WENATCHEE — Topics ranged from retraining farmworkers to universal health care at a town hall meeting state Reps. Keith Goehner and Mike Steele held Saturday in Wenatchee.
More than 100 people attended the meeting in The Grove Recital Hall at Wenatchee Valley College. Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody moderated the event, selecting written questions from audience members.
Goehner, R-Dryden, and Steele, R-Chelan, represent the 12thLegislative District covering Chelan and Douglas counties and parts of Grant and Okanogan counties.
Steele said he wasn’t aware of any legislation regarding retraining and reskilling farmworkers as technology evolves in agriculture. However, he said he’d be interested in working on the issue.
Goehner said funding and making people aware of existing resources, such as WorkSource and SkillSource, is a good idea.
“I’m sure some of them will be displaced, (but) there will always be a need for manual labor in orchards,” he said. “Quite honestly, there are people who are really finding great fulfillment in that, and I think we need to recognize that good, hard work is fulfilling. But we want to also provide opportunities for people to advance.”
For instance, the pear grower said, a Mexican immigrant who started out working in Goehner’s orchard is now a local school principal.
As far as health care, Goehner voted against a bill that would establish a public long-term care trust fund. Steele supported the bill, which passed the House of Representatives last month.
Steele stopped short of saying he wouldn’t support universal health care in the future, but he said so far, proposals have left many questions unanswered.
“This is not about greedy Republicans versus touchy-feely Democrats,” he said. “This is really trying to find a policy that says, ‘How can the state afford it? What’s going to make sense for the providers so they still get paid a meaningful wage? … And then how are we going to get the insurance providers to be able to handle a system we’re enforcing upon them?’”
Goehner said a single-payer system drives insurance companies out of the market and more government involvement means more taxes. He said he supports a competitive insurance market with more options.
Both representatives said they support cost-of-living adjustments for teachers’ and public employees’ retirement systems, as well as hiring more counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers in public schools.
The state Senate passed a bill earlier this month to ban suction dredge mining. Both Goehner and Steele said they were leaning toward supporting the bill but needed to learn more about it.
“We’re having competing interests here,” Goehner said. “We’re trying to establish fish runs; we’re investing significant amounts of money into that. Then we are having these, typically, 5-inch suction holes that you dredge with.”
He said he wants to know whether dredge mining happens during spawning runs.
Both representatives voted against an eviction reform bill that passed the House this month. Goehner said the bill is an example of Western Washington-specific bills affecting the entire state.
Goehner said protections already exist for both landlords and tenants but that landlords should be able to maintain their own property.
“Now if we have businesses that are extorting or hurting or causing pain to people in an unfair, unjust way, we need to deal with that and deal with that swiftly and appropriately,” he said. “But you cannot pass legislation that causes sweeping changes across the state because of one bad actor.”
Steele praised Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s work on forest management and wildfire prevention and said he would meet with her and other agencies this week.
“I really believe if we’re going to drastically reduce carbon emission in the state, we have to get a handle on our biggest emitter, which is fire,” he said. “We want these forests to be healthy, we want folks to be able to access them, and we want to make sure that they’re here in perpetuity for future generations,” he added. “We can’t do that if we don’t manage them correctly.”
Goehner did not answer a question about whether he believed in climate change, but Steele said he did. Hydropower is a step in the right direction, he said.
“We must and we should be good stewards of this planet,” Steele said. “(My family’s) been in farming for 120 years on the same piece of land. If you’re not good to that land — if you don’t treat that soil well, if you don’t treat that water well, if you don’t ensure the air is clean above you — you’re not going to have the yields you need in order to be successful. I think that’s a really important piece. We have a responsibility, not only to our land and our planet, but to future generations.”