From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Two more Whitman County residents have entered the race for David Buri's soon-to-be vacated seat in the state House of Representatives.
Palouse School Board member Darin Watkins and Jeff Phelps, finance director for university relations at Washington State University, both have announced their intentions to pursue the 9th District position.
Buri said earlier this month that he would step down from the Legislature, effective Saturday, to become director of government relations at Eastern Washington University. Buri was elected to the Legislature in 2004 and has one year left in his second two-year term. His replacement will serve out the final year of the term.
Palouse Mayor Michael Echanove, Cheney Mayor Allan Gainer, and Colfax farmer and small business owner Joe Schmick also have declared their intentions to pursue the position.
Watkins, who is a public information officer at WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, said the slogan for his campaign is "Putting Represent Back in Representative."
He said he would like to see more people become involved in politics and give citizens a voice in Olympia.
"I really believe the best model to use today is to communicate ongoing with our Legislature," Watkins said. "People need to be reconnected to the process because then they buy in."
Watkins said his ability to communicate with people makes him the right candidate for the job.
"The bottom line for me is communication," Watkins said. "What I bring to the table is I am a very good communicator."
Watkins has been a member of the Palouse School Board since 2006. He moved from Seattle to Palouse in 2003 to have more time to spend with his family and to raise his two children in a small-town atmosphere.
He lived in Palouse for a short time during high school.
Prior to accepting a job at WSU, Watkins worked for 25 years as a broadcast journalist in several markets throughout the state, including Spokane and Seattle. He covered legislative affairs.
Phelps, a graduate of Pullman High School and WSU, ran for the 9th District seat in 2004 and was narrowly defeated. He said he thought he developed a connection with voters during the campaign and had many good ideas.
"It was a disappointment, but we felt we had a great message and struck a cord with a lot of voters in the district," Phelps said. "I still have the same desire to good things and have an even better resume now."
Phelps, who lives outside of Pullman, has been employed at WSU for the past 14 years. He also worked in the pea and lentil, and apple industries. He said his experience will be an asset to the district.
"I feel like I have a well-rounded experience in agriculture, higher education and business," Phelps said. "It's that well rounded mix that will benefit the people of the district.
"It's important to have a well rounded base because it's not just one issue - it's a myriad of issues."
Both Watkins and Phelps said the well-being of the district's agriculture industry is high on their list of priorities.
Watkins said agriculture is critical to the state, and officials in Olympia need to be reminded of its importance. He said one out of every two jobs in the state is affected by agriculture.
"We are about agriculture, and it's getting the folks in Olympia to recognize that," Watkins said.
Phelps said many issues will be facing the agriculture industry, including water shortages and high input prices.
"Certainly anything that can help our farmers is important to me," he said.
Phelps also said he would like to see continued and additional funding agricultural and alternative fuel research.
Susan Fagan, chairwoman of the Whitman County Republicans, said the district will have several qualified candidates to choose from.
"I think we can all be really thankful there are people who want to serve who bring with them a diverse background," Fagan said. "We have a fine array of candidates to choose from."
Republican committees from the six counties comprising the 9th District will meet Nov. 10 in Colfax to narrow the list of candidates to three or less. Their recommendation then will be forwarded to the Washington State Republican Committee.
The state committee will review the candidates and forward the list to the district's 18 county commissioners. The commissioners will make the final decision with a simple majority vote. The district has until Jan. 1 to select a representative or the governor will appoint one.
The 9th District includes Whitman, Asotin, Franklin and Garfield counties, in addition to parts of Adams and Spokane counties.