July 19, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Johnson, French best District 3 county commission candidates


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

The District 3 county commission race is unsurprisingly contentious, because it features two candidates who tussled four years ago and still have little use for one another. Al French, a Republican, defeated then-incumbent Democrat Bonnie Mager, who is seeking a rematch without party affiliation.

Mary Lou Johnson, a Democrat, is the third candidate, and while she’s critical of French, she’s unscarred by previous battles. Her main reason for running is to follow through on the admirable criminal justice reforms she’s helped shape. She is responsible for major parts of the Blueprint for Reform, which has received broad support.

As a longtime attorney in Washington Court of Appeals Division III and U.S. District Court, Johnson brings experience none of the other commissioners has. Criminal justice represents three-quarters of the county’s budget. She also would be the only commissioner with health care experience, having been a community health nurse, nurse practitioner and nursing educator. Johnson says French has failed to collaborate with other regional leaders, which has cost the county on issues like solid waste. She’s also critical of the commission’s decisions to expand urban growth boundaries.

French’s strength is economic development. He’s helped make county government more business friendly and worked on tapping the commercial potential of the underutilized West Plains. The Caterpillar distribution center is a notable example. He’s a strong advocate for the Geiger rail spur and sees a rail trans-loader operation as a potential solution for long-hauling trash to distant landfills, and moving freight as well.

French is passionate on these issues; sometimes too passionate. He has been heavy-handed at times, such as holding up appointments to the Landmarks Commission when decisions didn’t go his way. However, he has been an effective voice against the overheated rhetoric on “sprawl.” Compared with similar-size cities, Spokane’s population is relatively dense. Plus, as he points out, those who choose to live outside the city limits do pay a premium for city services. His revenue-sharing plan could end the territorial wars with the city of Spokane.

Mager hammers French for “crony capitalism” and the failure to draw other cities into the county’s solid waste network. She sees no use for the incinerator, saying landfills are the better option environmentally. She has supported the Spokane Tribe’s effort to build a casino, touting the 5,000 jobs that project would bring. That figure is debatable, as is her assertion that non-tribal businesses and entertainment venues wouldn’t be harmed. Plus, we think placing a second casino/resort in Airway Heights would threaten the future of Fairchild Air Force Base.

We admire Johnson’s calm intelligence and common-sense justice ideas. We support French’s hard work and results in economic development. They’re the best choices to advance to the general election.

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