Congress, Fifth District & amp; State Senate, Sixth District -- It's a sad fact: Spokane and Eastern Washington need all the help they can get. Despite all the national talk of war, this election has to be about economic development -- aka jobs. And since local efforts to make economic progress often need a helping hand, we're making practical choices in two key races, not ideological ones.
When George Nethercutt ran against Speaker of the House Tom Foley back in 1994, many people said we'd be crazy to turn out someone with such seniority. Spokane County agreed with that assessment, favoring Foley in that election. But the rural counties won the day, and the Fifth Congressional District's most powerful ally -- ever -- was dumped. In previous years, we have argued for replacing Nethercutt -- we don't like the way he won office and we don't think many of his policy objectives are good for the district. But now as he seeks his fifth term, he has climbed the ladder and mellowed his approach. His perch on the Appropriations Committee gives him the opportunity to be a key piece of the local economic development puzzle. And the fact that he has come around on a couple fronts makes him more acceptable. He now seems to understand that what he once called "pork" is really just our taxes put to work; he claims to have accepted at least one environmental issue -- the aquifer -- as nonpartisan; and he's been willing to challenge his party's orthodoxy on Cuba. He has matured in the sense that he is willing to put local needs ahead of the national party's interests.
Bart Haggin has an impressive record as a public servant in Spokane, from his time as a teacher to his dedication to progressive principles and conservation. We commend him and thank him for that. Unfortunately, Nethercutt is sure to be more effective on the district's behalf.
And in the 6th District State Senate race, we're faced with the same questions: do we stick with seniority, or hand the ball to someone who appears to be a capable newcomer? Again, in these challenging economic times, we swallow our serious reservations and choose to stick with Jim West, who is expected to become the Majority Leader if the Republicans win control of the Senate. West has been an important factor in winning passage for a series of Eastern Washington-friendly measures, and he should continue to do so in another term. And, hard as it is to believe, West's leadership is much needed in Olympia, where he is more moderate than many of his fellow senators. West has played plenty of petty politics over the years, but legislation this state needs has a better chance with him in charge than with some of the others who might take his place.
There are plenty of things not to like about West, but for us, the worst is his implicit coddling of the anti-tax initiative-pushers. The silence of West and others has allowed them to not only ravage the state's budget but to also usurp the rightful role of our elected leaders in Olympia. Thankfully, West is supporting R-51, so perhaps he's waking up to the truth. We'd like to see him buck his party in the coming years by standing up more vocally for the ability of the legislature to solve the state's problems and by not being afraid to call many of these initiatives just what they are -- stupid and selfish. That's the kind of leadership we need.
The fact that Laurie Dolan seems to be one of the best candidates to come out of the Sixth District in some time made this decision one of the toughest we've ever had to make. She was perhaps a bit overhandled by the state Democratic Party in this election, but if she fails to carry the day, here's hoping that she doesn't give up on seeking office. We need more people like her taking up the public's cause.
Finally, we must reiterate that we still believe the Democratic Party is more representative of the needs of Spokane and Eastern Washington. We just think that in these uncertain times, we cannot squander the few advantages that we do have.
George Nethercutt, Jr.
Referendum 51 -- The big myth surrounding R-51 is that if legislators could just try harder, they could come up with something better. Not true. In fact, if this transportation funding plan fails, don't expect to see any other statewide solutions. Instead, the legislature will throw up its hands once and for all and allow local jurisdictions to levy gas taxes. People say R-51 favors Puget Sound, but what would really be unfair is if Puget Sound is allowed to essentially secede from the rest of the state in transportation matters. Spokane might hold its own under this scenario -- might -- but the rest of Eastern Washington will suffer greatly.
The fact is, our roads are falling apart, and traffic problems are hurting our economy. A gas tax is the fairest way to fix the problem. But for Spokane, the good news you're not hearing much about is that the state share of the funding of the much-needed North-South Freeway could grow exponentially. That's because federal dollars tend to flow to projects that have the state's backing. And Sen. Patty Murray, a supporter of the North-South Freeway, sits on the Senate's Transportation Committee. Without R-51, the new freeway is back-burnered yet again, and like the state as a whole, the local economy will continue to suffer as a result.
