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Our View: Nods to Owens, Crouse, Hattenburg, Parker, Driscoll

The editorial board of The Spokesman-Review has reached the following endorsement positions.

4th District, Senate: Bob McCaslin, the senior member of the Washington Senate, thought closely about not seeking his eighth four-year term in Olympia. He didn’t want to give Democrats a second open seat to shoot at after Rep. Lynn Schindler decided to step down.

No matter what happens on Nov. 4, he says, his current election campaign will be his last.

His Democratic challenger is Liberty Lake City Councilwoman Judi Owens, a secretary in the Central Valley School District as well as an officer in the union that represents school support personnel. Both roles have sent her to Olympia on legislative liaison missions, so the system would not be new to her.

McCaslin, first elected in 1980, is proud of his representation of the 4th District. But aside from helping nail down funding for the Liberty Lake School District once and more recently for Mirabeau Point, he mentioned only generalities, such as supporting education. And except for saying he opposes the Washington Assessment of Student Learning – or WASL – he couldn’t point to a specific school-related achievement.

Only one of the seven bills McCaslin introduced last session passed the Senate, and it died in the House. Over the years, we have endorsed McCaslin repeatedly, and he deserves appreciation for his nearly three decades of legislative service. But that seniority is not producing the results and influence one would expect.

We also are troubled by his indiscreet decision two years ago to seek reimbursement for lodging and parking at the Davenport Hotel, just 13 miles from his home, when the Legislature held hearings in Spokane.

At the same time, we are wary of Owens’ association with a public employee union agenda – especially in a time of tense fiscal pressures – but she embraces certain positions that back up her self-description as a moderate. She is skeptical, for instance, about the expanse of state-required coverages that drive up the cost of health insurance.

She’s also been resourceful and frugal as a city council member helping newly incorporated Liberty Lake establish its municipal structure.

Owens appears to be a plausible legislative candidate, and we can’t be sure another will step forward in four years when McCaslin, should he win, plans to call it quits. Now is the time to give Owens a chance. We can judge her performance in 2012.

4th District, House Position 1: State Rep. Larry Crouse and Linda Thompson have both spent years in public service, he in the Legislature and she laboring locally to curb substance abuse and drunken driving. In a perfect world there would be a way to send both of them to the House of Representatives.

It doesn’t work that way, however, so we recommend voters in the 4th District re-elect Republican Crouse to an eighth two-year term in the House.

Democrat Thompson endured the tragedy of having a child killed by a drunken driver, and she redirected her pain into an impassioned commitment to saving other families from a similar horror. She is a devoted community activist and volunteer who would, under the right circumstances, be a credible legislator.

But Crouse, a low-profile perfectionist, has acquired an invaluable expertise in matters involving energy and technology – arenas that are highly pertinent to the times. He doesn’t stuff the hopper with bills, but the few measures he introduces as his own he crafts with precision and gets them passed, even if he has to fine-tune along the way.

He’s a pragmatist who dislikes partisan clashes, and he’s been able to work effectively with Democrats to see needed legislation become law.

We disapprove of his sturdy opposition to securing the rights of same-sex couples, a failing Thompson would correct, but Crouse’s hard-working dedication to his specialty area is an asset the voters should not forfeit.

4th District, House Position 2: State Rep. Lynn Schindler’s decision to step down from the Legislature left 4th District voters with a vacant seat to fill. The choice boils down to a well-liked lifetime resident of the district with a record of community involvement or a political newcomer with a possibly extemist agenda, not to mention allegations of troubling difficulties in his personal life.

We think Democrat Tim Hattenburg, who waged a credible campaign four years ago against Sen. Bob McCaslin, deserves a chance to take his commitment to Olympia on the voters’ behalf. Retired educator Hattenburg, a state teacher-of-the-year nominee in 1990, also has been a coach, athletic director and administrator. He has small-business experience as well and serves on the Spokane County Library Board.

That range of experiences, coupled with tireless community-level work, prepare him for the challenges the Legislature must face setting priorities for the state’s limited resources.

Hattenburg is opposed by attorney Matt Shea, a Spokane native and Gonzaga Law School graduate who is the executive director of Washington Family Foundation, a conservative religious organization that opposes equal treatment of gays and lesbians. He also donates legal services to the Alliance Defense Fund, which has a similar agenda.

He recently went through a divorce in which his ex-wife obtained a protection order after alleging that Shea was physically and emotionally abusive. Allegations are not proven facts, but the court records offer red flags that give us pause.

Shea is an Army National Guard captain who takes justifiable pride in his military service, which includes an 11-month combat tour in Iraq. Commanding troops during armed hostilities requires admirable skills, but we don’t think they translate to the Legislature’s needs as well as Hattenburg’s more pertinent preparation.

6th District, House Position 1: To judge by their campaign literature, state Rep. Don Barlow and challenger Kevin Parker are like-minded candidates. Both favor better education, economic development and job creation and access to affordable health care.

We’re left to consider not so much what goals do we support but which candidate can be more effective at producing satisfactory results.

Our mind hasn’t changed on that score since August when we endorsed Republican Parker in the primary election.

Democrat Barlow, a counseler in private life, has served two years in the House with modest results. We credit him with lengthy community service and with persistence as a political office seeker who didn’t let early defeats quench his enthusiasm.

But we’re impressed by Parker’s energy and understanding of issues. The owner of a coffee business franchise, he has first-hand experience in how state decisions impact the job market. Wherever he has been, he, too, has given generously to his community.

He also understands how important government openness is if citizens are to hold their elected officials and bureaucratic administrators accountable. Barlow previously served on the Spokane School Board, where public records are sometimes difficult to pry loose. We think those who write state law should have a commitment to openness.

As we’ve said, Parker shows potential.

6th District, House Position 2: Rep. John Ahern, a Republican, has held the seat since 2000. His challenger, Democrat John Driscoll, has deep roots in Spokane but this is his first run for elected office. The contrasts don’t end there.

Ahern’s focus is business and crime. He has been successful in toughening the state’s drunken driving laws and has advocated other tough-on-crime legislation. He pledges to never vote for tax increases, which means he needs identify service cuts to balance the budget. He says he would forgo cuts for public safety and corrections and would target the departments of Social and Health Services and Labor and Industries. However, he offers no specifics.

He says he supports education, but beyond ending the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, he offers no details for improving schools. “Back to basics” is too vague. We disagree with his views on social issues and note he starred in two embarrassing episodes in Olympia centering on abortion rights and equality for gay and lesbian couples. Ahern is ill-informed on the issues surrounding access to health care, which leads us to his opponent.

John Driscoll is the health administrator for Project Access, a wonderful program that reaches out to the uninsured with donated health-care services. He is knowledgeable about the issue, though he wouldn’t commit to one of the five solutions the Legislature is examining. He strikes a progressive note on social issues, education and open government.

In an economy that relies so much on health care, Driscoll could be a real asset in speaking up for the needs of Spokane County. He isn’t a polished politician and has much to learn on other subjects, but we think the district would be better served with the fresh approach that Driscoll promises.


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