Kennewick senator tries to repeat dominating primary performance

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldOctober 31, 2013 

State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, is trying to repeat her dominating primary performance in the Nov. 5 general election. Her opponent, Richland City Councilman Phillip Lemley, hopes to slow her down.

Brown, who completed her first session in Olympia after being appointed by Benton County commissioners earlier this year, received 13,222 votes (58.7 percent) in her first run for state senate during the August primary.

Lemley received 4,797 votes (21.3 percent), squeaking into the general election matchup ahead of West Richland City Councilman Tony Benegas, who had 4,525 votes (20 percent).

All three candidates ran as Republicans.

Brown worked to bring a sound budget to the state in a fight that lasted through two special sessions, she said.

She claimed credit for helping fight off $1.3 billion in new taxes on items like bottled water and beer proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, and said the legislature left a $576 million "rainy day" fund intact while increasing spending on education.

"We worked with our friends across the aisle, we agreed on a budget, and, most importantly, we in the state of Washington did not shut the government down," she said.

Lemley wants to fight to see further improvements to the state budget, he said.

"We have to lean forward and be willing to do the hard work," he said. "The easy stuff is taking money out of funds and taking tax monies away from cities. You have to figure out a way to work smarter, be more efficient in every single thing we do."

Brown, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, wants to see reforms at the state Department of Transportation before she will consider a gas tax increase, she said. She points to the pontoons designed for the Highway 520 floating bridge in Seattle as an example of wasteful spending.

"The only portion that was the responsibility of the state was the design of those pontoons," she said. "The only portion that failed was the design of those pontoons. Unfortunately, it's going to cost the taxpayers of this state nearly $1 billion to correct that."

A statewide listening tour by senate transportation leaders, which included a stop in Pasco, will be helpful in choosing priorities for state transportation, Brown said.

Lemley countered that a tax increase might be the only option to improve state roads.

"No one likes the word taxes, I'd rather use the word 'user fee,' that's a little more palatable, but we have to do something," he said. "Our infrastructure is aging, it ages more every day like we do."

Both candidates said more needs to be done to deal with the effects of voters passing an initiative allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in Washington. The cities of Richland, Kennewick and West Richland in the 8th Legislative District have all passed moratoriums on marijuana-related businesses.

Cities need to get to work creating zoning for marijuana-related businesses, Lemley said.

"We continue to kick the can down the road with the moratoriums," Lemley said. "It's something the cities themselves are going to have to deal with."

Brown, who previously served on the Kennewick City Council, wants to see Inslee do more to address the differences between state law, which allows for marijuana sales after the passage of a ballot initiative last year, and federal law, which still forbids it, she said.

"We still have the overriding issue of what are we going to do, how are we going to solve the problem?" she said. "I believe that the governor is engaged with having those discussions on the federal level."

Brown admits legislation she proposed to allow business owners to refuse to offer services to people based on their religious beliefs could have been drafted better. The bill was introduced after a highly publicized case involving Arlene's Flowers in Richland, which refused to provide services for a gay couple's wedding.

Brown's intent was for the bill to address issues that come up when the protected right of religious freedom goes up against the protected right for same sex marriage, she said.

"I think that the issue is not going to go away," she said. "I have heard there are different senators looking at different ways of addressing the issue."

Lemley said discrimination is wrong.

"I grew up in the segregated south," he said. "We should never, ever go back to that again. Discrimination anywhere is discrimination everywhere ... If you start doing it in one place, what's next? Older people with wheelchairs or seeing-eye dogs or something else? If you open that door up in some way, it's going to continue to get worse and worse."

State Public Disclosure Commission records show Brown raised $110,533 and spent $63,694 through Oct. 28. Much of the money comes from companies and industry groups, ranging from BNSF Railway to Walmart.

Lemley raised $22,820 and spent $19,078 during the same time period, according to the commission. His funding largely comes from labor organizations, such as the Washington Teamsters Legislative League and the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The winner of the election will get to do it again next year, filling the last year of the four-year term former Sen. Jerome Delvin was elected to in 2010. Delvin resigned after being elected to the Benton County commission in 2012. The position pays $42,106 annually.

-- For more election stories, go to tricityherald.com/election.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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