We often disagree with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan on policy issues, but we respect her intellect and willingness to occasionally break with labor supporters.

Now that she is being forced from the Assembly by term limits, the constituents of her district, east of the Berkeley Hills from Orinda and Walnut Creek to the Tri-Valley, deserve at least as much thoughtfulness from her successor.

Democrats hold a small registration edge over Republicans in the district, but neither party has a majority. As a result, independent voters will determine the outcome, which is as it should be because the constituency is generally centrist.

Of the four candidates, two are well-prepared, moderate and fiscally responsible: Republican attorney Catharine Baker and Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer, a Democrat, political consultant and adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Interestingly, Baker and Glazer agree on many issues, such as opposition to the governor's high-speed rail boondoggle, support for banning BART strikes and recognition that the state must address billions of dollars of pension debt. They also support transparency in local government collective bargaining.

For us, it was a close call. We endorse Baker because she would bring a fresh, outsider perspective to a state Legislature needing change. She comes with an R behind her name that would add a bit of partisan counterbalance to the Democratic Bay Area delegation.

That said, we appreciate Glazer's willingness to challenge fellow Democrats and labor leaders that control his party. He has raised awareness of union questionnaires that seek loyalty pledges from Democratic candidates, pledges just as despicable as the fealty oaths demanded by conservative groups.

Candidate Tim Sbranti, a labor activist and Dublin's mayor, has adopted such unwavering union positions: He opposes transparency in public-sector collective bargaining, supports BART workers' ability to strike and bring the Bay Area to a grinding halt, and opposes reduction of future pension benefit accruals that local governments clearly cannot afford.

If you like the status quo, if you're happy with public-employee compensation sucking away funds that should go for delivery of services like road maintenance, reasonable library hours and cops on the street, then Sbranti is your candidate. He's not ours.

As for the fourth candidate, Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich sides with Baker and Glazer on many issues but doesn't fully appreciate the severity of California's retirement debt burden, nor what's needed to slow rapidly escalating pension costs.

In sum, this district deserves an independent representative. We're pleased to see two solid candidates in the field, hope that one of them emerges victorious in November, and we give our support to Baker.