A sign urging islanders to vote against the proposed public hospital district is seen along Vashon Highway on Friday, Oct. 25 (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo).

A sign urging islanders to vote against the proposed public hospital district is seen along Vashon Highway on Friday, Oct. 25 (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo).

Hospital district opposition ‘in the shadows’

The pro-hospital district campaign’s efforts has far outweighed any against the ballot measure — why?

A trip down Vashon-Maury Island’s main drag shows colorful autumn leaves and an abundance of signs, large and small, from the group Protect Vashon Health Care, persuading islanders to vote for Proposition 1, which would create a public hospital district (PHD).

And yet, there are only a few signs throughout the island encouraging everyone to vote “no” — but it’s not as if the islanders opposing a hospital district are staying completely silent.

The Vashonites Facebook page includes hundreds of comments on the matter, not to mention letters, op-eds and advertisements published in The Beachcomber.

“It’s great to have that old democratic process working,” said Steve Nourse, an islander who is opposed to a public hospital district.

However, the movement does have its kinks, he said.

“I think it’s just not as organized,” Nourse said.

That lack of formality is in contrast to Protect Vashon Health Care’s campaign, which has raked in close to $60,000, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission website.

Regardless of whether there is a formal campaign apparatus, Nourse also believes some residents who are opposed to a hospital district are not as vocal about it as they could be.

“I think sometimes on Vashon, if you have an opinion that’s maybe a little contrary (to what’s popular), people do get in the shadows a little bit,” Nourse said.

Hilary Emmer, a community activist on the island who co-authored the opposing statement on Proposition 1 in the King County Voters’ Pamphlet, agreed.

“It’s hard on this island. It’s hard if you take a negative position to the majority of the people,” she said in an interview with The Beachcomber.

Emmer knows a handful of residents who are against the hospital district and they’re all asking her to take an active role in speaking out.

“People want me to be the front person,” Emmer said. “I’ve encouraged a lot of people to actually talk. I’ve said, ‘More voices are stronger than one voice’ and they are totally uncomfortable of doing that because of backlash. They are afraid of backlash.”

Voicing opposition

Emmer’s opposing statement on Proposition 1 in the voters’ guide — which she co-authored with Vashon Natural Medicine Owner Kelly Wright — has been one of the more highly public expressions against the ballot measure.

“Health care is a human right which should be available to all, but a new tax on those who need help the most is not the way to solve it,” the statement reads, in part.

The new tax — which would not be collected until 2021 – is one of the main points of contention for people who oppose a hospital district. According to the state statute that allows for those districts, commissioners have the power to “raise revenue by the levy of an annual tax on all taxable property.”

If elected, the commissioners would be able to raise revenue by levying property taxes to collect $.75 per $1,000 of an assessed home’s value, according to the statute.

Emmer told The Beachcomber she believes this new tax would hurt people, including the island’s senior population.

The newspaper also reached out to Kelly Wright for an interview, but she declined to comment “due to the divisive nature of this issue.”

Kelly Wright said she has not actively campaigned against a public hospital district with her mother, George Wright, who placed an ad urging residents to vote against Proposition 1 in The Beachcomber.

Meanwhile, the elder Wright offered comments to the newspaper, saying she is “by myself” in opposing a public hospital district before stating why she’s against the ballot measure.

“I feel there is no need to subject all tax-paying citizens to a forever burden when they haven’t even discussed the problems yet,” she wrote in an email. “If that should happen to Vashon, we would stand to lose a great part of the fabric of the islands, our parks.

Should commissioners of an island hospital district choose a levy that exceeds a certain threshold, it could curtail the tax revenue of the park district. The park district relies on levy dollars for about 80% of its annual income.

Island resident John van Amerongen believes it is a mistake for residents to even consider voting for who will be on the hospital district’s board of commissioners before understanding what a public hospital district is. Proposition 1, along with nine candidates for the five commissioner seats, are on the 2019 general election ballot.

“Before you vote to tax yourself once again and give control of your money to an as-yet unelected and unnamed board of commissioners, read the measure’s summary,” van Amerongen wrote in an email, asking residents to view the information about Proposition 1 found on the King County Election office’s website. “If you do vote yes, and the proposal passes, this is what you’ll be handing them under the law.”

Emmer raised the same concerns.

“They’re asking us to vote for something that we don’t know what we’re voting on,” she said. “Maybe we really need to know what we are voting on.”

Emmer said this election has lacked a debate on whether a hospital district is needed on the island. She blamed the organizers of the Oct. 10 forum, saying a public gathering of the candidates seemed to accept the fact that there could be a public hospital district.

Officials from Indivisible Vashon and Uniting for Democracy were asked in an interview with The Beachcomber if the forum could appear to be an endorsement of a hospital district, but they said it was not.

Emmer doesn’t know if the island will vote for a hospital district.

“I’ll look at the vote at 8:05 p.m. on Tuesday,” she said. “I cannot get a feel because the ‘yes’ people are out there and the ‘no’ people are out there, but quiet.”

Emmer said those dynamics don’t worry her as to whether a hospital district will pass.

“I absolutely believe in democracy. How the people vote is how the people vote,” she said. “I believe the best voter is the informed voter and that’s why I want both sides out there, that’s why I would have preferred a debate. It’s not happening here this time. I’m very sad about that.”

Emmer added, “I don’t hold grudges. If it passes, it passes.”

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