17th District: Probst, Harris, Stonier

Heated battle, qualified candidates make this an interesting district

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Nestled between the red 18th and the blue 49th is Clark County's 17th Legislative District, the only one of the three with legislators from both political parties. Competition is fierce in this slightly conservative but unpredictable swing district. Nowhere is this struggle more evident than in Don Benton's race to hold on to his state senator's job. The strong Republican is locked in a bitter battle with moderate Democrat Tim Probst, a state representative who's seeking to dethrone the incumbent conservative kingpin.The Columbian endorses Probst because of his poised approach, intense work ethic and his superior record of legislative and civic contributions, especially in job creation. For state representatives, we admire the qualities of all four candidates. Our recommendations are to advance Republican Paul Harris from solid rookie to skilled sophomore, and to elect gregarious and detail-oriented Democrat Monica Stonier to her first term.

The 17th District covers Vancouver east of Interstate 205, extending to Northeast 199th Street to include Orchards, Brush Prairie and Pleasant Valley.

State senator: Probst's earlier triumphs in workforce development are paying off in the Legislature, where he helped create jobs, emphasized high-tech advancements in Southwest Washington and helped provide job training for veterans. He's a down-to-earth, straight-shooting team player. Probst says if lawmakers can't produce a balanced budget on time, they should not be paid per diem for special sessions caused by missing the budget deadline.

Give Benton credit for consistency, but not as a positive force. He's been a polarizing figure, more prone to attack than to seek accord, burdened by a background pocked with spotty attendance and hostility even toward leaders of his own party. For three sessions -- 2009 through 2011 -- Benton ranked among the five state senators with the most missed votes. Back in 2000, his run-in with Republican leaders led to his replacement as state party chair.

These flaws -- contrasted with Probst's positive solutions-focused approach -- conspire to form Benton's toughest challenge as a state senator.

State rep, Position 2: Paul Harris and Democratic newcomer Jim Gizzi offer voters two excellent choices. We see little reason to replace the incumbent. Harris boasts the education background of a former school board member, and he was steady during his first term as a legislator. He works well across party lines and understands the need to reduce regulations on the private sector. Having completed his rookie term, Harris looks to become a stronger force in the caucus and committee arenas.

Gizzi has carved a superb record in the private sector. He has an engaging sense of humor, a strong willingness to listen and holds promise as an elected official, if not in this race then perhaps later.

State rep, Position 1: Another race with two highly qualified candidates. Probst's replacement will be strong on education issues, regardless who it is. Monica Stonier of Vancouver is a teaching coach and former teacher who is making a much stronger run in her second bid for the Legislature. Her high energy, comprehensive understanding of multiple issues, team-building skills and passion for public outreach are paying off in this campaign.

Julie Olson of Ridgefield has an edge in elected experience as a seven-year school board member. She understands the synergy between private and public sectors and would make a fine state representative. Stonier came out ahead in the primary, and we give her the nod as the better of two good candidates.