Among Washington’s nine statewide elected executive offices are three that perform key functions in the day-to-day lives of the state’s residents. Perhaps the most visible, especially as the Legislature grapples with school funding and charter school issues, is the nonpartisan superintendent of public instruction. Two other offices — commissioner of public lands and insurance commissioner — are partisan positions. It’s debatable whether partisanship is relevant, but that is the system we have.
Today, the Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board offers its recommendations for these three positions. The board brought together candidates for face-to-face interviews that allowed a back-and-forth discussion and follow-up questions. From these meetings, the board offers its endorsements as further information for voters to consider as they arrive at their decisions. The board endorses the following candidates:
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: CHRIS REYKDAL
The nonpartisan race is a close call between two qualified candidates with similar capabilities but with very different strengths and styles.
Chris Reykdal, a Tumwater resident, represents the 22nd District as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives; he’s a former teacher and school board member who worked for 14 years as a finance administrator in the state’s community and technical college system. His opponent, Erin Jones, is also former teacher who was the state Milken Educator of the Year while teaching in Spokane. She has worked as the assistant superintendent of student achievement in the SPI office and now is an administrator in the Tacoma School District.
Both view the public schools as pathways to opportunity, especially for poor students. Reykdal says he grew up poor and was the first in his family to go to college, while Jones has spent much of her career in schools with high percentages of students in poverty.
The next state schools superintendent will be right in the middle of the school-funding debate brought about by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Both speak knowledgeably about how a solution involves more than extra money and that the schools have to show the money is producing desirable outcomes. Reykdal talks about using his finance administrator skills to provide data that will educate legislators, while Jones wants legislators to hear real stories from students and teachers about what has worked and what needs to be done.
Perhaps one way to put it: Reykdal, with his finance experience, can speak to enumeration; Jones, as an African-American woman who has been a teacher and administrator in difficult schools, can speak to aspiration. To us, Reykdal gets the slight edge with his work background and his already-established connections with the Legislature.
COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC LANDS: HILARY FRANZ
This is another close call between two candidates with starkly different backgrounds and instincts but who, publicly anyway, profess some similar policies on two major areas of oversight: state trust lands whose timber sales support public school construction, and policies on fighting wildfires on state land.
Hilary Franz, a Democrat, is an environmental attorney who has served on the Bainbridge Island City Council. For the past five years, she has been executive director of a group called Futurewise, which monitors counties’ compliance with the state Growth Management Act and seeks to protect working farmland from urban development. Steve McLaughlin, a Republican, is a retired U.S. Navy commander who has trained almost 1,000 firefighters and public safety personnel in incident management.
Both talk of the need to balance timber harvest sustainability with meeting the agency’s constitutional obligation to funding schools. On this issue, Franz has walked back on a statement she made during the primary, when she advocated “a dependable permanent funding source for schools, breaking their dependence on the historical forest-funding stream”; for that, she suggested a federal program that is underfunded and would not come close to making up the difference.
Franz now advocates “diversifying and increasing our revenue opportunities on our public lands,” and suggests investments in mills, biomass and canning facilities as directions the department could take on timber, clean energy and agricultural production. She proposes conducting an analysis of how state lands are being used and touts her work on a West Richland project, which invested in wine grape plantings and a processing facility, as an example of economic development that keeps farmland in production near an urban area and increase tax revenue.
McLaughlin is more aggressive on timber harvesting, advocating an increase in timber production while noting that logging must remain sustainable. Like Franz, he also talks of reaching out to stakeholders on the issue. Both agree on the need for active management to cut the risk of wildfires, including forest thinning and cleanup up debris.
The lands commissioner oversees the Department of Natural Resources, which sits right in the flash point of issues regarding conservation, economic development and recreation. The commissioner must acknowledge the views of all sides to develop workable solutions. Franz has more experience in that area and has won accolades for a collaborative approach; she was involved in the state’s Kittitas County land purchase that is part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.
Franz has the backing of some of the more strident environmentalists in Western Washington, and to be effective she would need to keep some distance from them and to listen to the concerns of agriculture, forestry and user groups. But she has demonstrated the ability to compromise and work out practical solutions, skills that will be in high demand for the next state lands commissioner.
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: MIKE KREIDLER
Throughout the rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Washington state has done better than most states. That it has been far from perfect is an understatement that inspires chortles, but the implementation of the complicated law has increased health insurance coverage dramatically, especially in high-poverty areas like the Yakima Valley.
Like the ACA implementation, the tenure of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler hasn’t been totally smooth. But its successes — among them, more than 1.5 million state residents have enrolled in Medicaid — outweigh the drawbacks, and Kreidler has earned a fifth term as insurance commissioner.
Kreidler, a Democrat, brings a background as a former congressman and doctor of optometry. His Republican opponent, Richard Schrock, is a commissioner of a Snohomish County fire district and former director of the state Department of Commerce under Gov. John Spellman back in the 1980s.
Schrock acknowledges the benefits of Medicaid expansion in the Yakima Valley and says he doesn’t want repeal of the ACA, but wants to make it better. Outside of that, he asks pointed and legitimate questions about some of Kreidler’s assertions, including that his office has improved its response to complaints and inquiries.
Schrock also points out that data contradict Kreidler’s assertion the ACA implementation has cut the number of emergency room visits in the state; as of a year ago, they were up 16 percent over the previous two years.
Nonetheless, Kreidler has kept the office on stable footing as he strives to balance health insurance costs with increasing the number of people covered, the extent of coverage and the number of insurers that are in the market. He has a track record in working for consumers, which went on display in August when he fined Regence BlueShield and Asuris Northwest Health $750,000 over a flawed system in handling complaints and tracking payments.
Continuity will prove useful in taking the next steps on the ACA, and Kreidler provides that.
• Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board members sitting in on these discussions are Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.