Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Mark Bennett is the incumbent in his campaign against his fellow Republican challengers Gene Stackle and Dick Fleming for Position 2 on the Baker County Board of Commissioners.

But incumbency isn't Bennett's major advantage, and it's not the main reason we urge registered Republicans to vote for him in the May 20 primary.

What distinguishes Bennett is his experience in helping to run Baker County, and the knowledge he's gained during more than 20 years as a county employee.

Bennett's career includes stints in two jobs that give him a depth of expertise about issues that matter to county residents, a depth that few candidates for his position have boasted.

He has served for 13 years as the county's planning director. In that capacity he has worked with hundreds of residents who wanted to build a home or start a business or otherwise use their own property as they see fit. Bennett admits this is not always an easy job, but we believe he is committed to the notion that the county should be a helper and not a hindrance to property owners.

Bennett also worked as the county's emergency management director for 20 years (he served in that job, and as planning director, simultaneously for more than a decade), a role that took him to every part of the county.

He already understands the county's diversity, as he lives near Unity and has been a longtime member of the Burnt River School Board.

The issue of natural resources, and in particular the county's relationship with the federal agencies that manage about half of the county's 2 million acres, is a major issue in both of the county commission races.

Bennett's experience in this area surpasses his two opponents.'

He helped to write the county's 2001 natural resources plan. Bennett said he has met recently with Kent Connaughton, the U.S. Forest Service's top official for the Northwest region, and Bennett said he believes Connaughton is committed to increasing the amount of logging in Baker County to reduce the fire danger.

Bennett also has investigated the use of the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances program, enacted earlier this year by the Oregon Legislature. That program could allow Baker County ranchers avoid the most damaging effects if the sage grouse is listed as an endangered or threatened species in 2015.

Although we believe Bennett has the best combination of attributes, both Stackle and Fleming bring impressive credentials to the ballot as well.

Stackle has considerable experience in economic development, having worked for two years as economic development manager for Baker City and Baker County. He also has owned and operated several retail businesses.

Stackle makes a compelling point that the county's economic development strategy has been focused too narrowly on "knocking on doors, asking people to come to Baker City." He advocates an approach that capitalizes on the county's main assets, such as agriculture and recreation.

Fleming has already established himself as a strong candidate, having nearly defeated incumbent Fred Warner Jr. for the County Commission chairman position in 2010.

We are particularly impressed by Fleming's expertise on natural resources issue. He makes an eloquent case for how more active management of public lands, for instance an increase in logging, can improve both the environment, by reducing the risk of wildfires, and the economy.

But Bennett's take on this topic isn't vastly different.

And that, combined with his decided advantage over Stackle and Fleming in relevant experience as a county official, makes Bennett the most attractive of the three credible and capable candidates in the race for Position 2.