Schmick, Sutherland spar at voters forum

Topics covered included healthcare, education, economy

IAN SMAY, Evergreen reporter

Incumbent Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and challenger Matthew Sutherland, D-Pullman, faced questions from voters during a League of Women Voters of Pullman forum at the Neill Public Library in Pullman last week. The two will move on to the general election in November as the only two in the running for Washington State’s 9th Legislative District Position 2.


The issue of resources for teachers and state education was posed to each candidate. Sutherland cited his public schooling for his support for teachers.

“I unequivocally stand with our teachers and educators,” Sutherland said. “I am a product of our public education system.”

He also said teachers need to be treated well and given enough funding to provide the best opportunities for children.

Schmick said more attention needs to be given to special education, as it isn’t considered a part of the scope of primary education and oftentimes gets somewhat overlooked.

“Special education continues to be an issue and I think we’re going to have to address that,” Schmick said.

He also highlighted transparency as an issue he wants to address in the future and he said he plans on putting each school’s budget online, so taxpayers can now how their children’s school uses their funds.

The candidates also faced a question regarding school safety in the face of multiple mass shootings taking place on campuses around the nation during the previous school year.

Schmick said the issue of school safety will likely be down to the individual school going forward.

“Every school is going to have a different take on how they are going to secure their school,” he said.

He also added that each school needs proper resources to make the correct decisions on a local level.

Sutherland said he thinks the problem of school safety has gone too far.

“I think when the conversation becomes how do we turn our schools into security facilities, we’re lost,” Sutherland said.

He said the problem goes beyond schools to gun safety, an area in which he thinks more comprehensive background checks need to be implemented. He also said better firearm education needs to be offered, as well as a way to deal with the problem of people taking guns from others without their knowledge.


Access and the cost of healthcare, which is constantly a part of the national discussion, was also a prevalent topic of discussion at the forum.

Sutherland said affordable healthcare became an issue dear to his heart after his family had to declare bankruptcy following his mother’s fight with cancer.

“She left us with more than just grief,” he said. “Our family was faced with mountains of medical debt.”

He also said the public needs to be protected by exploitation from health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as they often do not act in the public’s interest. He said he supports healthcare for all.

Schmick said healthcare is one of the biggest issues facing voters at the moment, calling it the “$24,000 question.”

He said he wants to increase the number of providers in each county to prevent any area from only having access to one provider. He also wants to ensure that critical access hospitals keep receiving the funding they need.

When it comes to mental health, Schmick said Western State Hospital has not worked and more focus needs to be given to local care and diversion systems to keep those suffering mental illness out of the criminal justice system.

He also added that a decision needs to be made on the state level on how to better handle the accreditation process for mental health facilities.

Sutherland said the mental health issue is tied to a larger need to reform the entire healthcare system in the state and that people are denied treatment for mental illnesses.

He also said the state needs to provide capital investment for more facilities instead of siding with the interests of healthcare executives.

Business and Economy

When asked about funding state obligations, Sutherland said he sided with working class citizens.

He also said he was for reforming the business and occupation tax or B and O tax, in an effort to lower rates and increase revenue for businesses.

One area of taxes Sutherland said he would raise would be a 7.5 percent excise tax for capital investments.

“I want to make sure people are paying their fair share,” he said.

He also said a healthcare for all system would end up saving the public money.

Schmick said he would be opposed to raising taxes.

“I have a hard time asking the taxpayers for more money,” he said.

He also said he personally does not support the B and O tax and that saving needs to come down to lawmakers balancing budgets and prioritizing spending.


Schmick said State Parks need to receive attention, even in the face of budgetary shortfalls that may leave them without much needed maintenance.

“Our parks are a real treasure for our state and we need to take care of them,” Schmick said.

Citing Palouse Falls as a location in the district that needs to be kept safe as a natural landmark, Schmick also said the state should focus on existing parks before worrying about new sites.

Sutherland said there should be an emphasis on maintaining current parks. He also said he thinks there can be a balance between looking to acquire new land while continuing to fund the maintenance of existing parks.

As for rail banking, which is the process by which parts of private land are used by the state for future rail or trail use, Schmick said those with land titles that give them the rights to the property should get to decide what the land is used for, while the state also should have an interest in using the area for rails.

“We’ll have to work our way through that,” Schmick said.

Meanwhile, Sutherland said he would want the state to be able to build rails in order to support the surrounding areas.

“Any time we can work to influence tourism … I want to support it,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland said he had met with land owners who told him they would allow for their land to be used if a barrier to preserve privacy was built along with the trails.

Another environmental issue raised at the forum dealt with the dams along the Snake River.

Schmick said he sees the dams as a valuable asset for both salmon runs and hydropower, and thinks the issues surrounding the dams can be solved.

“I think we can figure it out with today’s technology,” Schmick said.

Sutherland also sees dams as important to the region, citing the agriculture industry using the river to transport their product around the area.

“Our dams are critical to Eastern Washington,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland also said he would oppose any changes to the dams that would hurt that transportation process.

“Anything that reduces the ability to make a profit from wheat is a no-go from me,” Sutherland said.

The topic of climate change and carbon taxes on businesses was also discussed at the forum.

Schmick said he did not believe climate change was human caused. About 97 percent of actively publishing scientists have stated they believe climate change is at least partially human caused, according to NASA.

Sutherland said he agreed with the scientists he had spoken with that humans were responsible for climate change.

Sutherland also said he thinks action needs to be taken right away, as adjusting to climate change too late will result in economic shortfalls and more fires that could put firefighters in danger.

“Not doing anything is unacceptable,” Sutherland said.

Schmick said Washington is already at the forefront of eco-friendliness.

“Washington state is one of the cleanest states in America,” Schmick said.

He also said he opposes any form of carbon tax on businesses. Sutherland said he wants to bring in more renewable energy jobs to both help protect the environment and boost local economies, but did not take a position on a possible carbon tax.

Correction: The final paragraph of this article has been updated to reflect that Sutherland did not say he would support a carbon tax. Sutherland did not take a position on a carbon tax at the forum.