Washington voters should elect Hilary Franz as the next commissioner of public lands.
IN the race for Washington’s commissioner of public lands, voters must choose between imperfect candidates with a mixed bag of strengths, one from the far right and the other from the far left.
Democrat Hilary Franz, a Seattle environmental attorney and activist, narrowly wins our endorsement because of her extensive knowledge of state policies, her energetic advocacy and her pledge to uphold the state’s forest-trust-land program.
Republican Steve McLaughlin, a retired and accomplished Navy officer, has more extensive managerial and wildfire experience and has trained state and federal emergency responders.
The Times recommends:
Commissioner of Public Lands
Strengths: Extensive knowledge of state policies, energetic advocacy
Franz, a Seattle environmental attorney and activist, narrowly wins our endorsement because of her extensive knowledge of state policies, her energetic advocacy and her pledge to uphold the state’s forest-trust-land program. ..."
They are vying for a job managing 5.6 million acres of public lands, including forest, range and tidal lands that have generated more than $8 billion since 1970 for public schools, counties and universities.
This trust-land program is like a self-replenishing ATM for the state — enshrined in its constitution. It’s also essential to the economy of rural Washington, where state timber sales support more than 20,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in annual wages.
This editorial board endorsed King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove in the primary and was put off by Franz’s intimations that the trust-land program was no longer that useful for school funding and should be re-evaluated. Upthegrove failed to advance.
Franz has since moderated her position and now talks of the importance of harvesting timber, thinning forests and supplying mills. This important shift must be more than campaign spin. Staying closer to the middle will require Franz to resist pressure from the wealthy Seattle environmentalists funding her campaign.
Conservation is already a top priority for the state Department of Natural Resources. More than half of its lands are now permanently conserved for endangered species and habitat. Legal settlements and environmental laws largely guide what can be done on remaining forests.
McLaughlin has also moved to the center as his campaign gained momentum. He now disavows right-wing groups he associated with in recent years.
Nevertheless, we are troubled by McLaughlin’s language in an Independence Day message shared on Facebook in 2015. He said “a small percentage of us have awakened to the tyranny being imposed upon us at all levels of government and we are starting to take action to stop the constant erosion of our rights.”
True character and intent is hard to divine from the caldron of social media, where it’s easy to get caught up in heated arguments.
Still, Washington needs a lands commissioner who will vigorously defend state regulations and pursue timber-sales and grazing contracts that bring the greatest financial return for schools, counties and the general public — even if ranchers and other lessees protest and invoke the constitution.
If Washington voters could combine McLaughlin’s managerial and wildfire experience with Franz’s policy chops and split their ideologies down the middle, they’d have a remarkable lands commissioner.
Instead, voters should elect Hilary Franz for lands commissioner and hold her to her campaign promise of the moderate position.