On The Trail

  • Sam Hitt

  • Ray Powell

  Washington state voters are sure to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate Nov. 3. The question is, which woman - Democratic incumbent Patty Murray or Republican Linda Smith.


Only nine seats in the U.S. Senate are now held by women.


Smith jumped into the Senate race after serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she earned a reputation as a staunch conservative. Congressional Quarterly reports that 91 percent of her votes matched the Republican Party line. The League of Conservation Voters gave her a score of 31 percent. But her fight for campaign finance reform has drawn considerable criticism from GOP allies such as the Christian Coalition. Says campaign spokesman Jim Troyer: "She really is a populist."


Sen. Murray is known as a Clinton Democrat who has simultaneously gone to bat for environmentalists and big businesses such as Microsoft. Murray's work on behalf of the environment has won accolades from some environmentalists. Her League of Conservation Voters score is 86 percent. But Murray is best known for championing education, health care and trade. The first term senator says she's still "just a mom in tennis shoes," a campaign slogan that helped the former preschool teacher win in 1992.





When Sam Hitt knocks on a door in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights to ask voters to elect him as New Mexico's next state lands commissioner, he often has some explaining to do.





"They say, "Oh, state lands? I own it?" "''''says Hitt, a Green Party candidate. "They often confuse them with federal lands."


So he carries glossy 8 1/2-by-11 inch calendar-quality photographs of especially scenic state lands to grab attention as he canvasses for votes in an unusual three-way race.


Hitt, a founder of the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, faces Democratic incumbent Ray Powell and Libertarian challenger Maurice McDonald. No Republican has entered the race for a job to oversee 9 million acres of state trust lands and the accompanying oil and gas rights.


Each candidate charts a separate course for the lands office. McDonald, a Santa Fe real estate developer, says selling off public lands isn't a bad idea. Powell was the first state lands commissioner in the nation to lease state grazing lands to a non-rancher - which just happened to be the Forest Guardians. But Hitt says he'll take the land office even further, granting all citizens equal opportunity to bid on state grazing lands.


The lands commissioner race, which typically ranks among the state's low-profile races, has this year largely focused on the debate over what to do about oil companies that owe the state millions of dollars in royalties. Hitt has promised to sue the companies to get the money, but Powell prefers to avoid the courtroom, adding "My style is to try to get people together and work together. I hate to spend any money on litigation unless I have to."


- Dustin Solberg


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