Sept. 11 Daily News editorial
Dennis Weber and Terry McLaughlin, each seeking to replace retiring Chairman George Raiter on the Cowlitz County Commission, visited The Daily News' Editorial Board last week. Introductions were not necessary as both men were well-known to us and to county voters as well.
Before moving on to the question of which of them is the best choice to take Raiter's seat, we'd like to extend our thanks to Raiter for his career in public service. He's provided the county with leadership and good decision-making and we extend best wishes for an enjoyable retirement.
From our standpoint, we think the county is fortunate to have candidates as well-prepared as Weber and McLaughlin to take up the challenges and responsibilities involved with being a commission member.
Even though McLaughlin will have "prefers Democratic Party" noted next to his name on the November ballot and Weber is running as a Republican, we didn't find a lot of dramatic differences between them at last week's meeting. Both seemed to have a grasp of the issues and we think either or them would be an asset to the three-member commission.
Our choice is Dennis Weber, primarily because Weber has experience with union- and contract-related issues that McLaughlin, now serving as the county's assessor, has yet to acquire.
About 50 percent of the county's budget is supplied by revenue from property taxes and both candidates told us they see overall tax revenues either remaining flat or increasing only slightly over the coming years. This forecast, if accurate, will translate into quite a bit of pressure on the budget since some existing labor agreements include pay raises and there doesn't seem to be any sort of cap on the rising costs of health care.
Both candidates agreed that future budgets need to remain in balance. McLaughlin told us his strategy revolves around not replacing some county employees lost through attrition while we felt Weber offered a more pragmatic approach that included his willingness to take a lead role in bargaining with the many unions and professional organizations representing the county's workforce.
Weber, who's both Longview's current mayor and the president of the Longview Education Association, has significant experience on all sides of the table in terms of these issues. He feels this separates him from his opponent and we tend to agree.
Weber's been elected to Longview's City Council on six occasions and has also served on the Cowlitz County Planning Commission and Boundary Review Board. McLaughlin's experience as a county employee and administrator is valuable, but isn't quite as diverse.
Both candidates agreed with our position that economic development keyed to a rise in the number of jobs available for county residents should be the commission's top priority. Both said they wanted to improve county services and roughed out plans for how they'd do it.
We view this election as low-risk for Cowlitz residents as we can imagine either candidate succeeding in a larger role. Given two fully acceptable choices, our preference is for Dennis Weber.