worked as a foreman and tree-trimmer as a member of the IBEW 77 union. “I was a foreman for a number of companies. I did things on time and under budget as much as possible. I think the state needs to operate that way.”

Why are you running?

“I’m running because I’m concerned about where everything is heading; I don’t believe the state government is listening to the majority of people in this state, and I feel that it’s time to change the way people view politicians. It’s the responsibility of the parties to represent all the people, and I don’t feel like that’s happening.”

What unique skills/talent/background do you bring to the table?

“I think I’m just more in line with working people and what they want.”

The 23rd District

Representatives for the 23rd District represent citizens of Bainbridge Island, Kingston, Poulsbo and Silverdale. There are more than 77,800 registered voters in the district, said Kitsap County Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore. The district often fields a high voter turnout during the general election and more than 50 percent in the last primary. Two elected representatives service the area. Prior to Christine Rolfes’ victory in 2006, the district’s second position was held by Republican candidates dating back to 1998. The following are general election results.

2008: Christine Rolfes (D), 39,130 (61 percent); Mark Lowe (R), 24,973 (39 percent)

2006: Christine Rolfes, 26,980 (54.3 percent); Beverly Woods (R), 22,597 (45.2 percent)

2004: Beverly Woods, 34,883 (57.1 percent); Terry Ducheane (D), 26,144 (42.8 percent)

2002: Bob Oke (R), 10,743 (53.9 percent); Betty P. Ringlee (D), 9,014 (45.72 percent).

2000: Beverly Woods, 27,426 (49.1 percent); David Harrison (D), 26,228, (47 percent); Diane Haynes (L), 2,085

1998: Karen Schmidt (R), 21,480 (46.5 percent); Charles Bickel (D), 18,228 (39.4 percent); Steve Hargrove (I), 6,470 (14 percent)

Source: Kitsap County Elections

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