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Washington County has been run well but big challenges need new answers for coming years.

The race for chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners offers a sharp contract this year in Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington vs. County Commissioner Bob Terry.

She's liberal, not a member of the board, and seeks to implement big changes in the county. He's conservative, has been on the board for 14 years, and would seek to block any changes in county policy or procedure.

We think Harrington deserves the nod. This is a time for change, for bold moves and innovation. The county has many challenges and we believe she'd be better positioned than Terry to make that happen.

First, a note: By almost any definition, the county has been well run. Outgoing chair Andy Duyck is to be credited with doing his job well. He has served on the board since 1995 and as chair since 2010. He's an alumnus of Hillsboro High School and Portland Community College. He grew up on a local farm and he founded his own business in Verboort. He was the local leader this county needed.

It would be easy to see a vote for Bob Terry as being the same thing as a vote for Andy Duyck; as a continuation of the status quo.

The problem for Terry is, he has run a steady campaign on the concept that everything the county has done or is doing is right, and any suggestion of change is wrong.

We've listened to Terry speak at many events over the past few months. Time and again, facing even the slightest criticism over policy or procedure, he's insisted that it's just "the sky-is-falling" naysaying. The most minor of course correction gets the same response, every time.

Yes, Washington County is the much-heralded economic engine of Oregon. Yes, unemployment hovers at an astoundingly low 3.1 percent to 3.5 percent. Andy Duyck's Board of Commissioners gets some credit for that, certainly (though not as much as Terry would have us believe).

But the county also faces a vast shortage of housing and affordable housing; two very different problems.

It's expected that 300,000 people could move into this county in the coming few decades. Speaking in Tualatin in September, Terry praised a county project that resulted in 118 units of housing. Look carefully at those two numbers: See a problem?

That tepid response to the housing crisis doesn't even begin to address the crisis.

Were it not for nonprofit agencies, this county would have no shelter beds for the homeless. Why not?

When asked about building low-income housing for working-class Oregonians, Terry often rejects the notion and says it would become another Cabrini-Green, Chicago's notorious housing project built in the 1940s that became synonymous with deplorable living conditions and gang violence.

No, Commissioner Terry. Not all low- to middle-income housing projects become Cabrini-Green. Some become Orenco Station.

The county faces significant problems with traffic and transportation. Where are the innovative answers for that?

An estimated 17 percent of Washington County residents were born outside the United States; that's about one person in every six. Where is the dynamic outreach to make sure every resident has access to the county's services?

Terry's message is: If it worked in the past, it'll work in the future. No course corrections are necessary.

Harrington never claims that everything in the county is wrong or that she'd sweep in to undo everything. Despite the rhetoric, she isn't a "sky-is-falling" candidate. She praises much of what's worked in the past for the county.

But she's willing to say, "some things aren't working. Let's seek new answers."

As a Metro councilor, she represents much of the county. She's already serving a large number of constituents. Her learning curve would be nil.

It has to be noted that this newspaper didn't endorse Harrington in the May primary election. We endorsed former state legislator Ryan Deckert, who chaired the State Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, including Democrats and Republicans, and who was president of the statewide Oregon Business Association. What was needed, we said in May, is a chair who can represent the "blue," urban portions of Washington County and the "red," rural portions as well. Someone who can serve Gaston and Timber one day, and Beaverton and Tigard the next.

We believe Harrington can become the middle-of-the-road, business-friendly moderate that the county needs. She seems flexible enough to do the job well, and to craft consensus votes between the right- and left-wings of the commission.

Washington County has been well run, and Washington County needs to take bold changes in the very-near future to address big challenges. The next chair needs to stick with what works and throw out what doesn't. And to make sure that all county residents — liberal and conservative, rich and poor, indigenous and foreign-born — are heard.

We urge voters to let Kathryn Harrington chart that course.

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