Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

The Courtyard

By Will DeMarco
Gazette Reporter 

Candidates for judge, state representative give views at PLWV forum Wednesday


July 26, 2018 | View PDF

Mary Dye, Jenn Goulet, Joe Schmick and Matthew Sutherland

District 9 Representative incumbents and challengers, from left, Mary Dye, Jenn Goulet, Joe Schmick and Matthew Sutherland address the crowd at a candidate forum.

Candidates running for District 9 State Representative and Whitman County District Court Judge set forth their views and fielded audience questions at the League of Women Voters of Pullman forum at Neill Public Library July 18.

Education was an important topic among all candidates. Each offered their own approaches for improving the well-being of Washington's teachers and schools.

Incumbent state representative Joe Schmick of Colfax stressed the importance of improving special education programs across the state. Furthermore, Schmick offered up the idea of making public school budgets freely accessible online, an idea he said he borrowed from Idaho and one that would provide taxpayers more information about how their money is spent.

Schmick's challenger, Matthew Sutherland of Pullman, proposed more equitable education funding for eastern Washington relative to the west side of the state, adding that teachers shouldn't have to pay out of their own pockets to buy classroom materials.

Incumbent Rep. Mary Dye of Pomeroy agreed with Sutherland that it is important to bridge funding inequalities between rural and urban areas. Dye also stated she will work to increase salaries for Washington teachers.

Dye's challenger, Jenn Goulet of Pasco concurred, saying that Washington teacher's pay scales ought to be brought more in line with the cost of living. Goulet added that she would do away with standardized testing, explaining that it places an excessive burden on students and unfairly jeopardizes teacher's jobs.

In response to a question concerning how the state should deal with mental health issues, Goulet explained that Washington (and the country as a whole) are experiencing a shortage of mental health care professionals, saying she would work to make it easier for nurse practitioners to become psychiatric nurse practitioners in the state. Goulet added that she would work to increase funding for mental health resources in Washington so that patients aren't forced to travel to the west side for care.

Schmick stressed the need for more diversion programs in the state, which he said are an important form of rehabilitation that intervenes before an individual harms themselves or others.

Sutherland began by declaring he is "advocating health care for all in Washington," explaining that too many Washington residents are being denied care for pre-existing conditions. Sutherland also called for more capital investments in the state's health care programs and a reduction in prescription drug costs.

Dye agreed with Schmick's approach to mental health crises using early intervention, saying that families of individuals with mental health issues need to have more capacity to seek treatment. Dye said it should not solely be left up to professionals to determine a person's mental health, calling families "the first line of defense" in preventing crises.

Another audience member asked candidates whether or not they believe in the notion of human-caused climate change, if so, how they plan to mitigate its effects, and whether or not they support imposing a tax on carbon emissions.

Dye responded that she does not support imposing a carbon tax, saying that it would hurt populations like young families and heavily energy-dependent businesses.

Goulet answered that she tentatively supports a tax on carbon, saying that climate change is "undeniable" and hurts the most vulnerable in society, as it adversely affects individuals without the money to move away from coastal areas experiencing rising sea levels.

Schmick said he does not believe climate change is caused by humans and would not support a carbon tax initiative.

"I do not see the benefit in making energy so expensive people cannot afford it," Schmick said, adding that Washington is already one of the most environmentally-friendly states in the country.

Sutherland said he is certain that climate change is caused by human activity, but did not indicate whether he would support taxing carbon emissions. Sutherland further emphasized the importance of combating climate change, saying that higher temperatures damage the local economy by leading to worse crop yields and causing more droughts.

In the race to fill the district court judge's seat, which will be left vacant by the retirement of Judge Doug Robinson, candidates began the forum by discussing their personal backgrounds and legal experience.

John Hart started off saying he has earned 62 judicial endorsements as a candidate, including an endorsement from the incumbent, Robinson. In addition, Hart noted his experience as the Colfax municipal court judge and as a local public defender for more than 15 years.

Dan LeBeau focused on his approach as chief deputy for the Whitman County prosecutor's office, saying he strives to "balance accountability and rehabilitation." Lebeau added that while justice is his first priority, "My duty is to watch out not only for the victims, but for defendants themselves."

In his opening statement, Rob Rembert said he possesses "broader" legal experience than the other candidates, noting his extensive work on civil cases. Additionally, Rembert pointed to his involvement in local community organizations, explaining that such involvement is important "because the judge really is the conscience of the community."

When asked how he would work to make Whitman County's judicial system more effective and equitable, Rembert replied he would make sure the court website is updated with accurate information, as the page is often outdated. Doing so, Rembert said, would provide more transparency of court proceedings and benefit individuals with limited access to information.

Hart agreed, stating that his "number one budget priority" is updating technology used for court proceedings. Hart went on to say that improving communication between the court and local residents increases trust in the system and provides more open access for all.

LeBeau continued with the theme of updating old technology, stating that he supports using computers in the courtroom and doing away with a purely paper-based system.

By using computers, the court can deal with cases more efficiently and save residents time, LeBeau said.

Security became another important topic at the forum. Rembert said the security at Whitman County Courthouse is a "huge issue" and proposed the idea of hiring court marshals.

John Hart, Dan LeBeau and Rob Rembert

John Hart speaks while fellow district court judge candidates Dan LeBeau and Rob Rembert await their turn.

"We need to make sure people can come before the court and know they're safe in the process," Rembert said, adding that he doesn't want someone to have to be harmed at the courthouse for changes to be made.

Hart agreed with Rembert, stating he also views safety as a concern in the Colfax court. If elected, Hart pledged to vouch for more money to improve court security, noting that district court judges possess the bargaining power to push for funding from the state.

LeBeau concurred, stating "Well, it's unanimous – we don't have security." LeBeau explained that Whitman County lacks the personnel and security measures most other jurisdictions have in place to protect visitors to the courthouse.

The three candidates for judge face off in the Aug. 7 primary which will narrow the race to the two candidates who get the most votes.

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