Four candidates in primary vie for representative seat


Oakley, Keller, Holy and Dellwo running to represent West Plains in Dist. 6 Pos. 2


Staff Reporter

Legislative redistricting in Washington has brought much of the West Plains out of District 9 and into District 6, which also includes the western portion of Spokane. Four candidates are vying to represent the new district in the state House of Representatives. Dennis Dellwo, a Democrat, served in the Legislature for the Third District from 1983 to 1996 and works as an attorney. Jeff Holy, a Republican, is an attorney and retired officer from the Washington State Patrol; this is Holy's second run for public office after a failed bid for Spokane County Commissioner. Larry Keller, a Republican, is a retired Air Force vice-wing commander and recently retired superintendent of the Cheney School District; this is Keller's first run for public office. Ben Oakley, a Republican, served as a legislative aide to Rep. Kevin Parker for the past three years and previously worked as the executive director for the non-profit organization Young Life.

As the Aug. 7 primary draws near, the Free Press asked the candidates to answer five questions that would help West Plains residents learn more about their beliefs and goals. For more information on each candidate, read the online voters' guide at

Each candidate was sent the same list of questions, which they responded to by email. Their responses have been edited for newspaper style.

Why are you running for office?

Dennis Dellwo: I believe that public service is an important part of our lives. My family has been involved in public service as long as I remember. Also, when I was in the Legislature 16 years ago, I worked with those on both sides of issues and across the aisle with our Republican colleagues. This needs to again be the norm rather than the exception. As the Chair of the Health Care and the Banking and Insurance Committees I worked to address the concerns of fellow legislators and affected parties to reach the goal of legislation that is best for our area.

Jeff Holy: I'm running to protect and maintain individual liberties, to make Washington State a business friendly environment, to protect Fairchild and the jobs that we currently have, to improve education funding and to keep our communities safe by continuing the 6th District legacy of support for public safety. I'm running to be that voice in Olympia that daily reminds state government to honor the will of the people.

Larry Keller: I believe we can do better. Our legislators have lost sight of who they serve with multiple special sessions over the past four years for what purpose? We have legislators on the far left and right holding our citizens hostage to their personal ideology. I have been successful in two very diverse careers, spanning 39 years and have a track record of getting things done. I have expertise in both education and as a military leader and clearly understand we serve all the people.

Ben Oakley: Washington state is at a crossroads. Having worked in the Legislature the last three years as the legislative aide to Rep. Kevin Parker, I am the only Republican with actual legislative experience to bring fresh and effective leadership to Olympia. I helped write and pass a Medicaid Fraud Reform bill in 2012 that could save the state $300 million. I have worked in the private sector, been an executive director of two non-profits, and most recently worked in the Legislature, so I have the ability to bring a responsible balance to Olympia at a time when division and partisanship is plentiful.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing the West Plains and how do you plan to address them in the Legislature?

Dellwo: Cheney is the location of one of Washington's best universities, a school that provides higher education to many from Spokane, including one of my daughters. We need to support Eastern Washington University and its students. Medical Lake has one of our state's mental health campuses that serves much of Washington. We need to assure staffing levels that address the safety of our workers and patients. Airway Heights is home to our military as well as new industry. They will receive a great amount of attention both because they are in the 6th District but also because of their importance statewide.

Holy: Water. Availability of water will determine both residential and commercial growth potential. Inadequate local water availability may drive more municipal annexation, due to the city of Spokane having adequate water resources to provide to West Plains users. It is the job of our legislature to protect individual property rights in the face of increased pressure to access such natural resources.

Beyond water, we need to assure that we maintain the identity of our local communities in the face of coming West Plains development. Returning greater control to local government will help provide for such protection.

Keller: I believe the biggest issue is managing growth on the West Plains. I am one of two candidates living on the West Plains and the only candidate whose campaign literature references a “Vision for the West Plains and Spokane.” We need to strike a balance that honors the property rights of those residing on the West Plains and economic development. We need to be concerned about encroachment and the impact to Fairchild Air Force Base, but need to clearly understand what is reasonable. Airway Heights and Medical Lake, the two cities closest to the base, should be our voice and we should not allow the city of Spokane to dictate what is right for us.

Oakley: Jobs. Washington state must become more business friendly. Whether one is in the West Plains or in Spokane, it is expensive to run a business and we must address the underlying issues keeping our citizens out of work. We must privatize the state's worker's compensation system to significantly lower rates on small business.  We are in need of B&O tax reform as well to help our small businesses compete in the global market. Our healthcare system also needs reform. We must begin to deal with the actual cost drivers in the system and increase competition.

What will be your first priority—the first thing you'll work on—if elected?

Dellwo: Education is paramount for the success of our state. It is also critical to fully fund K-12 as required by our Constitution.

