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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Lands Commissioner Race Pits Environmental Lawyer, Supporter Of Imprisoned Ranchers

Washington lands commissioner candidates Hilary Franz and Steve McLaughlin speak with Austin Jenkins on the set of TVW's''Inside Olympia.''

The race for Washington lands commissioner pits an environmental lawyer against a supporter of two imprisoned Oregon ranchers. Both candidates are relatively unknown to voters.

Republican Steve McLaughlin is a cowboy boot wearing retired Navy Commander who founded a group called Liberty Watch Washington. Last year, that group signed onto a letter in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond -- father and son Oregon ranchers sent back to prison to complete their sentences for setting fires that consumed federal grazing lands.

“I did affiliate and sign onto this because I felt the Hammonds were being unfairly re-imprisoned for what they did,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin denied reports that he was also member of the Coalition of Western States—a group that wants the federal government to turn over public lands to the states. McLaughlin said he did affiliate with the group over the Hammonds’ case.

As for the subsequent armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, McLaughin said he was nowhere near it.

“And I condemned it the very first day that it happened,” he said. “I believe in the rule of law and I strongly feel that this was the wrong thing to do.”

While McLaughlin holds down the fort at Liberty Watch, his Democratic opponent Hilary Franz recently gave up the reins at Futurewise. That’s a group that works to enforce Washington’s Growth Management Act and concentrate growth in cities.

But Franz said she’s no radical environmentalist.

“If you look at the Growth Management Act, it has 14 goals and goals the majority of people really support,” she said.

Franz acknowledged that Futurewise has a long history of filing lawsuits against cities and counties to force compliance with the Growth Management Act. But she said as a former city councilmember, she brought a different focus when she took over nearly five years ago.

“I know the challenges that our communities, our local governments are having just to implement those kinds of laws,” Franz said. “So I began to change the frame of that organization.”

Both candidates say if elected they would work to address forest health and the threat of catastrophic wildfires. But they have different views on how to manage state trust lands that generate dollars for school construction.

McLaughlin thinks environmental laws and lawsuits have artificially capped the amount of logging that can be done on these lands.

“And I believe by working collaboratively with people we can raise that harvest level without affecting endangered species and water quality,” he said.

Franz wants to look for ways to create renewable energy from solar, wind and woody biomass from unproductive trust lands. She said relying on logging alone to produce revenue is unsustainable.

“As we look at climate change, we look at drought, disease and insects that are harming and destroying our forests, we can’t presume that it’s going to be there at the scale that it has been in the past,” Franz said.

Franz and McLaughlin were guests on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."