Despite being from two different political parties, 8th Legislative District candidates Brad Klippert and Jay Clough say they have some similarities.
Both have military service in their backgrounds, both say they want to fully fund education and they say that job creation policies would be priorities for them in the Legislature.
But in a debate this week in Kennewick on human services, their differences were evident when the two candidates addressed how they'd tackle the state's social programs.
Clough, who describes himself as a "conservative Democrat," told the local Human Services Coalition that he has a personal connection to social services, having grown up the "product of a shattered home."
"It was very broken," Clough said. "There were times when we were very, very poor. Times when we had enough money, and times when we had more than enough money."
During those tough times, Clough's family received social services.
"I am grateful for the services you provide in the community," he told coalition members. "I want to make sure there is a ground floor and that no one falls below that ground floor. I want to strengthen the ground floor and make sure it's available to everyone."
Klippert, the incumbent Republican in the race for Position 1, said he wants to give people in need a "hand up, not a handout."
Klippert touted free-market solutions to human services issues such as the need to make health care more affordable.
"It's free enterprise, free market society that won the Cold War," he said.
He reiterated the three prongs of the platform of the House Republican Caucus in Olympia -- funding education and public safety, and protecting the most vulnerable.
When quizzed about how he'd define the state's "most vulnerable" population, Klippert said he'd consider that group the people who are unable to help themselves.
"One of the strong Republican stances I've seen is that government responsibility associated with social services is to provide for those people who cannot provide for themselves," he said.
He noted people with developmental disabilities might fall under the "most vulnerable" definition.
"Some of my most pleasured time I spend in Olympia is when those with developmental disabilities come to Olympia and advocate to the Legislature for their needs," he said.
He also offered the story of being called as a Benton County Sheriff's deputy to the home of a suicidal 78-year-old man who said he was despondent because he couldn't find work.
In Klippert's view, that man would not fit the "most vulnerable" definition despite being a senior citizen.
"He made it clear to us, 'I don't want a government handout. I want a job,' " Klippert said. "I didn't try to offer him a government handout -- a social program. I said, 'I'll do everything I can to help you find a job.' "
Clough noted that Klippert voted to cut social programs, including the Disability Lifeline, which paid a stipend to people deemed unemployable because of a disability. The stipend first was reduced, then eliminated by the state last fall.
Clough said his approach to social services would be to make sure programs are funded.
"We need to make sure we are funding our services that address these issues," he said.
The two were asked specifically about whether they'd support a consolidated crisis response center for people with mental illnesses in the Tri-Cities, and how they'd tackle programs for people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems.
The center has been proposed for years and gained some support among Benton and Franklin county commissioners about five years ago, but plans fell by the wayside when the recession hit and funding became scarce.
Klippert didn't specifically address the crisis center proposal, but told the story of the suicidal 78-year-old man.
"I said, 'I am going to work with you,' " Klippert said. "I said, 'I will help.' We have a drug court here. I have people who contact me and say, 'I saw you there.' ... Anything we can do for people with mental issues or drug issues to give them a hand up and not a handout is dollars plus for us."
Clough said he believes a consolidated crisis response center is badly needed in the Tri-Cities not only to offer a treatment option in lieu of jail for people with mental illnesses, but also to free up police officers and emergency rooms to tackle other kinds of calls and patients.
"Every time (police) go to a call for a mental health issue, they're not going to a call for a domestic violence issue," Clough said.
He noted that the Legislature in 2010 cut money for mental health treatment, resulting in people getting treatment only when they're in a crisis and a danger to themselves or others, but once they're out of crisis they're left on their own again.
And that's a more costly option for taxpayers, he said.
He said he'd advocate for early screening for mental health and chemical dependency diagnoses and for putting criminal proceedings against people with mental illnesses on hold while they undergo treatment, then providing case management for them afterward to make sure they remain stable.
"We have to assure that adequate treatment resources exist in the community," Clough said.
And he urged coalition members to ask county commissioners to vote for a 0.1 percent sales tax that could pay for a consolidated crisis response center and mental health court.
"Commissioners have a responsibility to vote for this if they want the community to be safe and people to get treatment," Clough said. "This is a serious need and I hope you'll hold commissioners accountable for that."
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com