• Occupation: Business development specialist.
• Age: 40.
• Campaign finance: Raised $54,170, spent $42,999.
• Quote: “If these issues were simple, they would have been resolved by now.”
• Occupation: Unemployed technology worker; student at Clark College.
• Age: 53.
• Campaign finance: Raised $6,405, spent $788, owes $1,100.
• Quote: “I simply do not trust the current establishment to be sensitive to the real concerns of the people of Vancouver unless we make them so.”
In the race for Position 1 in the 49th Legislative District, conservative Republican Bill Cismar, a political newcomer and displaced technology worker, is challenging one-term Democrat Rep. Jim Jacks, whose résumé includes serving as Southwest Washington representative for Gov. Chris Gregoire and as citizen advocate for the city of Vancouver.
Jacks outpolled Cismar 55.2 percent to 44.2 percent in the primary. Both candidates are campaigning on the need to help small businesses.
But they represent starkly different views on how to resolve the challenges that will face the 2011 Legislature as it grapples with another projected multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall.
Jacks, who moved to Vancouver with his family in 2006 after working here since 1999, is employed as a business development specialist for MacKay & Sposito, a Vancouver engineering and planning firm. During his first legislative term, he served on the Capital Budget; Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Technology, Energy and Communications committees.
He supports development of clean, cost-effective energy technology, tax incentives for small businesses, and expanded performance audits of state programs, with cuts to programs that don’t pass muster.
Jacks earned his street cred with Vancouver businesses in fall 2009 when he visited 50 businesses in 50 days, meeting with their owners face to face to find out what they needed from the Legislature to help them survive Clark County’s economic downturn. The most significant thing he learned, he said, was that 94 percent of businesses supported building a new bridge over the Columbia River.
In the 2010 session, Jacks worked closely with Democratic Rep. Jim Moeller, his 49th District colleague, to win reinstatement of a popular program to crack down on vehicle-license scofflaws.
He favors Referendum 52 on the November ballot, which asks voters to create thousands of jobs — exactly how many is disputed — by allowing the state to sell more than $500 million in bonds to pay for energy retrofits at schools, colleges and other public buildings. The bonds would be paid off by making the new state tax on bottled water permanent.
Serving in the Legislature has been “a learn-by-doing job,” Jacks told The Columbian editorial board. “I’d been a mediator and had worked for the governor, but I was surprised how much there was to learn” in his first term, he said. “My commitment was to listen and learn and take action. If these issues were simple, they would have been resolved by now.”
Politician by necessity
Cismar, a Clark County resident since 1987, spent three decades working as an engineer in the high-tech industry in Vancouver and the Portland area. He lost his last job two years ago in a downsizing.
“My last day at LogiTech was (President) Obama’s first day in office,” he said.
He’s now completing a two-year program at Clark College that will earn him an associate’s degree in data network administration. It’s an experience that has given him a new appreciation for the role of community college and vocational programs.
There’s a big push to prepare every high school student for a four-year college, Cismar said, “but I don’t think that’s either sustainable or wise.” The state’s K-12 system should prepare students to go on to college, community college or trade school, he said. “Ultimately, we need all three strata in the economy.”
Cismar believes the nation is in crisis.
“As I look at my country, my state and my local community I see a worsening economic storm,” he said. “I have never been one to stand by the side and let others tackle difficult issues on my behalf. … I simply do not trust the current establishment to be sensitive to the real concerns of the people of Vancouver unless we make them so. “
He favors deferred-tax enterprise zones for new businesses, tax incentives for businesses that hire unemployed workers, and the restructuring of the state business and occupation tax to promote entrepreneurship. He believes the state could balance its budget without raising taxes if it followed the findings of the state auditor. And he says state services should be limited to legal residents with valid Social Security numbers.
“I see a lot of decisions that are making it difficult for businesses to start up and put down roots,” Cismar said. “I initially wanted to help another candidate, but no one wanted to come forward. I’m a politician by necessity. The policy in Olympia is harmful and needs to be changed.”
Two outlooks on tolls
Cismar is one of four Republican candidates in Clark County legislative races who received campaign contributions from Vancouver entrepreneur and anti-bridge-toll activist David Madore. Madore has given Cismar’s campaign $2,400, a sizeable chunk of the candidate’s $6,405 in total contributions.
Cismar said he didn’t meet Madore until months after he had filed for the seat and has long opposed tolls on commuters to help pay for the bridge.
“What caused me to run for the Legislature was looking at the business climate here locally,” he said. “One of the things I saw was the bridge tolls. Blue-collar workers are expected to pay tolls to fund a project that benefits the entire West Coast. I saw this as an economic injustice.”
Jacks is more pragmatic on the tolling issue.
“There has to be a local match,” he said. “It’s human nature to want a free lunch, but the practical reality is, we will have tolls. I think the feds will pay one-third, the states will share one-third, and we will have to pick up the rest.”
Not only do local businesses need the predictability of a crossing without bridge lifts, he said, but reducing rush-hour traffic jams will benefit businesses and families more directly. For example, he said, restaurants suffer when frazzled commuters get home too late to eat dinner out.
“We are in a unique position to make our drivers twice as safe, put thousands of people to work and let parents spend more time with their kids,” he said. “One dad told me, ‘I get to see my kids play soccer only on weekends.’”
Jacks’ hefty campaign chest includes large contributions from most of the traditional Democratic donors, including labor unions, trial lawyers and insurance companies.
The candidates differ on whether public employees should be forced to accept cuts in salary and benefits to help ease the state budget crisis.
Jacks said he’s no particular friend of public employee unions, which gave him only a 55 percent ranking this year. Still, he said, $1 billion has been taken from state employees through furloughs and layoffs in the past two years, and he would not favor reopening negotiations with their unions at this time.
Traditionally, Jacks said, public-sector workers earned less than those in the private sector but got better benefits. “I think that deck is going to get reshuffled,” he said. “We have to have to have a balanced budget. Public employee unions will have to choose between lower salary and benefits or fewer members.”
State government is getting squeezed in the prolonged economic slowdown, Jacks said. “As a society, we have demands for services that are much higher than our ability to meet those demands.”
Cismar takes a harder line.
“The public unions are out of control,” he said. “The state can’t afford these pension payouts. And we have a problem when public unions get to vote” for the elected officials who will decide their compensation, he said. “Rank-and-file members don’t like what is happening. There needs to be an opening up of the process.”
If elected, Cismar said, he would favor reopening negotiations with the state employee unions. “Every dollar you use to pay public employees comes from the private sector.”
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.