Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, September 07, 2006


From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Michael Largent doesn't want farmers to be forgotten

Michael Largent approves of the Whitman County Commission's focus on the Pullman-Moscow corridor for development. He's just worried the county's traditional economic engine, agriculture, and the small towns it supports will get lost along the way.

"We've had a long-term compressed price for our main commodity, wheat," said Largent, a Colfax farmer and candidate for the commission's District 3 seat being vacated by Les Wigen. "And we had a tremendous rise in input prices, namely petroleum products and fertilizer."

Largent is running for the post against fellow Republicans Jeaninne Larkin, Harmon Smith and James White.

He said profit margins are getting so thin that many producers are considering getting out of the farm business. "And that's very concerning to me."

Largent said there's not much a county commissioner can do about the price of oil. But he said he is pro growth as long as any wealth generated can be spread to some of the more depressed areas of the county.

"I would like to see more opportunities for people moving out to the rural areas, and particularly bolstering some of our small towns," he said. "Anything I can see to diversify our industrial portfolio, I would be for."

That would include an emerging biodiesel industry that could be fueled by a switch from wheat to oilseed crops, he said. "But it's not close enough on the horizon for us to bank on it."

And with his limited view of the responsibilities of government, Largent said it should be the commission's job to get out of the way and allow private enterprise to create new economies.

"It will be creative people willing to risk their own capital for a potential return that will make a difference. I think the first thing that government can do is maintain a friendly environment for these people to grow and achieve their dreams."

Largent said the current commission is on the right track by looking at ways to open the county to more development, including housing. He thinks the three-year wait to convert farmland to other uses is simply a roadblock that should be eliminated.

"What's the point in waiting three years?" he asked. "We should either allow people to build, or tell them they can't build there."

The wait has negatively affected families and developers who have to stand idly by while construction costs climb, he said. Personal property rights in general are a high priority for Largent. He said zoning regulations have their purpose, "but for the most part, I would like to see a landowner be able to put his land into the highest, best use."

The issue of how to define the county's rural and industrial areas has caused tension on the commission, Largent said. But the county's three districts have more in common than not, he added, and the personalities of the commissioners tend to cause the tension.

He said he learned how to deal with such conflict during the two years he spent as a legislative assistant to former state Sen. Larry Sheehan. "If there's one thing you learn working in the Legislature, it's the importance of working with other people and developing relationships behind the scenes."

Larget said he is confident he can work with fellow commissioners Greg Partch and Jerry Finch because he knows they are looking out for the best interests of their constituents. "It's very difficult to criticize someone for that."

Time in Olympia also clued Largent in on how government works and how public policy is crafted, he said. He also touted his education and experience in finance as a strong asset for a commissioner.

With the widening of the Pullman-Moscow Highway well underway, Largent said that corridor is now an appropriate place for development. He said the Hawkins Development near the state line that centers around a Lowe's building center will bring welcome tax dollars into county coffers and provide tax relief for residents.

It would also help stem the bleed of retail customers into Latah County he said. But the development still won't do much to save those small towns Largent worries about, he said.

"We do have more opportunities, but I certainly hope we don't forget about the Endicotts, the LaCrosses, the Farmingtons of our community, that we continue to look for opportunities for infrastructure investment there that provides a return."

Age: 47

Occupation: Farmer.

Party: Republican.

Education: BA in finance and accounting, Washington State University.

Family: Married, four children.

Political Experience: none.
Wow! Largent is solidly in favor of the Hawkins corridor development and is against the three-year moratorium on the sale of farm land. He believes strongly in limited government and private property rights. And he has legislative experience from working in Olympia. Plus, I know him personally, and he is a good man. A winning combination in my book.

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