AAUW forum sparks discussion
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff
Stevens County judicial and commissioner candidates responded to questions about mental health services in the community, jail overcrowding and sentencing alternatives at a candidates’ forum in Colville last Thursday. The event sponsored by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) allowed candidates to respond to the questions from attendees. Many of the questions centered around mental health services available in the county and the response from law enforcement to mental health issues.
When asked what steps county candidates have taken to address mental health issues, the responses were varied.
Stevens County Commissioner incumbent candidate Steve Parker (Dist. 3) said that jailing those with mental health issues is not productive and noted that the county commissioners are working on establishing a 15-bed mental health facility in Stevens County.
Parker’s challenger, Matt Wolohan from Northport, said that the county also does not have a licensed psychiatrist in its mental health services and supports the county doing more to help those struggling with mental health issues.
In relation, the Stevens County Superior Court Judge candidates were asked if they support sentencing alternatives for those who may have mental health issues, such as therapeutic courts that offer community based treatment programs instead of jail time.
Stevens County Superior Court Judge (pos. 1) incumbent Pat Monasmith said he supports the concept of therapeutic courts, but his opponent, attorney Olivia Irwin, disagreed.
“The issue with therapeutic courts is that they don’t actually work and creating different courts for different people creates challenges to equal protection under the law,” said Irwin.
Stevens County Superior Court Judge (pos. 2) candidate Jessica Taylor said she supports therapeutic courts, but only if they have the proper tools.
“Mental health issues can be addressed with therapeutic courts, but only if funding is available to support all parts of the program,” Taylor said. “They do have a high efficacy rating, but only if probation, therapy and other services are also available.”
Taylor’s challenger, attorney Terry Wiliams, agreed. “No one is served by incarcerating people with mental health issues,” he said.
Gender issues; personal candidate questions
One audience member asked if the AAUW that offers college scholarships to young women should have to offer the scholarship to a student who “identifies” as female.
Most candidates chose not to answer the question but judicial candidate Olivia Irwin said she didn’t see that situation occurring but wanted to “call out the prejudice behind the question.”
Commissioner candidate Steve Parker said he did not feel the organization should be forced to give out a scholarship if it chose not to.
“The law should not require private organizations to act against their own bylaws or their own consciences,” Parker said.
Candidates discussed a variety of issues and also responded to some personal questions from the audience.
Stevens County Commissioner candidate Steve Parker was asked what he would do if a stand off between private citizens and government agents occurred at the Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge near Arden as it did at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year. Parker co-sponsored an event last February to benefit LaVoy Fincum, one of the ranchers involved in the protest who was shot and killed by federal agents.
“What happened in Oregon is a sad affair. The situation occurred because convicted, principled people wanted to point out a disparate situation where a ranch family was sentenced to federal prison for accidentally burning some federal land while trying to do a back-burn on their own property,” said Parker. “The situation [at Malheur] was an indication of problems between federal land ownership and the community. If that happened here, I would meet with those protesting and let them know, if they don’t endanger people, we won’t endanger you.”
Candidate Wolohan had a very different view.
“Our county runs on the rule of law and when armed thugs trashed the Malheur refuge, that situation was dealt with appropriately,” said Wolohan. “It is best left to legal channels to deal with these kinds of concerns. People who take up arms to oppose the government are headed for trouble.”