Republicans frustrated by their party's inability to win statewide elections should do themselves a favor by nominating Ron Saxton in the May 16 primary for governor.

Saxton, a Portland lawyer and former chairman of the Portland School Board, offers the GOP its best hope since 1982 of capturing the governor's office. His electability stems in part from his knowledge of and involvement in Portland Ñ an arena that's a challenge for many Republican candidates.

But Saxton's appeal is more than the address of his home or business. Saxton consistently articulates clear, concise and concrete ideas for solving Oregon's problems. He displays an understanding that not all public-policy issues require government-based solutions, and he is willing to address difficult matters in head-on fashion.

Mannix, Atkinson don't meet test

Saxton, who came in third behind Kevin Mannix and Jack Roberts in the 2002 Republican primary, displays a refreshing quality for a politician. He has a knack for answering questions directly with specific positions and proposals on complicated matters such as PERS reform, education funding, land-use reform and transportation.

Certainly, he has some imperfections. His not-so-subtle turn to the right in this election Ñ although probably necessary within the GOP Ñ may cause him harm with mainstream voters in November.

Yet, whatever his mistakes or flaws, Saxton stands above a Republican field that includes Mannix, Jason Atkinson, W. Ames Curtright, Gordon Leitch and William Spidal. Of the other five candidates in the Republican race, the most serious are Atkinson, a Southern Oregon businessman and state senator, and Mannix, a former legislator and state Republican Party chairman.

Mannix is a much better candidate today than he was four years ago, when he came surprisingly close to beating Kulongoski in the 2002 general election. This time out, he has worked hard to offer a more statesmanlike demeanor. But we believe his past fundraising practices, along with a perception that he represents the GOP's most conservative wing, will turn off many Oregonians. And his vision to solve many of the issues facing Oregon is more general than we would like.

Atkinson, 35, has built his campaign around a promise of a new generation of leadership. He is well-organized and has a very well-developed Web site displaying his views. But his relative youth, his obvious partisan nature and a lack of statewide experience do not meet the test of what Oregonians should expect from their governor. Atkinson, who has eight years of legislative service, has framed traditional GOP messages to appeal to younger voters and conservative interests, but we would prefer to see less political packaging.

Saxton goes beyond vague promises

Republican voters will find depth in Saxton's candidacy, his professional experience and his deep community involvement. He has successfully managed a large law firm and also helped bring a more businesslike attitude to the problems of the Portland school district.

Saxton has definitive ideas on Oregon issues, such as taking further steps to reduce the cost of public-employee benefits and prompting greater private-sector investment in the state's roads. He also says that Oregon can create more jobs if it reduces the hassle factor for people doing business here.

Saxton says that his goal is not to dismantle government by cutting its spending, but to enhance the services Oregonians need by operating government as efficiently as possible and reinvesting the savings.

A November general election race featuring Saxton, independent candidate Ben Westlund and, we suspect, incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, will offer very clear choices among candidates who seek to lead Oregon for the next four years.

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