April 24, 2002 11:00 pm

Oregonians won't have to fret over who to choose in the May primary for state labor commissioner. State Rep. Dan Gardner isn't just the only legitimate candidate for the position, he's an excellent candidate. He's qualified, he cares about Oregon and its working people, and he has ideas about how to improve the office and the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

GARDNER, a three-term representative of House District 13 in the Southeast Portland area, is a third-generation electrician who entered the profession through an apprenticeship program. He succeeded at his trade and has done the same thing in public life.

He understands Oregon issues and Oregon jobs. He's the only one of the statewide candidates in this election who has taken the time to get out and about in the state to find out the issues Oregonians are concerned about and make contact with the people he hopes to represent.

ALONG ThE WAY Gardner has walked in the shoes of people representing numerous careers and professions, from cranberry growers on the south coast, to making boots in Scappoose, to birthing calves in Baker City. He's also made eclairs in a bakery, helped out in a child care center and toured numerous plants. His willingness to get down and dirty while on the stump might seem like a throwback to politicians of old, but it's refreshing in these days when most candidates tend to gravitate more toward TV cameras and staged appearances rather than toward meeting real people.

Gardner has visited La Grande three times in the past several months. He's walked the downtown to introduce himself to regular, everyday people, and he's met with local officials to hear their concerns. He's come away with ideas that could make the labor post and BOLI more responsive to Oregonians' needs.

HE HOPES to win a seat for the labor commissioner on the state's Economic and Community Development Commission in the hopes of working toward better jobs for Oregonians. He would use the office to lobby the Legislature for more transportation and telecommunications improvements throughout the state.

He is committed to getting the word out about the state's 171 apprenticeship programs. He would ensure the Wage and Hour Division is more in tune with Oregonians from both enforcement and resource perspectives for workers and employers, providing prompt and accurate answers to people who have questions.

HE UNDERSTANDS THE ROLE of labor commissioner and also recognizes that the position can mean more than what it has been. Oregonians should give him that opportunity.

The fact that he has ideas about what he would do in office comes as a welcome relief in this election. Dan Gardner is a bright spot in an otherwise dreary election.

He'll be good for Oregon.