Actor, ex-teacher takes on incumbent in 8th Legislative District race

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 7, 2012 

Voters in the 8th Legislative District have a choice between an incumbent former nuclear operator and a retired teacher for Position 2 in the state House of Representatives.

Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, is seeking a fifth term representing the district, which covers Richland, West Richland and most of Kennewick.

Haler serves as the ranking Republican on the House Higher Education Committee. He also sits on the budgetary Ways & Means Committee and Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.

He is a former licensed nuclear reactor operator who managed nuclear reactor training. Since being laid off from his job with a Hanford contractor in 2011, he has volunteered as a docent for Hanford's historic B Reactor.

His opponent is Richard Reuther, a Richland Democrat who has made a name for himself in the Tri-Cities for his support for the arts.

Reuther is a retired teacher and former King County bus driver who has been active in the Tri-City arts scene since moving here in 2006. He lived here in the 1970s after marrying a Richland native.

He is active with local theater groups and has served on the Richland Arts Commission. He also was a long-time union member.

During a recent debate at the Herald, the two seemed more like friends than opponents. They have similar stances on funding education -- both believe it should be a priority for the state -- and both said water rights for farmers are an important concern for the region.

One area where they differ surrounds charter schools. Haler said he supports Initiative 1240, which would allow essentially a pilot program of 40 charter schools in the state.

The lack of charter schools in the state was a factor in Washington missing out on federal "Race to the Top" money in recent years.

Haler said he likes the idea of permitting charter schools on a case-by-case basis.

"I'm not totally in favor of charter schools being totally private and using public dollars to finance them," he said. "We need to look at each district and whether a charter school would help students."

Reuther said he does not support the charter schools initiative and would rather see more innovation in public schools, including more programs such as Delta High School in Richland, which offers students a focus in science, math, technology and engineering.

"I like what's going on at Delta," Reuther said. "There's no reason why other school districts can't do the same thing."

On the state economy, Reuther would like to see the state re-evaluate its tax structure and have a conversation about how the system could be improved so Washington experiences fewer ups and downs in its budget.

That includes reforming the state's business and occupations (B&O) tax and having a debate about a state income tax to add a source of revenue so the state can better weather recessions.

"Everybody's afraid of an income tax. Everybody thinks an income tax is the foot in the door," Reuther said. "Make it a small tax, one they can't (raise) for 15 years. You could set it up so that part of the argument could be eased."

Haler disagreed that an income tax can solve Washington's budget problems. Instead, he advocates reforms to streamline government without raising taxes to bridge gaps between expenses and revenue.

But Haler would like to see the B&O tax made less burdensome.

"I would like to see us have a (B&O) tax holiday for about seven years to let businesses get back on their feet," he said.

Haler's Position 2 pays $42,106.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed Oct. 17 and must be returned or postmarked by Nov. 6.

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