Eastside Transportation Candidates Forum
However, Luke Esser was a no-show for the first full hour of the scheduled 90 minutes (after the event Rodney Tom told me that Esser has been a no-show for the people in his district). Also not present were Deb Eddy's opponent Bret Olson, and 45th District House candidates Roger Goodman (D) and Jeffrey Possinger (R).
Toby Nixon makes a point
L to R: Oemig, Nixon, Douglas, Tom, Esser and Eddy
The entire debate was about transportation issues, and since it is a central theme for many of the candidates, and with education, perhaps one of top two issues in both districts, the candidates that did show from the beginning had a lot of interesting comments and positions to talk about.
Moderate C.R. Douglas did a good job of getting all the candidates to indicate their position on like issues, offering the audience the chance to clearly compare the answers. I've tried to capture the answers in the following chart:
The discussion was very civil and for the first hour the focus was to trying to distinguish how Oemig and Nixon differed on the issues. Rodney Tom was able to literally point to an empty chair to represent his "no-show" opponent Esser, who he characterized as "a no". Deb Eddy was very pragmatic in her points and the central theme of her answers was fiscal reality and responsibility.
Rodney Tom talked considerably about how we need a coordinated, unified system that serves east and west of Lake Washington, as well as north and south and across it. A system that includes light rail, as well as improved highways and local arteries. He disagreed in the philosophy behind High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, calling them "Lexus" lanes, although Toby Nixon countered that those that could afford to drive in HOT lanes would be freeing up the lanes they were not driving in.
Deb Eddy makes a point
L to R: Oemig, Nixon, Douglas, Tom, Esser and Eddy
All the candidates were in agreement that Seattle should have to find the money to pay for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement beyond what was already committed, although Deb Eddy felt that even the $2 billion committed from the state should be reviewed, and perhaps reallocated. Eddy also expressed her dismay with plans to convert the BNSF right of way on the Eastside into a trail as opposed to a future light rail corridor, calling it a "travesty". Toby Nixon felt both trail and rails could fit the width of the right of way. Meanwhile Eric Oemig said he felt "embarrassed" that we didn't already have a light rail system that serviced the Eastside, and that it was "myopic" thinking that had got us where we were and that needed to change.
However the real fireworks were between Rodney Tom and Luke Esser.
Luke Esser arrived very late. He walked in with a smarmy look on his face, and never apologized or explained his delay. C.R. Douglas brought him up to speed with the discussions and asked Esser to provide his positions on the issues already discussed. In defense of his position to support the I-912 campaign he explained he felt all tax decisions should go to a popular vote. Rodney Tom reminded him that the 48th voted against I-912, and hence to approve the gas tax increase, by 2 to 1. Esser stated that voters made the wrong choice. Tom felt that was an insult to voters.
Not in Agreement: Rodney Tom and Luke Esser
Another bone of contention was the fate of $1 billion that was targeted for the 520 floating bridge replacement in the House version of the bill Rodney Tom and Toby Nixon voted on, but moved in the Senate bill. Tom blamed Esser's "Tim Eyman no" positions as having undermined his ability to negotiate an allotment that protected that funding. Esser admitted he was unable to stop it from being reallocated, mostly to the Alaskan Way Viaduct and to I-405.
There were few questions from the audience. The Redmond City Council, past and present was well represented by Holly Plackett and Richard Cole. Cole wanted assurances that the new legislature would work toward ensuring the upcoming RTID vote would be combined into one, instead of dual votes that could threaten its complete passage. All present agreed that was important and should be addressed in the 2007 sessions. Plackett wanted Luke Esser to explain how he could possibly vote for I-912. Esser merely stated he was against taxes.
While Rodney Tom repeated his contention that Esser was a "no" on transportation and out of touch with his district, perhaps the best point of the night came from Deb Eddy who said the federal government needed to make America a priority again. The insinuation being that the Iraq war was sapping resources that could have been put toward many of the issues being discussed.
The discussion came to a close at 8:30pm, and Luke Esser was quick to exit, literally making a bee line for the doors without staying to chat with attendees, as all the other candidates were doing. While there was no hostility in the air, he probably sensed this was not a supportive crowd for him. It would have been nice if there was a larger crowd, but I suspect many may have not come because Esser was not originally confirmed as an attendee, and certainly having Tom and Esser confirmed to both be present would have been more compelling, as it definitely was in the end.
All in all, a good discussion focusing on one major issue, that helped distinguish the nuances between the candidates.