July 30, 2003 11:00 pm

Recent pictures of Gov. Ted Kulongoski wearing a cowboy hat and sporting blue jeans at two different locations in Eastern Oregon would make you believe that he is truly interested in bridging the gap between the two sides of Oregon. Sometime in August the governor will get a chance to show how much he really wants to create one Oregon when he appoints the next Supreme Court Justice.

In February 2003, Susan Leeson retired from her position on the Supreme Court after serving a little more than half of her elected term. Leeson was also the only woman on the court and creates a potential problem for Kulongoski when it comes time to make the appointment. This shouldn't be a problem for the governor since the Oregon Women's Lawyer Association has thrown its support behind Pendleton lawyer Gene Hallman. We agree with them that Hallman is the best candidate for the position, even though he would be filling a vacancy that was filled by the only woman justice.

Hallman would become the only justice from Eastern Oregon. It has been more than a decade since a Supreme Court justice has hailed from Eastern Oregon. J.R. Campbell of Grant County served from 1980-88. Hallman, who has practiced law in Pendleton for 28 years, spends at least one-third of his time doing both state and federal court appeals work. He also knows how the court operates, since he served as a clerk for Justice Edward Howell for one year after graduating magna cum laude from Willamette University College of Law.

Hallman's experience is so much stronger than either of the two women, Nancy Tallman and Darlene Ortega, who are also in the running. But many women's organizations are putting pressure on the governor to replace Leeson with another woman. We think that the best thing for the Supreme Court and Oregon is to have the best-qualified candidate appointed to this important position. Then, if Tallman or Ortega are still interested in the position, they could run against Hallman in 2004.

Gov. Kulongoski has spent so much time in Baker County over the past few months and has talked about there being one Oregon. Perhaps his new-found roots will help him support an Eastern Oregonian to the high court. If that isn't enough, he should listen to Oregon's women lawyers and support the best candidate, Gene Hallman.

Here's tool to use

The Observer from time to time publishes its "Where to Write" box containing the phone numbers and addresses of elected officials. Readers often ask us when it will be published, so they can save it for future reference.

We're publishing "Where to Write" today. Maybe people will want to express their views to the governor about the Oregon Supreme Court appointment (discussed above). Clip out "Where to Write" and keep it handy as a tool you can use.