The race for Benton County commissioner should give voters pause. A lot is at stake as the county continues to develop, the landscape evolving with each new windmill and housing development.
In the near term, Benton County faces difficult financial decisions, growth and economic development issues and a host of other important matters that will be decided by the three commissioners.
For the past 16 years, Max Benitz Jr. has held the job of Benton County commissioner. Benitz had big shoes to fill following his father, the late state Sen. Max Benitz Sr., into public office.
Benitz cares deeply about Benton County, especially the Prosser area. He's one of the last elected officials in our region who still wears a cowboy hat and boots to important meetings, and that's something we respect. Benitz has a strong affinity for the agricultural community, and when he believes in something, he holds true to that course.
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And while Benitz has a wealth of knowledge about Benton County government, we haven't seen him develop as a leader for the entire county.
Times have been contentious during Benitz's tenure, with a varying mix of commissioners allowing personality clashes to inappropriately factor into decision-making. That's not all Benitz's fault, to be sure. But despite his length of service, he's never been the one to lead his peers in a better direction when relationships were strained.
Running against Benitz is Shon Small, a Benton County sheriff's deputy. Small is a newcomer to the political scene but a long-term county employee, as is his wife.
We would have expected the county seat ballot measure to have been an issue in the commissioners race, but both candidates have said they think it should remain in Prosser, where both also live.
Small sees the need for improvements in many areas he is familiar with from his work in law enforcement: dangerous roads, the need for a Consolidated Crisis Response Center, the broken juvenile justice system.
In fact, the candidates see eye-to-eye on a lot of the issues. So the decision comes down to this: status quo or a new era for Benton County government?
Two years ago, we were proponents for change when former Kennewick Mayor James Beaver ran for Benton County commissioner. In his time with the city, Beaver had been an agent for action and evolution. But even he has found his time as commissioner more challenging than expected.
We believe, as we did two years ago, that the time has come for a new era in leadership of Benton County. Benitz has been a solid and sometimes colorful commissioner, and we're grateful for his years of service.
But in a year when we've seen many incumbents face stronger than usual challengers, Small may be just what Benton County needs going forward.
Yes, experience is important. But so are energy and enthusiasm and fresh perspectives. Small brings a 20-year career in law enforcement and has a different set of priorities, drawing on his interests in safety and human services.
With the Mid-Columbia's growing gang problem and long-neglected needs for improvements in mental health care, Small's talents are a good match.
As much as we respect Benitz, we're excited about the potential for a new generation of leadership that Small represents.
The Tri-City Herald recommends Shon Small for Benton County commissioner.