A longtime Republican incumbent is looking to defend his seat against a Democratic challenger in the race for the 16th Legislative District.
Rep. Terry R. Nealey, a Dayton Republican, faces Kennewick Democrat Gary Downing in the Nov. 8 election.
Nealey handily won the August primary, drawing 12,914 votes, or 62 percent.
Downing received 6,020 votes, or 29 percent, with a third candidate — Republican Ricardo Espinoza — bringing in 1,746 votes, or 8 percent. He was eliminated from the general election.
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Nealey, 69, said his background and experience make him the best choice.
He’s spent seven years in the state House and is the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee.
What’s important in the Legislature is that you need to know a lot about a wide array of subject maters, and I have the experience and the education to do just that.
Rep. Terry R. Nealey, Dayton
“That’s going to be a critical position in the next couple years,” he said.
Nealey cited education funding as a top issue, noting the state has made progress in meeting the requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision — which found that the state wasn’t adequately funding basic education — but has more work to do.
Nealey said he brings a practical approach to the Legislature. During his time in Olympia, he helped the state weather the recession and has worked on some important legislation, he said.
He’s currently working on reforming the state’s public records request system to reduce some of the burden on municipalities and agencies while maintaining transparency, he said.
“I listen to people. I listen to their problems. I think hard before I make a decision,” he said. “What’s important in the Legislature is that you need to know a lot about a wide array of subject matters, and I have the experience and the education to do just that.”
Nealey spent 16 years as Columbia County prosecuting attorney and served in the Army.
Education funding needs to be taken care of in a way our Legislature hasn’t been working on. ... If they’d been working on it as they needed to, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are today.
Gary Downing, Kennewick
Downing, also 69, is an Air Force veteran, and he’s been involved in politics for 40 years, including serving as a precinct committee officer since 2014.
He also pointed to education funding as a top issue, saying legislators haven’t done enough.
“Education funding needs to be taken care of in a way our Legislature hasn’t been working on. They set up committee after committee. They say, ‘It’s complicated.’ If they’d been working on it as they needed to, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are today,” he said.
Downing also has said tax break reform is needed, and he pointed to homelessness and veterans issues as priorities.
He supports raising the minimum wage, saying it would help working people and families and also stimulate the economy.
Nealey doesn’t support Initiative 1433, which would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020. He said it would cost jobs, and some “give-and-take” is needed, such as perhaps offering a training wage and allowing high school students to start at lower pay.
Downing, who spent 30 years working in the Richland School District before retiring, said he would bring a deep commitment to citizens to the Legislature.
“I spend (several) hours a day knocking on doors, meeting people — to find out what people need. I want to be a representative of all the people,” he said.
“I don’t live above my means and I’m not going for office for the income, a better resumé or trying to climb to a higher elevation. I’m going because I want to help people,” he said.
The 16th District covers Walla Walla and Columbia counties and parts of Benton and Franklin counties. The term for Position 2 is two years.