The contest between Republican Mark Richard and Democrat Bill Burke isn’t a clash of ideologies. It’s a battle over who best understands the job description.
They both want to be the District 2 commissioner for Spokane County, replacing Kate McCaslin, but they have dramatically different ideas on what the job entails. If they were artists, Mark Richard would paint by numbers. Burke would produce abstractions. But the job isn’t art; it requires concrete solutions and attention to detail.
Burke, who is an accomplished promoter, marketer and event planner, wants to be the lead cheerleader for the region. He is fond of saying, “I won’t be like any county commissioner we’ve ever had.” He views the region itself as an event and is confounded by its lack of self-esteem. He wants to repair that lack of confidence and tell the world that Spokane County is situated in the quality-of-life capital of the country. Only then, he says, will economic development follow. His pitch is inspirational and uplifting, but we’re not sure why he needs to be a county commissioner to proceed.
The job of commissioner requires someone who will be engaged in the nitty-gritty of land-use planning, sewage treatment, criminal justice, public health and budgeting. Mark Richard demonstrates a greater grasp of that everyday challenge, and thus is the stronger candidate. Richard’s critics are quick to charge that he is beholden to developers because of his job as the government affairs director for the Spokane Homebuilders Association. He would need to be watched on that score. But in discussing growth issues with the editorial board, he readily pointed to a couple of recent subdivisions that should have been headed off because they were insensitive to the environment and neighbors.
He shows an awareness of the no-win situation the county faces as it inevitably grows: Nobody likes density or sprawl. His expertise on land-use issues will foster creative solutions to projects that are often summarily rejected. Indeed, sometimes projects are thwarted not because of a particular regulation but because the regulation is misunderstood.
Of course, the job isn’t just about managing growth. Richard has done his homework on crime, budgeting and coordination with municipalities. He has visited and learned from sheriffs, jailers, city council members and county budget staffers. He has a more realistic approach to wastewater and storm water challenges.
The Spokane County Commission needs someone who is passionate about governing. Richard meets that description.