Adam Madison, The Triplicate

The old expression "there's room to disagree" certainly applies to the race for Del Norte County District 3 Supervisor. If you go issue by issue, you may find yourself siding with incumbent Mike Sullivan sometimes and challenger Tomm Sanford at other times.

The Triplicate's endorsement in the contest doesn't come down to a single issue, or even a tallying up of issues where it agrees or disagrees with each candidate. Rather, it's the result of an assessment of which candidate better understands and is prepared to engage the issues facing Del Norte County government.

In that regard, Mike Sullivan is the stronger candidate, and The Triplicate endorses his re-election bid.

As for those disagreements between the candidates, they tend to emanate from the two philosophical camps that drive county politics. At their extremes, one camp bristles at the fact that most of the land in Del Norte County is owned by the state and federal governments and clamors for more local control, while the other camp tends to oppose any perceived intrusion into the natural settings that make this one of the most beautiful places in the world.

There's plenty of room to find middle ground here. We can push for more local control of and access to public lands through cooperation with the feds and the state rather than by staking out defiant positions that are more politically popular than effective. And we can be guardians of our environment without stubbornly trying to block or delay projects that can improve our local economy.

Frankly, we wish both District 3 candidates would explore more of that middle ground.

Take the issue of off-road vehicle access to public lands. At the newspaper's recent candidates forum, Sanford said he personally has no desire to ride such vehicles for recreational enjoyment and doesn't see the need to increase access. But that doesn't represent the desires of residents who do enjoy off-roading for pleasure. Sullivan, meanwhile, supports a dubious Board of Supervisors decision to join a pending lawsuit by off-road enthusiasts against the Forest Service demanding more access. See the prior note about taking stands for the sake of politics instead of actual accomplishment.

Sanford, an in-home care provider for the disabled, and Sullivan, an investment counselor, agree that state budget cuts are imperiling the delivery of social services, and they agree that increased tourism is essential for Del Norte's economy. But when asked what expenses could be cut to keep social services afloat, Sanford suggested we might not need to proceed with the plan for a new airport terminal. Sullivan correctly noted a viable airport is an important tool for fulfilling our potential to expand tourism.

Sullivan defended the mission of a committee he leads that is studying the possible dissolution of the county's Solid Waste Management Authority, even though its countywide garbage pickup rates almost certainly benefit his rural constituents in communities such as Gasquet and Hiouchi. Sanford correctly pointed out that the county should have better things to do than investigate the viability of the Solid Waste Authority when our pickup rates are already relatively low and the service is good.

Again, there's plenty of room here to agree or disagree. We hope voters choose Sullivan for his overall experience and knowledge of the issues, and we also hope that in his second term he'll try out more of that middle ground where positive change can actually occur for Del Norte County.