In Our View: Wilson for Senate in 17th District

Democrat Probst also strong choice, but Republican state representative has edge

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With two experienced lawmakers facing off in a swing district and with no incumbent in the race, we expect that the contest for state senator in the 17th District will be highly competitive. We also expect that whichever candidate prevails will serve the district well. But for voters looking for a reason to lean one way or the other, The Columbian Editorial Board recommends Republican Lynda Wilson in her race against independent Democrat Tim Probst.

As regular readers of The Columbian’s editorials are aware, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. Voters are well-equipped to examine the candidates and the issues before making an informed decision. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed on Oct. 19, and Election Day is Nov. 8.

Wilson is a one-term state representative who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Don Benton. She is a co-owner of DeWils Industries, a local cabinet maker, and previously was chair of the Clark County Republican Party. Politically, she embraces common Republican talking points and emphasizes the need to rein in regulatory agencies that she says hamper economic development. Whether or not one agrees with that, Wilson’s experience as a business owner is a strong selling point. “It’s tough enough to face the rigors of a competitive marketplace, manage cash flow, and provide payroll and benefits for employees without having to comply with over-burdensome rules, regulations, fees, and taxes,” she writes in her campaign materials.

Wilson says she opposed the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing, but notes that congestion along the Interstate 5 corridor calls for a new bridge. She opposes an increase to the state’s minimum wage, is a strong gun-rights advocate, and believes the state can meet its mandate to fully fund schools through a levy swap that will not require a tax increase.

Probst was a state representative for four years before losing a close election against Benton for the Senate in 2012. He emphasizes — almost to a fault — his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. He rightly points to his role in creating the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program as an example of legislative success.

Probst demonstrates his bipartisan nature by opposing a ban on military-style weapons — which has been proposed by the state’s attorney general and often is decried by Republicans — and defining himself as a moderate Democrat who is opposed to tax increases. He agrees with Wilson that the state can fund schools without increasing taxes; he favors a phased-in increase to the minimum wage; and he stresses that the need for a new I-5 Bridge is a primary factor in his decision to run for the Senate.

In truth, individual voters in the 17th District likely will not need long to make up their minds between Wilson and Probst, given their party affiliations. But collectively, the makeup of the district promises to result in a close race. Wilson edged Probst by 50 votes in the two-person primary in August; Probst lost to Benton by 78 votes in 2012.

The question then becomes which candidate would best represent the district. Wilson has gradually grown into her role as a lawmaker, most notably working to protect victims of sex abuse and domestic violence in a bill that has been unfairly demonized by critics. Many voters will disagree with Wilson on a number of issues, but she is authentic in spelling out her positions and articulating them well.

Either candidate can be an effective senator from the 17th District, but The Columbian believes Lynda Wilson is the better choice.