Referendum 53 -- Certain industries are taking advantage of the state's unemployment insurance plan. This has made it unfair for industries that do play by the rules. In offering this fix for the problem, the legislature is reacting to a major concern of large employers. If we want to continue to see the likes of Boeing leaving the state, we can maintain the status quo. Otherwise, we should start to turn things around, and voting to make the unemployment insurance system more fair is a good place to start.
Initiative 790 -- This allows representatives of the state's firefighters and police officers to have a seat at the table where decisions are made about investing their pension funds. There are enough safeguards in place to prevent them from hijacking the process from the existing system. This is a reasonable request.
State Rep., 3rd District, Pos. One -- Not a spectacular legislator, Alex Wood still deserves credit for being effective in small ways in Olympia. From overseeing changes to rules for donated food to making low-income energy assistance easier to come by, Wood deserves to continue his work.
State Rep., 3rd District, Pos. Two -- Quite simply, Jeff Gombosky is one of the most thoughtful and innovative legislators east of the mountains. While many politicians position themselves to see the world in hard black and white, Gombosky sees all the shades of gray and has adjusted his tactics accordingly. He supported putting R-51 to a public vote because, he says, politics in this state has fundamentally changed. In this new landscape, he sees the role of the legislature as another competitor in the marketplace of ideas. Maybe not everything the legislature comes up with gets enacted, but when legislators are active, public confidence that the body is functioning properly can be restored. This is exactly the right idea, as the legislature must address how it fits into the scheme of public life during the next session. The state has some big problems, and without a legislature that works wisely, we may not be able to solve them. Gombosky is part of the brighter future we all need Olympia to reach for.
State Rep., 6th District, Pos. One -- Tony Bamonte has lived a rich and varied life, from laboring in the mines and forests to fighting in Vietnam to catching criminals to writing history. He's a perfect populist, and even though his campaign is based on fighting the power of pharmaceutical companies, his thoughtfulness and background guarantee he would be a good legislator on a variety of issues. (Disclosure: Tony Bamonte has written several freelance historical pieces for The Inlander over the years.)
State Rep., 6th District, Pos. Two -- The Republican hold on the Sixth District is well known -- no Democrat has been elected in the Sixth since 1942. Sheila Collins deserves to break that streak. Long active in Spokane as a business owner and a community volunteer, Collins is no knee-jerk Democrat. She questions state rules that may be regulating our state out of business competitiveness. Yet she still possesses all the progressive ideals that will serve the Sixth District best.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position One -- Deanna Hormann is very intent on listening and shaping the new city according to the wishes of the people who live there, from the bottom up.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position Two -- Steve Taylor is dynamic, well connected and informed on the issues facing the Valley. And he represents a large, important group of Valley residents, in that he is in his early thirties with a young family.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position Three -- John Kallas is a bit of a hothead, and if he doesn't adjust his attitude, he may be an ineffective councilman. Still, he's the only candidate arguing for protecting the environment, and he's the only candidate who seems to be aware of -- and has some solutions in mind for -- the problems the new city will face with its low-income population.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position 4
The new council could benefit from having someone with extensive law enforcement experience, and Dick Collins, a sheriff's deputy, has that. He has a ways to go, however, on other issues, including growth management.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position 5 -- Richard Munson would bring a strong personality to the job, and he is one of the only candidates to say he wants to make decisions based more on what's good for the Spokane Valley of 20 years from now than based on what's good right now.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position 6 -- Janine Eldredge-Underdahl seems a little unprepared, but she more than makes up for it in bringing up issue after issue that the other candidates are ignoring. For instance, she is the only one to mention the importance of developing an arts and cultural scene in the Valley.
Spokane Valley City Council, Position 7 -- With his background in the high-tech sector and his focus on higher education, Louis Sims could make a big difference in the Valley's future economic development.