Voters sorting through the menu of legislative candidates in the rural and conservative 9th District will need a better measuring stick than political philosophy. The differences just aren’t great enough to be helpful.
Less regulation, fewer mandates, lower taxes. State Rep. Steve Hailey offered those preferences a year ago when he won the district’s House seat. So did former Rep. Don Cox when he was appointed to serve out the term after Hailey died.
And so do all five candidates (four Republicans and one Republican-turned-Democrat) who are running for the job on the Aug. 18 primary election ballot.
What matters in an ideologically matched field are experience and qualifications, and by those standards three of the five hopefuls stand out.
Among them is Pat Hailey, who is campaigning to assume the office her late husband won a year ago. She has the advantage of having been by his side during much of his legislative work and the life that led him to politics.
Art Swannack, a farmer and lifelong district resident, has a stronger claim than Hailey’s. His resume is varied, including Grange work, roles on the school board and fire commission, and activism in the sheep producers organization.
But the strongest set of credentials belongs to Susan Fagan, former director of public affairs for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman. She understands the economic issues of manufacturing as well as family farming, with which she also has personal experience. As for the job at hand, legislating, she worked in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Sens. Jim McClure, Steve Symms and Larry Craig. That translates more closely to the work she’s seeking than any of the other candidates’ qualifications.
Of the two remaining candidates, neo-Democrat Glen R. Stockwell, who has run for the job before, is still concentrating on the single issue he championed previously, federal completion of the Columbia Basin Project. Darin Watkins farms on the Palouse and has local school board and plan commission experience, but he puts more emphasis on his background as a television journalist.
Susan Fagan has not only the philosophy but the preparation to serve the 9th District in Olympia.