Doug Sutherland should administer state’s lands

With the state’s future heavily dependent on sound environmental leadership, the race for commissioner of public lands has drawn two heavyweight candidates.

Former Gov. Mike Lowry is the Democratic candidate. On the Republican side, the candidate is Doug Sutherland, Pierce County executive and former mayor of Tacoma.

Voters would do well to entrust the office to Doug Sutherland. It is a very narrow call based in part on the belief that Sutherland’s lengthy administrative experience may be what the office needs most at the moment.

The truth is, however, that both Lowry and Sutherland are highly qualified for the position. And Lowry, as a former governor, has proven that he is a capable administrator.

Lowry’s passion, though, probably tends toward the setting of policy. That was his primary work as a member of Congress before becoming governor. For voters who are dedicated to strong environmental policy in the administration of state trust lands, Lowry’s record may well be the deciding factor in how to vote. Lowry’s career has proven that he is committed to environmental protection. It’s less obvious, but just as true that he also is the kind of Democrat who works hard to make sure that economic development gains instead of suffers from environmental protection.

Sutherland has a solid environmental record of his own, including his cooperation in the regional process that has sought to protect salmon throughout Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. His views on environmental issues are considered strong and balanced by those who know him best in the Tacoma area. Sutherland points to the cleanup of Commencement Bay without major lawsuits as a model of how to protect the environment.

More importantly, Sutherland has made his career as an administrator. That could have particular importance for the next lands commissioner. The outgoing leader, Democrat Jennifer Belcher, has probably done a better job as a careful maker of good environmental policy than as a manager of a far-flung agency with 1,400 employees. Our guess is that the next commissioner will find greater management challenges than might be expected. If so, Sutherland’s experience would likely lead him to focus on the administrative challenges a bit more quickly than Lowry.

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