Marijuana, charter schools, and 36th District candidates debate

Last night at the Taproot Theater (206 N. 85th St.) in Greenwood, the 36th District candidates and representatives from two ballot initiatives debated in an open forum. The debates covered Initiative 502, which would license, regulate and tax marijuana in the state and Initiative 1240, which would introduce charter schools into the public school system.

36th District candidates Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame answer questions at Taproot Theater on Tuesday night

36th District candidates Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame

The remaining candidates for the 36th District, Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame discussed education, plans for office, and endorsements. Tarleton, a Democrat and current Seattle Port Commission president, said her 30 years of experience in working for the government would give her the knowledge and ability to serve as a state representative. Noel Frame, who is a first-time candidate and also a Democrat, said her passion for “systems change” and numerous endorsements from state legislators and Governor Christine Gregoire show her readiness and qualifications to represent the 36th District.

On the issue of higher-education funding, Tarleton laid out three ideas for helping students. First, she wants to create a low-interest student loan program, managed by the state. Second, she wants to freeze tuition at all 4-year institutions and community colleges for three years, to give the state a chance to create revenues from “new revenues,” including the potential sales tax on soda and candy. Her third idea is to develop a grant program with the federal government to secure a $25 million grant each year for ten years in which the state matches that grant for higher education. Frame’s approach to changes in higher-education funding is different, as she describes herself as more interested in changing the system as a whole. “I’m an organizer, a systems-change person. I really want us to have a state-wide conversation about where we want to go,” Frame explained. “My strength is in community engagement and organizing, and with fellow legislators, I want to go to communities all around the state and have those conversations.”

The candidates will appear in Ballard again on Tuesday, October 23 at the Sunset Hill Community Association (3003 NW 66th St) from 7 to 9 p.m. More details to come on that meeting.

Initiative 502 (concerns marijuana)

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and marijuana defense attorney Douglas Hiatt discussed I-502, Holmes a supporter and Hiatt an opponent. The bill would, according to the Washington Secretary of State voters guide, “license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.” One of the key issues Hiatt raised was the DUI portion of the bill, under which users caught driving under the influence would be given a DUI (after a positive drug test). Hiatt said that part of the bill is a “disaster waiting to happen,” adding that the zero-tolerance aspect means he won’t be able to defend medical marijuana patients whose tolerance levels would deem them able to drive safely.

Hiatt stressed that the bill is not the key to ending marijuana prohibition, whereas Holmes argued that the initiative would “start the debate” on a federal level. By taxing marijuana, Holmes said the state could, “capture an income stream,” adding millions of tax dollars to the state’s general fund.

Initiatve 1240 (charter schools)

Eric Blumhagan and Cary Evans discussed I-1240, which, according to the voter’s guide, would, “authorize up to 40 publicly-funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious, nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools.” Blumhagan represented the opponents of the bill, and Evans was arguing for the supporters of the measure. Blumhagan’s bottom line was that charter schools will take money out of public schools, which are already struggling to adequately meet the needs of students. Evans said the schools would not, in fact, take money away from students, as charter schools will be in the public school system and will therefore serve students across the board.

Another issue raised by Blumhagan was the lack of oversight and potential placements of charter schools. “What’s to stop charter schools from going to Magnolia or Mercer Island?” he posed. If the charter schools were to be built in those areas, with no transportation offered, Blumhagan argued that would not serve low-income students or target areas that need charters. Evans countered, saying the application process for schools is “rigorous,” and insisted that statistics show a huge increase in graduation rates from students who enroll in charter schools.

These measures and candidates will be on the November 6 General Election ballot. The last day to register to vote online is October 8. View more voter information here. For a complete list and descriptions of the measures that will appear on the ballot, click here.

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