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Senate District 5: Elect Alan Bates

Local editorial

Wright would do a great job, too, but Ashlander has skills, experience

Usually when politics presents us with a win-win situation, it's a sign to turn and run.

Then along comes a contest like the race for state Senate District 5 now being waged between Alan Bates and Jim Wright. The Mail Tribune recommends voters cast their ballots for Bates, the capable and intelligent incumbent, but not without acknowledging Wright is as impressive a challenger as they come.

We're putting our faith in Bates not because of any specific action in his first two terms, when he served in the House. This is about experience and depth in a session when the Legislature's need for both will be critical.

Bates, first, knows the stuff of Salem inside out. He was in the thick of most of the big debates last session, and he's still eating and breathing budget issues in the interim as a member of the Legislature's Emergency Board, which makes decisions between sessions.

The Ashland Democrat is predictable, probably, in his defense of education funding, which he says should rise to about &

36;5.4 billion in the coming biennium. The difference between Bates and some others of the same bent is that he can list where the cuts should come to make it possible.

Notable among them: He'd vote to trim the Oregon Health Plan to its bones, leaving only the basics for the state to build on later. Bates, a physician, was one of the authors of the plan, a fact that lends considerable weight to his position.

— Like many legislators battered in state budget fights over the last several years, Bates seems to have emerged with a new practicality about what's possible financially. A sales tax isn't, he says. A state rainy-day fund for use in hard times, on the other hand, should be.

Bates and Wright agree on much of this and more, even though their campaign has been clouded by some misdirection on Bates' stand on a sales tax. Neither will seek a sales tax now. Both like the idea of the rainy-day fund.

Both also support auditing state agencies to find waste, although Wright also would cap state spending. Bates says that is unnecessary, in part because it hasn't grown much except in education, where tax reform of the early '90s shifted much of the cost of schools to state government.

The men also disagree about funding for state police. Bates says the state police will have to do with what they've got for now, while Wright says they need more, though it's not clear where he would go to get it. Wright can't match Bates' knowledge of the budget.

What makes Wright so appealing? His role in shaping Southern Oregon through involvement in a variety of groups has been significant, and it's clear to us he would become a respected leader in Salem as well. He's passionate, competent and a nice guy to boot.

He says the Legislature needs a fresh voice, and in listening to his we hear some good ideas, many of them involving bringing together divergent groups to look for consensus on hard issues. This is exactly the kind of approach that could help in Salem.

We'd vote to send him, in fact, if he had almost any other opponent. Instead he has Alan Bates, who for two terms has given constituents just about everything they ought to look for in a legislator: He's smart, engaged, principled and effective.

He's earned a trip back to Salem, this time to put his skill to use in the Senate.