The office of state Commissioner of Public Lands is a bit more complicated than it sounds. The commissioner leads the Department of Natural Resources, which manages more than 5 million acres of forests, controls the state’s largest fire department, and provides about $200 million each year to schools through timber sales and the leasing of resource rights.
Add to that list the difficulties presented by climate change, and the job calls for somebody who has a vast understanding of the ecology and a clear vision for shepherding Washington into the future. While both candidates possess strong credentials and a deep knowledge of the issues, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Democrat Hilary Franz in her race for Public Lands Commissioner against Republican Steve McLaughlin.
As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Columbian has faith in the desire and the ability of voters to examine the issues and the candidates before casting an informed choice for replacing Peter Goldmark, who did not seek a third term in the office.
Franz is a lawyer who long has been involved with conservation efforts and has served as executive director of Futurewise, a nonprofit organization that focuses on preventing urban sprawl and protecting natural resources. She also served on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Climate Action Team, has served on the Bainbridge Island City Council, and has experience in working with legislators to formulate policies relating to growth and natural resources.
Franz supports a four-pronged approach to the job as public lands commissioner: Restoring forest health; managing aquatic, range, and agriculture lands; developing clean energy options; and promoting recreational opportunities. She expresses a desire to expand timber sales, and notes that the Department of Natural Resources is a rare government agency that generates revenue.
McLaughlin, a retired naval officer and incident command instructor, would seem to desire a more aggressive approach to increasing timber sales and says that he would seek to overturn selected court decisions that have hampered the extraction of natural resources. “I think this needs to be tested in a higher court than a downtown Seattle court,” he said.
Both candidates stress the need to adjust the department’s firefighting strategies, an area that is taking up an increasing portion of the budget, and both say that improved forest management through controlled burns and an expansion of grazing is essential in that regard.
But in pondering the role of government in managing Washington lands, Franz’s attention to clean energy and climate change suggests that she is a better fit for the job. For example, she would oppose the export of coal through Washington ports, while McLaughlin says he would consider each proposal based upon its individual merits. Franz also stresses the potential of unused public lands in the development of renewable energy projects and says the office should “be a partner and leader in efforts to address climate change.”
Franz’s experience in working with the Legislature and on environmental projects throughout the state also is a plus. As she says about promoting specific legislation, “You can’t show up on Day 1 and say, ‘Here’s my plan, please fund it.’ ”
Regardless of who wins this election, The Columbian trusts that the Department of Natural Resources will be in good hands, but we recommend a vote for Hilary Franz as Commissioner of Public Lands.