By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
SPOKANE — Republican rancher Clint Didier did not think too much about the office of state lands commissioner until he noticed that incumbent Democrat Peter Goldmark was not facing serious opposition.
Didier, a tea party favorite, realized no Republican had filed to challenge Goldmark, so he jumped into the race just two hours before the filing deadline. “This is way too important to be mismanaged,” Didier, a rancher and former NFL player with two Super Bowl rings, said.
The lands commissioner controls one million acres of farmland, two million acres of forest land and 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands, Didier said. One of his jobs is to use those lands in a productive manner to produce money for various state operations.
“These lands are not being managed in a husband-like manner,” Didier said. “We are not producing optimum revenues for school systems.”
Goldmark disputes Didier’s remarks, contending he has done a good job of steering the Department of Natural Resources through the recession, and deserves a second term.
“I’ve recovered one of our primary timber accounts from the brink, reduced state management fees to send more money directly to the beneficiaries, and directed $10 million back to cash-strapped counties that were in desperate need of support in these tough economic times,” Goldmark said.
He also questioned Didier’s qualifications and desire for the job.
“From what I know, he is unqualified to lead an agency of this size,” Goldmark said.
“I’m appalled he filed at the last minute,” Goldmark added. “That’s not a very strong starting point.”
There is a third candidate for the job in independent Stephen Sharon of South Seattle, but most observers figure Goldmark and Didier will be the top two vote-getters in the August primary and advance to the general election in November.
Goldmark said the state’s budget woes have been a major challenge.
“We’ve been having to cut programs to conform with state budgetary needs,” Goldmark said. “It takes a sharp eye to do that while sustaining our work with trust lands, putting fires out, law enforcement and other practices.”
Goldmark said he has had to make big decisions, such as laying off 10 percent of staff, and smaller ones, such as eliminating coffee service at board meetings, to balance the budget.
The agency must spend money to prepare for timber sales, which produce more than $200 million in annual revenues for a special fund to build schools across the state, Goldmark said. “We have to maintain our revenue producing capability,” he said. “Timber sales are the core of our mission.”
In addition to the budget, challenges facing the agency include three large planning efforts, Goldmark said. They are producing a long-term strategy for dealing with the endangered marbled murrelet; creating a plan for the Olympic Experimental State Forest, and creating a 10-year sustainable harvest plan for all state trust lands.
Goldmark is also trying to create renewable energy from state lands by finding ways to convert biomass left over from timber harvests into aviation fuel, Goldmark said.
The cleanup of Puget Sound is also a major project of DNR, he said.
Didier is a farmer and rancher in Franklin County, and ran unsuccessfully for the GOP Senate nomination in the 2010 election. Didier said he was called two days before the filing deadline by a friend who advised him to look at the scope of the lands commissioner job and the politics of Goldmark. That’s when he decided to run.
He has done little campaigning since filing, preferring to wait until after the August primary.
He contends that members of the public who deal with DNR are often unsatisfied, and that many employees within the agency are unhappy with Goldmark.
“There is room for improvement,” Didier said.
The lands commissioner must manage the state’s lands as if they were his own, said Didier, who grows alfalfa, wheat and corn and also runs 50 head of cattle.
“I manage my farm knowing that everything that happens could hinder my family,” Didier said.
The lands commissioner must be friendlier to the farmers, cattlemen and others who do business with the state, he said. “We haven’t got the right manager,” Didier said.