Some rivalries never lose their steam

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 
photoJohn Laird is The Columbian's editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.

Remember the good ol’ days around the turn of century, when the only thing folks worried about here in quiet, content Clark County was, gosh, if we could just get Royce and Betty Sue to get along? If so, you’re losing your memory. No time has ever been quiet and content here in Clark County.

But you do get credit for accurately recalling the feud between Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard and Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris. Ah, yes, for more than a decade they slugged it out toe-to-toe in our own little political version of the Ali-Frazier hostilities. One characteristic of an epic feud is that, years later, you’re not sure who won. And that’s the legacy of the Pollard-Morris showdowns. We only remember that each did a spectacular job of defending turf, Pollard for his city and Morris for her county.

Each stepped into the local ring against the other in 1996, although at the time they probably didn’t know the depth of the rivalry that would ensue. Morris retired as county commissioner and left office in January 2009 and Pollard lost his re-election bid later that year and left office in January 2010.

And then, city-county relations warmed up for awhile. But, as a news hound who follows local politics, I’m pleased to announce they’re lacing up the gloves again. Two issues in particular divide the two governments these days, and both are county ideas:

County commissioners want baseball here. We all do. But they are considering a local admissions tax to pay for part of the stadium construction. Vancouver city councilors are either leery of or outright opposed to the tax. And it remains to be seen if the city could or would skim its own portion off the top of that new revenue.

For reasons that defy logic, at least two county commissioners believe it would be a good idea to truck a bunch of woody forest debris into the downtown area, set it ablaze and use the power from that conflagration to heat county buildings. (OK, granted, the biomass project is a little more technologically advanced than I’ve described.) Vancouver officials disagree, and a city planning review manager on Thursday said zoning rules don’t permit indoor forest fires. The county hasn’t decided if it will appeal.

Revisit the rivals

While those disagreements fester in ways far more timid than during the good ol’ days, I decided last week that it was time to dust off the old feud, and I called Royce and Betty Sue. The compassionate statesman deep inside of me believed retirement might have softened their hearts and led both antagonists to some sort of BFF altar.

No such luck.

“We spoke to each other in the milk aisle at Safeway,” Pollard confessed. But he didn’t seem too happy about it.

“We always say hello when we’re in the same room,” Morris said. That’s what she said, but what I heard was, could we please just talk about something else?

And I couldn’t find agreement between them on the two major issues.

Pollard — who last felt timidly about anything in 1974 — strongly supports pro baseball coming to Vancouver. “I grew up watching Ted Williams in Fenway Park,” he said. “A minor league baseball team would increase the energy in downtown Vancouver to an incredible level. And as a trustee at Clark College, I think the stadium would be fantastic for the college.”

But what about the new admissions tax? “I don’t like taxes any more than anyone else,” he said. “If someone has a better idea for funding, God bless ’em, I’m all for it. But this is too great an opportunity to let go of.” In other words, he can live with the new tax.

Morris loves baseball, too, but “it’s not appropriate to create a new tax to fund the stadium, and I’m pleased to hear officials are looking for other ways to fund construction,” she said.

On the biomass plant, Pollard thinks it’s a “terrible idea, something that belongs maybe in a small town near a forest, not in downtown Vancouver.” Morris is undecided, adding that she hasn’t kept track of recent developments on the biomass issue.

I’d like to think there’s still time left to heal these old wounds. But in the meantime, I think it’s pretty clear why that Safeway milk aisle is so cold.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.