17th Legislative District: Hash, Harris

Another strange, exciting race is shaping up in the 17th Legislative District

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How unpredictable are voters in the 17th Legislative District? In 2008, they favored Don Benton and Barack Obama. That’s right, among the district’s 62,161 voters who participated in that election, the conservative state senator (51.1 percent) and the liberal president (51.7 percent) were top vote-getters in their respective races.

It’s not that the folks themselves are weird; they’re mostly normal people who live east of Interstate 205, south of Northeast 199th Street, west of Northeast 182nd Avenue and west of Camas. Think Cascade Park, Orchards, Brush Prairie, Pleasant Valley and Washington State University Vancouver. But their voting habits are trendless. Generally, it’s known as a conservative district, but both parties have won key elections in recent years in the fickle 17th.

Onto this unstable political landscape wanders one Martin Hash, one of the smartest, richest and weirdest political candidates you’ll ever meet. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly as he dropped his head during a meeting with The Columbian’s editorial board, “some folks would say I’m an arrogant son of a gun.” He’s also one of two candidates for 17th District state representative whom The Columbian views as worthy of advancing beyond the Aug. 17 primary to the Nov. 2 election. The other is Republican Paul Harris, a former Evergreen school board member.

Our top recommendation is Hash, a Democrat who calls himself an iconoclast maverick. He’s ultra-liberal on some issues (government’s obligations in social services) but conservative on others (rejects many labor union ideas). He accepts no campaign funding, postulating simply: “Why would anyone not vote for me, when they compare me to the other candidates?” There’s certainly no comparison in education. Hash is both an attorney and an accountant. He also has a Ph.D. in computer science. And there’s certainly no comparison in personal wealth. Hash has made millions in 3-D animation software development. He no longer needs to work. He spent most of last year backpacking through Africa and the Middle East.

All of these qualifications are quite bizarre compared with the traditional campaign waged by the more popular Democratic candidate, Monica Stonier. She is endorsed by incumbent Deb Wallace, who is not running for re-election. Stonier, a teacher, quickly and clearly specifies public education as her top priority. She obviously has the background and expertise for that. But she also sings pitch-perfect the talking point serenades of the Washington Education Association, the teachers’ union. Stonier shows no inclination to force public employees to incur the same pay and benefits sacrifices that private-sector workers have suffered. Her big campaign advantages over Hash are party connections and political clout. She — and not the eccentric attorney/accountant/computer nerd/rich guy — is the darling of local Democrats.

The GOP’s lone hope in this race is Harris, who has failed in two bids for the Legislature, losing to Wallace in 2006 and to Jim Dunn in the 2004 primary. Harris has owned a paint company and aspires to make Washington more business-friendly. Job-creation and reducing state spending are his top priorities.

This is one of the most captivating races in the local primary. Two will survive. Our recommendations are the unconventional Democrat and the rock-ribbed Republican. But with the erratic track record of 17th District voters, nothing would surprise us. To review other Columbian endorsements for the primary, visit http://columbian.com/news/opinion.