District 16 candidates differ on social issues

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerOctober 10, 2010 

Three-term incumbent State Rep. Maureen Walsh faces opposition in a re-election bid from one of the Franklin County Republicans who voted to censure her for supporting same-sex domestic partnership rights.

Walsh, R-Walla Walla, is seeking a fourth term as a state representative for the 16th Legislative District, which includes Walla Walla, Pasco and part of Kennewick.

She's opposed by Brenda High of Pasco, a longtime Republican now running under the banner of the Constitution Party. High is best known for advocating for anti-bullying legislation in states across the country after her son committed suicide in 1998 as a result of being bullied.

Walsh describes herself as a moderate Republican who believes in being fiscally conservative, but supports abortion rights for women and equal rights for everyone -- including gays and lesbians.

"I have never identified myself as a mouthpiece for the right wing of the Republican party and I never will," Walsh said.

Her support for the "everything but marriage" bill giving registered same-sex and elderly domestic partners all of the legal rights and benefits of married couples put her at odds with members of the Franklin County Republicans, who voted to censure her in 2009.

County GOP members said at the time that Walsh's co-sponsoring of the bill was out of step with party ideology.

Walsh responded that she did what she thought was right, and if she got voted out for it she'd take the consequences.

She said the Franklin County GOP is the only county party committee that expressed any problem with her support for the bill.

"My Walla Walla County Republicans have embraced me and fully support me," Walsh said.

High claims she better represents the district's conservative-leaning voters, a majority of whom voted against the expansion of domestic partnership rights when a referendum was placed on the ballot in 2009.

"She says she's a Republican and I don't think she is," High said. "I would certainly represent this county better when it comes to how they feel about conservative issues."

But results from the Aug. 17 primary put Walsh well ahead of High. Walsh earned 22,137 votes, or 82 percent, to High's 4,758 votes, or 18 percent.

And as of this week Walsh had raised more than $42,500, while High had raised less than $5,000. Because High anticipated raising less than $5,000, she opted for mini-reporting to the Public Disclosure Commission, which means she doesn't have to report individual donations.

High said she's a strict constitutionalist who would like to see more government services privatized, as she believes government has expanded beyond its constitutional powers. She also thinks the private sector could handle some things more efficiently.

She'd also like to see regulations rolled back that she thinks are cumbersome on businesses.

Walsh agreed government has grown too large, but said some government regulation is necessary in a civilized society.

"Regulations should be passed in a fair way -- more of a customer service attitude," Walsh said. "Sometimes I think we lose sight of that perspective in government."

When it comes to the budget and a deficit estimated at $4.5 billion in the latest state revenue forecast, High said she'd cut waste, but didn't offer specific ideas for where she'd start to trim.

"We need to go through and see what do we absolutely have to do, by what is constitutionally mandated in the state of Washington," High said.

Walsh said she believes the Legislature should privatize some functions, such as the state printer, and focus on services that are important for Washingtonians.

She has been a strong advocate for early learning programs, which she said save the state money in the long run by giving kids and parents tools to succeed. That means kids stay in school and out of trouble -- and out of the courts or foster care system -- later, she said.

"We see better results," Walsh said. "We are not seeing the behavioral problems. We know kids are staying in school longer."

High said she can't support taxpayer dollars for government programs that do a job that should be done by parents.

"I think if parents want their children to go to early learning programs they ought to be putting the money into it," she said.

The election is Nov. 2.

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