The campaign for Washington state Commissioner of Public Lands might throw a few sparks after all.

The office sounds like such a back-country, flannel-and-blue-jeans kind of job that you might expect the campaign to be a collegial chat at the trailhead, a friendly exchange between Eastern Washington ranchers leaning on a split-rail fence.

Not quite. Not in 2012. Not in the race between the incumbent Peter Goldmark and challenger Clint Didier.

In an interview with KING 5 on Tuesday, Commissioner Goldmark called his opponent a Tea Party zealot who is totally unprepared and untrained for the office.

Didier s campaign fired back. It s rather sad when someone like him has to stoop to the level of name-calling, said campaign manager Chuck Skirko. [Goldmark] s trying to fire up his base because he perceives Clint as a threat.

Didier hasn t been shy about his criticisms of Goldmark either. In an interview several weeks ago, he said Goldmark's leadership was driving down morale at the state Department of Natural Resources.

A lot of DNR people are unhappy. They re leaving. I ve got a lot of them on my campaign working with me, Didier said.

Goldmark summed up the race this way: I think I m highly qualified. I don t think he s qualified.

I just don t think the citizens of the state of Washignton are going to want to have somebody like that managing a very essential and important and valuable portfolio of lands, Goldmark said.

Didier campaign manager Skirko responded, It s not surprising, that kind of response from somebody who doesn t know how to deal with honesty and truth.

Both interviews included plenty of discussion of the important land-management issues facing DNR and the state of Washington, as well as comments from both candidates about their priorities and challenges if they win office.

Voters will hear plenty in the next month about recreational access to public lands, forest management and fire-abatement efforts, the spruce budworm and the pine beetle. But it seems like voters will hear those issues debated in the context of a western saloon brawl rather than a cordial chat over the fence between ranching neighbors.

The interviews with Didier and Goldmark will air in the near future on KING 5.

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