Union Democrat staff

George Radanovich has been in Congress for 15 years, has represented Tuolumne County for nearly a decade and was all but a lock for re-election to a ninth term.

So the Mariposa Republican's decision to resign the 19th District seat, announced last week, was a surprise to some. But his reasons for doing so were unassailable and admirable. His wife, Ethie, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago and, after much discussion, Radanovich made up his mind.

"It became clear to me that the time has come for me to place my family first and my public service career second," he said in Washington. "My family needs me, and I intend to be by their side to win this battle."

The decision was more human than political and something constituents of all ideological stripes can sympathize with and support.

Although Tuolumne County is in a far and sparsely populated corner of Radanovich's sprawling Fresno-area district, he was not oblivious to the concerns of his mountain and foothill constituents. In 2005, when a dearth of available timber threatened to shut down area mills, the congressman spearheaded a review that led to much higher timber quotas on the Stanislaus National Forest.

So we wish Rep. Radanovich and his wife well, and hope she will prevail in her struggle with cancer.

Our best also goes to State Sen. Dave Cogdill, who last month announced he will leave politics after six years in the California Assembly and four in the upper chamber.

A Modesto Republican, Cogdill would likely have also cruised to re-election. But he instead decided to resign, return to private business and, like Radanovich, "spend more time with my family."

Although the pending resignations will cost Tuolumne County two experienced legislators, they will also afford opportunities.

For the first time in memory, all three of the county's legislative contests will be waged without incumbents:

• Assembly (25th District): Incumbent Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, will leave to run for Cogdill's State Senate Seat. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, declared for Assembly, but has since decided to run for Radanovich's congressional seat. Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison and Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating, both Republicans, have entered the Assembly race.

• State Senate (14th District): Cogdill will resign and Berryhill has declared, as has Republican Heidi Fuller of Columbia.

• Congress (19th District): Radanovich will resign and has endorsed Denham. Several more GOP candidates, including former Congressman Richard Pombo, Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno Councilman Larry Westerlund, have been mentioned. Likely Democratic candidates include Mariposan Les Marsden, a retired actor; and Loraine Goodwin, a physician and attorney from Madera.

With more than six months remaining before the June 2010 primary and no prohibitive favorites or incumbent advantages, the fields are now wide open. Elections for these seats could feature dialog, debate and, for the first time in years, serious campaigning without forgone conclusions.

This might be good news for Tuolumne County, as its votes could make a difference for candidates who take the time to learn and address issues important in the foothills and mountains.