Max Benitz Jr. has 16 years of county commissioner experience, the backing of the Benton County Republican Party and an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings.
Shon Small is ahead of him in campaign cash, has a long list of lesser-known individual endorsements and is a career lawman who wants to take Benitz's $94,000-a-year job at the courthouse in Prosser.
Small has collected about $28,000 for his campaign through 155 donations at latest count, while Benitz has about $26,000 from 81 donations.
The two Republicans are running for the Commission District 2 seat in the countywide general election Nov. 2.
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Small trailed Benitz, 43 percent to 37 percent in the August district-only primary by about 550 votes. A third candidate, Tim Dalton, took about 1,700 votes, or about 19 percent, but has said he will not endorse Benitz or Small.
There's not much to separate Benitz and Small on the issues. Both say the county seat should stay in Prosser. They also agree that water is a vital concern for Benton County and that the county should guard taxpayers' money closely while providing good roads and support for law enforcement.
"I'm very proud of my service to the county for 16 years," Benitz said Friday during a meeting with the Tri-City Herald editorial board.
Benitz, a Prosser-area resident who sees himself as the voice for ranching and farming interests, said the county's billion-dollar agricultural business must be represented in county government.
Keeping that representation will be important during the next four years as the commission deals with water storage issues in the Yakima Basin and tackles a review of Benton County's comprehensive plan in 2013, he said.
Small's response: It's time for a new generation of leadership.
He said Benitz could have done a better job during those 16 years, but wasn't all that he could be.
"I believed he could be the best (commissioner) we've ever had," Small said, then criticized the incumbent for not having the passion and follow through.
"What has he followed through with?" Small asked, citing the lack of action on creating a long-needed crisis response center for the mentally ill.
"We need to take a step forward. The county needs to reprioritize," Small said, noting that the bicounty juvenile justice system is hamstrung financially because Franklin County had to cut back on its portion of the program costs.
"Benton County should take it over and run it like the jail and contract out services similar to the way (our) jail is run," Small said.
Benitz noted that to have Benton County taking full charge of the juvenile justice program would overlook where crimes are committed.
Both counties need to support juvenile justice financially, he said.
"There is a plan to work with the judges to get full funding," Benitz said.
Small, also a Prosser resident, said one of his ideas is to have an waste-to-energy incinerator similar to Spokane's as a money maker for the county.
Small said Benitz hasn't led the commission the way he should have.
"There is infighting," Small said, without giving specifics.
"Working relationships at the board have improved dramatically," Benitz responded. He said the current commission has worked well to solve problems, including the recent decision to move the bicounty Human Services Department out of costly leased office space to the county's health district complex near the justice center in Kennewick.
And he said commissioners have moved carefully in creating a crisis response center.
"It's a monumental step," he said, noting Clark County built a new one and then had to close it because the county couldn't afford it.
Also on the ballot Nov. 2 is the measure to move the county seat from Prosser to Kennewick.
Benitz and Small each said they will vote no on the move.
"The cost for the move will be staggering, and I don't see any advantages," Benitz said.
Small concurred. "There's a lack of information as to what it will solve and what the advantages are. And I don't know what kind of ripple effect it will have on Prosser," he said.
The county expects to spend at least $1 million using state grant money to improve the historic courthouse facilities over the next four years, Benitz said. And the county will need to spend "several more million in the Tri-Cities" for administrative upgrades, he added.
Small said costs associated with the county seat move need to be explained.
"I feel we need to be educating the public more about what we intend to do with the public's money," he said.
Small, responding to an editorial board question about his wife's job in the commissioners' office in Prosser, said it would pose no problem if he were elected.
"If my wife has to move or apply for another job, I have no problem with that," Small said. His wife has had the job for six years and her boss is county administrator David Sparks.
Benitz agreed that the possible nepotism issue was Sparks' responsibility not the commissioners.'