Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

The Baker County voters who will decide between incumbent Fred Warner Jr. and challenger Bill Harvey for the position of Baker County Commission chairman have a tough choice.

Harvey is a strong candidate.

We're impressed by his passion for Baker County and by the amount of time he has devoted to his campaign. Harvey has traveled throughout the county over the past couple months. He has attended a bunch of public meetings. He has talked to many dozens of residents.

And Harvey brings more to the ballot than enthusiasm.

He's been a successful homebuilder in Baker County for decades. He served on the Baker County Planning Commission for many years. He can do this job well.

But Warner has been doing the job well for 11 years.

We think voters should elect him to his fourth four-year term.

Although the May 20 election is the primary, not general election, because no Democrats have filed it's likely that the winner of the Harvey-Warner race will run in the general election either unopposed or against a write-in candidate. That means the primary probably will be the decisive election.

Both candidates emphasize the importance of natural resources industries - ranching, logging and mining - in Baker County.

But they have vastly different beliefs about the level of influence the County Commission has over the management of the federal lands that make up about half of Baker County's 2 million acres, and contain a majority of those natural resources.

Harvey contends that the county has the legal authority to in effect override decisions by the Forest Service and BLM through a process known as "coordination."

"We need to take that authority," Harvey said Monday in an interview with the Herald's editorial board, which consists of publisher Kari Borgen, reporter Chris Collins and editor Jayson Jacoby.

We wish the county had that authority, but we don't believe that's the case.

We've seen no compelling evidence that any county has been able to exert anything like veto power over federal agencies when it comes to managing public land that belongs to all Americans.

Warner, by contrast, told us he considers coordination a valuable tool for the county in dealing with onerous edicts from Washington, D.C. But coordination, Warner said, "is not a silver bullet."

He cited a couple of recent examples in which he advocated on the county's behalf on federal issues and helped win noteworthy successes for residents.

In March 2012, Warner, backed by hundreds of angry citizens who, Warner emphasizes, deserves much of the credit, opposed the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's plan to ban motor vehicles from more than 3,500 miles of roads.

The Wallowa-Whitman withdrew the proposal.

Warner also talked about his efforts to defend the Forest Service in a legal challenge to the Snow Basin logging project in eastern Baker County.

The Forest Service prevailed, and the project could generate the largest volume of timber of any project on the Wallowa-Whitman in the past quarter century.

As Warner admitted during an interview with the editorial board, he doesn't exactly relish campaigning and the self-aggrandizement that goes along with it.

Indeed, his reputation as a commissioner probably has suffered because he doesn't often tout accomplishments which, though important, aren't as compelling as, say, thwarting road closures.

Perhaps his greatest achievement is running a county that, compared with many of Oregon's other 35 counties, is in an enviable financial position.

Baker County isn't flush with cash, to be sure. But during Warner's tenure the county has consistently provided the essential services residents expect and deserve, such as law enforcement and road maintenance.

In addition, Warner, during more than a decade in office, has cultivated relationships with state and federal lawmakers and other officials that can, in a pinch, give Baker County an advantage over other counties.

We can't recommend voters give up those advantages, no matter how impressed we are with Harvey as a candidate.