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Joe Gardner for county commissioner

Voters should give Cowlitz County Commissioner Joe Gardner another term.

Gardner’s first four years were marked by an ongoing debate about whether to turn over operation and control of the county landfill to an outside contractor. Gardner has patiently listened to both sides and avoided staking out a dogmatic position on the issue, though he now says he is opposed to the idea. He is not the most loquacious of public figures and eschews the limelight. But we’ve been impressed by his growth and maturation in the position.

In the long term, Gardner’s listen-and-learn approach is a good one to have on the board of commissioners, who may be wrestling with the landfill again even if the board now turns down turning over the operation to a private company. Cooper’s experience also will be useful as the county continues to wrestle with its perennial budget shortages.

Gardner’s opponent, Republican Jerry Cooper, served jail time in Utah over a snarled property dispute dating from about 20 years ago. After looking into the circumstances of the case, we’ve concluded Cooper is not a bad man. He didn’t mean to break the law, but he nevertheless went way across a legal line in defense of his property rights. His actions showed bad judgment, and even now he has not been totally truthful the case.

The commissioners operate in a box made of such legal lines. Gardner has shown he can be a good steward of taxpayer money and work within the law. Voters should return him to the board.

Ed Orcutt for 20th District representative

Brennan Bailey has mounted a spirited campaign against long-serving Republican Ed Orcutt, but we believe Orcutt should continue to represent the 20th District in Olympia.

Bailey, a Democrat, advocates an anti-tax, gun-friendly platform tailored for the right-leaning 20th District, which includes much of eastern Cowlitz County excluding Kelso. A first-grade teacher in Toledo, he does not see politics as a lifelong career, but he is motivated to run now primarily because of ongoing public school financial dislocation caused by the court-ordered “McCleary fix.” The Legislature’s top-down solution satisfied the courts, but by minimizing the role of local levies, it has been an awkward fit for many districts. Bailey argues he would bring much-needed education expertise to the Capitol.

In the coming session, there probably is going to be a “fix to the fix” bill to help smooth out McCleary’s sharp edges, but there is very limited room to make the changes Bailey wants. The courts have ordered that lawmakers pay for “uniformity” in education, and local levies are the enemy of parity. Nothing that could threaten the court-ordered arrangement is going to be included in the “fix to the fix.” It also is questionable whether a freshman from a red district, who would be voting with Republicans on several hot-button issues, would have much power to shape that bill in any case.

A legislator’s job goes far beyond schools. The 20th District representative will need to speak on everything from hoof rot to roads, global warming to immigration. Orcutt has a background in forestry. He is the ranking Republican on the finance committee. He also sits on the natural resources and transportation committees. Orcutt has been a reliable voice for the 20th District on a broad spectrum of issues, and he should keep his job.

Duane Dalgleish for PUD commissioner

On the issues, there isn’t much to differentiate Ned Piper and Duane Dalgleish. And voters really can’t go wrong with whomever they pick for the six-year term.

Piper spent 24 years as PUD commissioner before retiring two years ago. Piper wants to return to the board, and he would bring valuable institutional memory back to the utility’s governing body. Dalgleish has long private-sector experience in the electrical industry, and he has spent six years volunteering on the PUD’s Electric Rates Advisory Committee. In campaign forums, they’ve differed more in emphasis than in philosophy or specifics. Both strike us as qualified, earnest candidates who would fight for ratepayers.

In this race, we favor a fresh set of eyes over maximizing experience. Piper is 78. He has contended many times with many of the issues the PUD faces, and that experience is valuable to the board, whose other two members still are relatively new. But there is one giant issue looming before the board that will require energy and longevity: Should the PUD continue to rely mostly on the Bonneville Power Administration for the bulk of its electricity when its wholesale power contract expires in 2028? The decision will have a major bearing on future power rates.

Dalgleish has proved he has the interest, time and passion, and the understanding to do the job. Piper has served admirably, but voters here have an opportunity to pass the torch on to another strong candidate. And that is why we are recommending Dalgleish for the position.

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