The 7th Legislative District Senate candidates traded barbs over wolves, the economy and politics Thursday at an Oroville Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Although Chamber President Clyde Andrews said it wasn’t a debate, both Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, and challenger Brian Dansel, R-Republic, were given 25 minutes to speak, along with opportunities for rebuttal.
Both candidates said wolf management is a topic of concern, particularly for the ranchers of North-Central Washington.
Smith, 40, said he has a first-hand understanding of “living underneath the largest wolf pack in the state.”
He took credit for his role in sponsoring Senate Bill 5193, which set up a wolf management account to be funded by personalized license plates, as well as the “caught in the act” provision that gives livestock owners the authority to kill a wolf that attacks livestock or a family pet.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about the safety of my family,” Smith said.
Dansel, 30, said he had problems with both the “caught in the act” rule and the license plate law.
The license plate law is “what’s wrong with government,” he said. The law created a bigger state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has already invested too much money in land acquisitions.
Smith countered by saying money raised from the license plate sales would not be used for land acquisitions. It would be set aside for wolf management purposes or to pay ranchers that have suffered livestock losses through wolf depredation.
Dansel called the “caught in the act” rule an “emotional win” that wouldn’t provide much in the way of results.
“The problem is, how many times are you going to see a wolf,” he said.
Dansel’s solution was requesting access to collar data, which would give ranchers real-time information about where wolves were at any given time.
Smith said issues of wolf management raised in Washington have pushed the topic of changing federal statutes. The federal government is in the process of considering whether to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the lower 48 states.
Currently, wolves are federally protected as an endangered species west of U.S. Highway 97.
“Our efforts have altered the national conversation,” Smith said.
He said being able to protect his family, pets and livestock is a “right given by God” and part of his Second Amendment rights.
Dansel described himself as being as far from “politics as usual” as people are going to find. He said he has no intention of becoming a career politician.
Although he called term limits a “suicide word” for politicians, Dansel said he would not stay in office for more than two terms, if elected. He said looking back at the past 25 years, he didn’t see that politicians have instigated very much change.
Smith disagreed, he said, because he had seen the work first-hand and understood the negotiations needed to pass legislation.
Both candidates said they were supporters of Kinross Gold Corp. and hydroelectric power as a renewable energy source.
But they took different stances on the state budget and its effect on the economy.
Dansel proposed that politicians shouldn’t get their per diem pay if the legislative session went past its allotted 105 days.
Earlier this year, state politicians needed two special sessions to agree on a budget.
“Until they’re hit in the wallet… I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere,” Dansel said.
Smith said he personally was hit in the wallet during the special sessions. He said he lost more than $20,000 from his personal business from being in Olympia longer than the regular session.
Although the special sessions cost the state about $500,000, the budget negotiations saved state residents about $2 billion in taxes, Smith said.
He said his approach in negotiations is “finding solutions through common ground.”
Smith said he was originally from Idaho, but fell in love with North-Central Washington when he went to work on a ranch in Stevens County. Smith was appointed to his position in the Senate in January when Sen. Bob Morton retired.
He said one piece of advice he took from Morton, in particular, was not just to focus on adding new laws, but also to remove old ones.
Meanwhile, Dansel is a lifelong Ferry County resident.
“I’m going to die in Republic,” Dansel said.
Dansel said he was completely turned off of politics until about three years ago. About that time, he inherited property after his grandfather died.
He was spurred into politics after becoming frustrated with the process of obtaining a variance to build on the property, he said.
Dansel sold the property at a loss, he said, and used the money to finance his campaign to become a Ferry County commissioner. He won the election — unseating the same man who turned down his application for the variance, he said.