Although politicians of all partisan stripes chant "jobs, jobs, jobs" as the three most important issues of 2012, it is difficult to overlook education as a key issue in one particular local race for a state representative's post.Two candidates in one 17th Legislative District showdown are a school board president — Republican Julie Olson of Ridgefield — and a veteran educator — Democrat Monica Stonier of Vancouver. Their experience dovetails comfortably with the state constitution's declaration that public education is the "paramount duty" of state government. So while Olson and Stonier are eager and prepared to discuss job creation, economic development and other legislative matters, there's no denying that improving schools is a motivating factor for each candidate in the Aug. 7 primary.
The Columbian endorses Stonier and Olson as the top two candidates for the post that became an open race when state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, announced he would challenge Republican incumbent state Sen. Don Benton. A battle in the primary was necessitated by the entry of a third candidate, Republican Matthew Homola, who has not returned repeated inquiries from The Columbian and to date has waged no campaign of consequence. (In the other state representative's race in the 17th, incumbent Republican Paul Harris will face Democrat challenger Jim Gizzi in the fall.)
Primary ballots will be mailed on July 18. The Columbian will narrow its recommendation to a single endorsee in the Nov. 6 general election.
Stonier and Olson share similar attributes but are divided philosophically on many political issues. Each brings a keen intellectualism to the campaign, supported by extensive knowledge of crucial legislative topics, especially — naturally — education issues. Both women have shown extensive collaborative skills. Each is highly and properly motivated for community service.
Olson understands schools from the perspective of a seven-year school board member. She has helped guide Ridgefield schools through a rocky road of failed and successful ballot measures, to the current upbeat, optimistic and enthusiastic pattern of exciting growth in that community.
Stonier's experience is more closely connected to classrooms. She currently works as a teaching coach in the Evergreen district and previously worked as a language arts and social studies teacher at Pacific Middle School.
On specific issues, voters in the 17th will easily distinguish each candidate from the other, especially during the campaign for the fall election. Olson supports charter schools and merit-based pay for teachers, whereas Stonier argues that charter schools will take money away from public schools, and rather than merit-based pay prefers the evaluation plan approved by the state that allows schools to fire teachers after multiple poor evaluations.
Beyond education, Stonier supports the Columbia River Crossing with light rail (but will accept the will of the voters), believes commuters deserve a break on tolls, supports gay marriage and wants tax relief for businesses to stimulate hiring. Olson believes a new Interstate 5 Bridge is needed but discounts the need for light rail, supports civil unions rather than gay marriage and advocates privatizing the industrial insurance system or at least making it more competitive.
Voters in the 17th are fortunate to have two highly qualified candidates to replace Probst, who has built a reputation for hard work and generating bipartisan progress. Julie Olson and Monica Stonier clearly are the top two choices in this race.