Further, we need to support more efforts to match existing unfilled jobs with training opportunities. We need to plan education for the jobs that will be available after graduation. Our community colleges are already doing a good job in these areas. What we should do is focus on supporting and expanding these programs and get people to work now.

Holy: I have a vision for our region where our finest resources - our youth - won't have to seek their fortune elsewhere.

To move toward accomplishing this vision, my first priority will be to help the greater Spokane region become the type of business environment where we don't have to worry about Idaho, Oregon or any other competitor, because business will want to be here.

I have a goal to make our next generation look at Spokane as a place of great opportunity.

Keller: My first priority will be working on creating an environment that supports a healthy business climate and promotes jobs. My focus will include, looking at all laws and statutes that impact the viability of small businesses. We need to restructure our state's Business and Occupation tax. A tax based on gross profit does not take into account new business startup costs and discourages the growth of new businesses. Additionally we need to take a hard look at L& I costs. Today's high rates limit the hiring of new employees.

Oakley: I will work to privatize the state's workers compensation system so we can get Eastern Washington working again. Government does not create jobs, but it can foster an environment where our job creators have the freedom and flexibility to do what they do best.

As a representative of District 6, how do you plan to balance the interests of the West Plains with the interests of the city of Spokane?

Dellwo: I would like to be the voice of the West Plains. The interests of the West Plains are very much the interests of the entire 6th District. Higher education, military base stability, mental health programs concern us all. However, jobs and economic vitality is in the forefront.

I will work hard to insure that all those in and around the West Plains are represented. I will meet regularly with the community and their leaders in the West Plains to make sure the needs and concerns are heard and addressed.

Holy: With the new 6th Legislative District boundaries, both higher education and agriculture have an enhanced presence. The West Plains contain both. Support for higher education is mutually beneficial with the interests of the city of Spokane. Support for agriculture is also integral to the economy of our whole region, as the impact of agribusiness is one of our prime economic drivers. As our region grows, it becomes ever more apparent that the West Plains and city of Spokane have many more interests in common than those competing with each other.

Keller: In many cases our interests are the same. We want a vibrant economy for all of our citizens within the regions, we want great schools for our children and we want to make sure that our state government protects individual rights. Step one in balancing the interests is to make sure that all voices are heard. The West Plains Chamber, on which I have been a board member and am still a member, is a great conduit to provide a common West Plains voice to interface with Greater Spokane Incorporated to make sure we have a common understanding. I will stay engaged with both organizations to ensure that our interests are balanced.

Oakley: Having worked in the Legislature the last three years, I understand the issues facing all of Eastern Washington. During the redistricting process, I do believe the West Plains will benefit from being a part of a smaller legislative district.  I will continue to fight to protect our number one asset, Fairchild. We must keep a balance between good economic development and job growth to the West Plains, without compromising Fairchild. We need to reach out to businesses that are looking to re-locate to a great place like the West Plains, as growth is a strategic advantage we have.

Many people believe that elected officials care more for political posturing than for governing effectively. Do you see this as a problem here in Washington? If so, what will you do to earn the voters' trust and improve the way the Legislature governs?

Dellwo: I think it is wrong for our citizen representatives to posture politically when this does not allow that person to govern effectively. Legislators need to be willing to collaborate and compromise. It is essential that they set aside their political ideologies and work together to develop laws that help the people of the State of Washington. I promise to work with both parties to reach that end. My goal will be to work towards the passage of good laws.

Holy: Political posturing appears to be a negative way of saying that a public official is actually listening to those people represented and is championing those issues that that are important to the people. The problem isn't the posturing itself, it's the lack of follow through to accomplish that which was promised when the political position was taken. The people's trust can be regained by providing a measure of certainty in that when a public official promises to endorse, support, sponsor or address an issue, they will perform as promised.

Keller: Great question and I do see this as a problem and that is why I am running. I am tired of posturing and folks whose priority is “just getting elected or reelected.” I have been in the public eye for over 39 years, the last four as the Cheney School Superintendent. I have been visible and my actions have been transparent. I was hired to get things done and I have. Cheney has two middle schools opening this fall and a new elementary school in the fall of 2013. I will continue to earn our voters trust by listening first and then translating what I hear into action by being civil and reminding those I work with in Olympia that we work for the people not for our party or ourselves.

Oakley: If you look at this campaign, I am the only candidate in this race who has not taken money from public sector unions. I am supported by individuals and business owners who are tired of the partisan bickering and special interests. Being the only Republican who actually has worked in Olympia, I have seen first hand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the state Legislature. I will bring balance and a fresh vision to the Legislature, and bring pragmatic and principled ideas to a place that has become ever-increasingly partisan. The citizens of the 6th deserve this.

Becky Thomas can be reached at


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