Finkbeiner will bring fresh ideas

Voters must choose between two candidates for lieutenant governor this fall: Brad Owen, the Democrat incumbent, who has held the office for 16 years, or Bill Finkbeiner, the former Republican Senate majority leader, who has been elected to the Legislature on behalf of both party labels.

Owen has served the state well over his four terms, wielding a fair hand in presiding over the Senate, the lieutenant governor’s chief role, and earning the respect of both party caucuses.

Voters can’t go wrong with either candidate, but Finkbeiner would bring fresh ideas to the little-understood office and much-needed reforms to the senate’s rules that might foster improved bipartisanship.

Finkbeiner was first elected to the state House in 1992 as a Democrat. He switched parties in 1994 to run as a Republican for the Senate. He became the youngest-ever Senate majority leader and then stepped down from that position in 2006 shortly before providing the key Republican vote in favor of a controversial gay civil rights bill.

The challenger is advancing a reform agenda that makes sense.

To create trust between members of both parties, Finkbeiner advocates mixing up seat assignments so that party members do not all sit together. If senators get to know each other as people, he reasons, they will be more likely to reach across party lines to find mutually agreeable solutions.

Finkbeiner is also pushing to reduce the influence of special interests. He says lobbyists have been allowed to sit in the chamber while senators are in session and voting on bills. If it’s true, that is a no-brainer that should never be allowed.

He is also calling for legislation to tightly control the use of surplus campaign funds. That’s an issue for Owen, who transferred $23,713 at the end of his 2008 campaign into an “office fund” that he used to reward his staff in the lieutenant governor’s office.

The PDC investigated Owen for failing to file campaign finance reports on time. He was fined $1,000.

Owen has left himself vulnerable this year with the PDC charges and for the appearance of an improper relationship between his office and his nonprofit organization, Strategies For Youth, which he has since shut down. Although the lieutenant governor denies the allegations, it has cast a shadow on his good work speaking out against bullying and drug abuse around the state.

These missteps by no means diminish Owen's competent oversight of the Senate or his excellent command of parliamentary rules. In Strategies For Youth, he found a productive use of his time when the Legislature is not in session.

It is just time to see if an energetic and articulate new face could bring another perspective to the office, while maintaining its bipartisan and independent nature.

With endorsements from groups as diverse as the conservation and pro-choice groups, Finkbeiner is uniquely positioned to do so.