OLYMPIA – A year after a cowboy-hatted Peter Goldmark rode a horse into Spokane to launch his unsuccessful campaign against U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Goldmark’s saddling up again.
This time, the Okanogan County rancher, scientist and former Washington State University regent hopes to unseat state Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland. Goldmark’s a Democrat; Sutherland’s a Republican.
“I think he’s vulnerable because he’s been serving narrow interests,” Goldmark said Monday. Under Sutherland’s watch, he says, the state Department of Natural Resources is favoring timber companies and developers to the detriment of Washington’s nearly 3 million acres of state-owned forest and other lands. Asked for specifics, he cites a logged-off steep hillside near Hood Canal, land swaps in Eastern Washington and private forest owners clashing with the agency.
Sutherland scoffed at the attack, saying that he’s doing a good job of balancing good stewardship of state lands with his mandate to generate income for schools, universities and government services.
“Obviously, they’re looking for something for some traction,” Sutherland said of the criticism. “But quite frankly, this doesn’t get there.”
Goldmark was initially dismissed by Republicans in last year’s race against McMorris Rodgers, who went by simply McMorris before her marriage, a former state lawmaker who’d won a seat in Congress with 60 percent of the vote in 2004. But as it became clear that Democrats would be riding a tide of anger against President Bush and the war in Iraq, Republicans grew increasingly nervous. A GOP congressional committee in late October told donors that McMorris was one of 33 GOP candidates “most in need of support right now.”
As the $3 million campaign heated up, Goldmark blasted McMorris, calling her a pawn for special interests and a rubber stamp for Bush.
In the end, voters went with McMorris, 55 percent to Goldmark’s 45 percent.
As lands commissioner, Goldmark says, he’d be a voice for rural Washington, long-term conservation, and sustainable resources and dollars. He’s a second-generation wheat farmer and cattle rancher and holds a doctorate in molecular biology – a combination that led supporters to tout him last year with the slogan, “That’s one smart cowboy.”
He had a brief stay in Olympia in 1993, when then-Gov. Mike Lowry appointed him director of the state Department of Agriculture. Goldmark resigned after less than six months, saying he couldn’t juggle 60- to 80-hour weeks in Olympia with the demands of raising five young children.
“I chose my family, and I make no apologies for that,” he said Monday. Now, with all his children grown, he said, he has the time to devote to a statewide job.
Goldmark may have some Democratic competition in the primary. State Sen. Erik Poulsen’s name has been floated as a potential lands commissioner candidate, as has King County Councilman Dow Constantine’s. Neither has yet filed a candidacy statement with the Public Disclosure Commission.
Sutherland is one of just three Republicans holding statewide office. The others are Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna.
Sutherland says he’s not worried. Elected in 2001, he’s now in his second four-year term. He says he’s proud of his record, balancing his duties to raise millions of dollars with responsible land management.
Contrary to Goldmark’s assertions, he said, there are no “fire-sale prices” for state timber. It’s sold at public auction, he said, with state officials carefully monitoring timber prices throughout the region. And when land is sold to a developer, he said, it’s done to maximize school and government revenue.
“I think that our stewardship of the land we manage for the benefit of the people of this state has been better than most,” he said.