Candidates for Kittitas County commissioner and state House of Representatives for the 13th District responded to questions during a forum sponsored by the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday in Ellensburg.

Republican Matt Manweller of Ellensburg, a Central Washington University political science professor, and Democrat Kaj Selmann of Moses Lake, a general contractor, are running for the 13th District House seat now held by state Rep. Bill Hinkle of Cle Elum, who decided not to run for re-election.

Former Cle Elum mayor Gary Berndt, a Republican, and veterinarian Paula Thompson, who has stated no party preference, are running for the District 2 seat held by Alan Crankovich, who is not running for another term.


Question: A constituent comes into your office to make a request you don’t agree with or can’t support. What would you tell that person? What if the person donated to your campaign?

Matt Manweller: People come to you and ask you for things all the time in politics and this job would be really easy if you could just give everybody what they want. But we live in a world of finite resources and sometimes desires are mutually exclusive.

I think the best thing you can do is not lead them on and suggest to them that you’re going to go try. 

You just have to be honest with them and say, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to support this legislation.” Or, “sorry, I can’t support that line item. There are just things that are higher on the priority list, education, taking care of the needy.” 

As for the donations, those make absolutely no impact, that any one of the donations you would get out of the hundreds would have aggregate effect. 

Most of the time when people come and ask you for things, you don’t even know if they’ve donated to you. 

At the end of the day, because our donation limits are so low in Washington state, no legislator is going to violate their ethics by voting for something they disagree with because they got a check from somebody.

Kaj Selmann: Before I told them anything, I’d make sure I’d listen to them clearly enough to hear them out. A lot of times what people come in proposing has a whole background to it you don’t know. 

The first thing you need to do is actually listen to the whole thing and make sure you know what their underlying motivation is. Because oftentimes what they think the solution is and what they’re asking you to do isn’t what actually needs to be done. 

So the first thing is you need to listen and have a thorough understanding of what they need. They are your constituent, they aren’t there to be a D or R. They are someone you are there to serve.

If ultimately you can’t support them I think you owe it to them to explain thoroughly why it is, what other factors, what are the other interests in your district that make it something you can’t support and at least be able to give them a line of reasoning that show them you have given it thought and reflective of representing your district.  You’re not just making a party line decision and they aren’t part of your party so tough luck for them. 

What if they donated? I have a lot of respect for people who have donated for me. I have a lot of respect for the rest of the people in my district, too. The people that have donated to me are from this district so it isn’t an ethical question of whether I’m representing someone from Bellevue or someone from here.


Question: If the well moratorium is permanently extended or made county-wide, people who speculated by purchasing senior water rights with the intent of reselling them to homebuilders stand to make substantial profits. Is that the most prudent, to say nothing of fair, solution to the well moratorium issue?

Gary Berndt: No. To simply turn water into a commodity that is bought and sold on the open market does not appear to me to be in the best interest of everybody in Kittitas County. It may be a short-term solution to those who have senior water rights or can obtain senior water rights, but to turn it into profiteering, the highest bidder sort of thing doesn’t lead to good economy. It’s going to be more expensive for homes to be built, it’s going to really slow the economy, I think, dramatically. We need to look at something else. Other places that have these sorts of things, water can be purchased for much less than what we’re seeing now. If it proliferates and everybody has it, senior rights, maybe the price would come down. But currently to add $10,000, $15,000 on to the price of a home to purchase one ERU, equivalent residential unit, that doesn’t help the longterm at all. So I’m not seeing that as the solution to a moratorium. Frankly, water storage will be the long-term solution and I’ll support that all the way.


Paula Thompson: What it is, is supply and demand economics. We have an over-allocated basin; senior water rights are a scarce commodity. Like it or not, we have a market that people want a scarce commodity. I can see that feeling that it’s not fair, but that’s free market enterprise. There are other options we can have to, hopefully, increase our abilities to have water like storage and being more efficient with our irrigation water. It’s a complicated issue and there’s no one answer to the whole thing. But it’s going to be expensive, because, basically, water is for fighting and whiskey is for drinking. It’s a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. And water is scarce throughout the Western United States. It’s not a new issue, and whether water rights from the Upper County can be sold in the lower basin of the Yakima. Water is a valuable commodity and we’re just going to need to see what happens and try to work with it.


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