Something clearly is amiss when a longtime legislator can no longer muster support from the civic leaders he represents.
After 12 years in the Legislature, state Rep. Larry Haler should be a well-established force in the Tri-Cities. But instead, the Richland Republican’s credibility is in a sad decline.
He may have a core of loyal constituents who wish to see him re-elected, but many key community officials — including the mayors of Kennewick, Richland and West Richland — have publicly endorsed his opponent, Steve Simmons, who also is a Republican.
Many of the decision-makers and elected officials who guide the future of our Tri-City region have lost faith in Haler.
And so have we.
Haler’s legislative experience gave him the edge when he ran for office in the past. However, this past term Haler left us feeling exasperated, and Simmons presents a promising alternative.
It isn’t so much how Haler votes, but rather, it is the way in which he changes his mind so easily when confronted with criticism that makes us wonder how we can count on him.
No lawmaker will please everyone. However, those legislators who take a stand and defend their positions — regardless of what they are — can at least be considered consistent and reliable.
If they do reconsider an occasional vote after receiving new information, that is understandable. But Haler has flipped his position so many times on different issues that his effectiveness is now in question.
He appears unable to stand up to party line, GOP pressure even if it is in the best interest of the Tri-Cities. There were a couple of important decisions in particular that Haler should have handled better.
His failure to support the much-needed transportation package in 2015 was initially disappointing, but it was his explanation for his decision that was more troubling.
Many other Republicans from our area gritted their teeth and voted for the 11.9-cent gas tax increase to help fund necessary road and bridge projects for our community.
Days later, Haler said he meant to support it, but was sleep-deprived and accidentally hit the wrong button. Although he couldn’t change his vote, he submitted a note for the record stating his real intention.
Just recently, however, he went back to defending his original “no” vote, saying he opposed the gas tax bill because of late changes made by the Democrats.
This back-and-forth justification is confusing, and adds to the perception that Haler defends himself with different explanations, depending on the audience and how much time he has to come up with a plausible story for his decisions.
Haler also alienated some county officials when he agreed to co-sign a bill that would allow counties to raise property taxes by more than the annual 1 percent limit. He abruptly dropped his sponsorship, however, when faced with anti-tax criticism from around the state.
While we understand the political risk it took for Haler to support the proposal in the first place, we wish he would have thought it through before getting involved. He said the bill got away from him while he was waiting for data from Benton County.
We don’t doubt that. But it was unfortunate the way the issue played out, and Haler’s reputation suffered because of it.
Haler’s loss of credibility among community leaders is one of the reasons so many of them are supporting his challenger.
Simmons is a longtime Tri-Citian and a highly respected business owner who is not a stranger to the State Capitol.
He and his wife own the Country Gentleman restaurant and catering business, and he has held leadership posts on several executive boards, including the Tri-City Legislative Council, United Way and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Simmons has advocated business interests in Olympia before, and he can bring a fresh voice to the Legislature that the Tri-Cities needs.
Haler has been a solid Republican legislator who toed the party line during his tenure. But when county commissioners, city council members, port officials and other community leaders endorse the opponent, it is time to go.
The Tri-City Herald recommends Steve Simmons for the state House of Representatives, District 8.
Look for our recommendation Tuesday in the state lieutenant governor’s race.