In Our View: Harris Again in 17th District

GOP representative deserves re-election due to his leadership, pragmatism

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We’ll make this quick: The Columbian’s Editorial Board believes that Paul Harris should be re-elected as state representative from the 17th Legislative District, Position 2.

Harris, R-Vancouver, was first elected in 2010 and serves as minority whip for the House Republican caucus. He is a straight-shooter who has strong conservative credentials but also has the ability to engage in debate, listen to the other side, and demonstrate leadership. As he told the Editorial Board prior to the primary: “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 is running against Democrat Martin Hash, who is conducting a low-key campaign that makes him unlikely to win. In the primary, Harris received 47 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Hash — despite splitting the Republican vote in the three-person race.

Before we go any further, we must mention that this — as always — is merely a recommendation. We trust the willingness and ability of voters to examine the candidates and the issues before casting an informed vote. It would be preferable if Hash was running a more active campaign that could flesh out the issues and put pressure upon Harris; voters would be better served. But, realistically, it is highly likely that Harris will be re-elected.

That being said, we shall focus more upon offering advice for Harris and other lawmakers, rather than repeating the strong reasoning behind supporting his re-election.

Among the notable developments is that Harris is in line to be the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee if he returns to Olympia. This will be essential, as funding for K-12 education promises to be the most pressing issue facing lawmakers next year. Undoubtedly, they have been negligent in their paramount duty to fully fund public schools; this year, four years after the state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington, lawmakers essentially planned to make a plan rather than addressing the issue. We expect Harris to put his leadership and diplomatic skills to use next year in helping the Legislature to come up with solutions rather than rhetoric.

Establishing the line between those two traits is one of Harris’ strengths. As an example, he was a strong supporter of tax breaks for Boeing that were passed during a special session of the Legislature in 2013, but admits now that the breaks should have been more strongly tied to keeping jobs in the state. This kind of pragmatism is what sets Harris apart from many modern-day politicians, who all too often cling to dogma at the expense of reality. In a commentary upon pervasive ideological rigidity, he said, “It’s really important as we say these things — how do we get there?”

Because of that, we also encourage Harris to take the lead in creating synergy among Southwest Washington lawmakers. It has been clear in recent years that local representatives have not worked to find common ground and unearth issues upon which they can work together for the betterment of the community. Differences of opinion often are unavoidable, but a lack of communication and consensus from local lawmakers has hampered this region’s effectiveness in the Legislature.

Before any of that can happen, of course, Harris needs to be re-elected. The Columbian believes that such an occurrence would be beneficial to Clark County.