In Our View: Harris, Hash in 17th, Pos. 2

Race will be entertaining, but incumbent Republican deserves re-election

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If nothing else, the campaign for state Representative from the 17th District, Position 2, promises to be the most flamboyant on the local ballot. Republican Paul Harris is the incumbent and — to be honest — is quite likely to be re-elected. Yet it won’t be for a lack of boisterous efforts from his two opponents.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Harris or Democrat Martin Hash in the Aug. 2 primary that will determine which two candidates advance to the November general election. But Republican challenger Richard Colwell also can be expected to draw some attention during the race. As always, this is merely a recommendation; The Columbian trusts that voters will invest some time to examine the candidates and the issues.

That investment will reveal that Harris has been an effective representative during six years in Olympia. He has strong conservative credentials, but says, “The hardest thing I’ve learned as a legislator is that I have to compromise. To get things done, you have to compromise; legislation comes in small pieces.”

Harris, a former school board member, is in line to be the ranking member on the Education Committee if he is re-elected. That position will be in the spotlight as lawmakers are tasked with fully funding K-12 education, a mission he believes can be achieved without raising taxes. He says the Interstate 5 Bridge should be addressed before focus turns to additional bridges across the Columbia River, and favors expanded bus access on a new bridge rather than light rail. He also was a strong proponent of tax breaks for Boeing, which lawmakers extended in 2013 in exchange for construction of the 777X in the state, but notes that the Legislature should have tied the package to additional jobs that the company has since moved out of the region.

That pragmatic approach sets Harris apart from his opponents. Ideology is easy; governing is harder, and the other candidates in the race are strong on ideology.

Hash, who missed a scheduled meeting with the editorial board, comes across as a colorful character in a series of online videos promoting his candidacy. Among the issues, he says, “I will defend against the downtown Vancouver interests who think they’re part of Portland to the detriment of everyone else in Clark County, specifically the ridiculous bridge replacement and light-rail project they intend to foist upon us.” He also says he will “protect charter schools because they offer choice, a fundamental aspect of liberty.”

Colwell also is big on fundamentals, presenting an articulate ideological platform that often ignores the reality of governing and saying, “I’m sick and tired of politicians who say one thing and don’t do it.” He favors broad-based school choice, allowing students and parents to use a voucher system to choose their school. He believes that if Boeing received a tax break, then all companies in Washington should receive them. He strongly supports free-market solutions to all issues facing the state, and rails against what he sees as the corruption of a “rigged” system.

Colwell is eloquent in espousing his ideas but, as Harris noted, “It’s really important as we say these things — how do we get there?” That is pertinent in considering this contest. Hash and Colwell are filled with idealistic notions; Harris has demonstrated an ability to actually get things done.

Harris is the strongest candidate in the race for state representative from the 17th District, Position 2, with Hash a distant second. But it should be entertaining along the way.