Tanner top fundraiser in commissioner race

District 1 candidates say key issue is jobs

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



Commissioner candidates

Ron Barca

Age: 57.

Party: Democrat.

Residence: Battle Ground.

Campaign website: www.ronbarca4clarkcounty.com.

Money raised: $6,448.

Bob Freund

Age: 5.7

Party: Independent.

Residence: Battle Ground.

Campaign website: www.bobfreund.com.

Money raised: Has not reported to the Public Disclosure Commission because he plans to raise and spend less than $5,000.

Tom Mielke

Age: 70.

Party: Republican.

Residence: Battle Ground.

Campaign website: www.tommielke.com.

Money raised: $15,192.

Joe Tanner

Age: 65.

Party: Democrat.

Residence: Ridgefield.

Campaign website: www.votejoetanner.com.

Money raised: $62,706.

Darren Wertz

Age: 57.

Party: Republican.

Residence: Ridgefield.

Campaign website: www.darrenwertz1clarkwa.com.

Money raised: Has not reported to the Public Disclosure Commission because he plans to raise and spend less than $5,000.

Battle Ground Republican Tom Mielke faces four challengers in his bid for a second term representing District 1 on the Clark County Board of Commissioners.

In terms of raising money, Ridgefield Democrat Joe Tanner has emerged as the front-runner.

According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, as of July 11 Tanner had raised $62,706, which includes a $10,000 personal loan, to Mielke's $15,192.

Bob Freund, an independent, and Republican Darren Wertz have not solicited donations. Democrat Ron Barca has raised $6,448.

While Clark County Administrator Bill Barron oversees day-to-day county government operations, the three commissioners set policy.

They currently earn $102,228 a year.

District 1 covers north county and reaches as far south as parts of Orchards and Hazel Dell.

Candidates run districtwide in the Aug. 7 primary. The top two finishers will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, where they will run countywide.

The key issue for all the candidates? Jobs.

Tanner, a Democrat who, like Mielke, has served in the state Legislature, was the first president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

The council formed in 1982 in response to the county's double-digit unemployment, and Tanner was among a group of people who recruited Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas, Kyocera Industrial Ceramics Corp. and other high-tech firms.

Tanner was also part of a group that lobbied for Washington State University Vancouver.

"I think we fundamentally changed Clark County forever," Tanner said.

Tanner was senior vice president and chief operating officer of Texas-based Zeno Corp., which was sold this year, and he decided to run against Mielke because of the county's weak recovery following the collapse of a construction-based economy.

The most recent figures put the county's unemployment rate at approximately 11 percent, 3 percent higher than the state and national average.

"We need to diversify the economy," Tanner said. As one attraction for employers, he would advocate for a research park connected to WSU-Vancouver.

Tanner supports the county's temporary fee holidays for new businesses but said temporarily waiving fees doesn't go far enough.

"The county is correct in what it's doing, but it's playing around the edges," Tanner said.

Mielke cites his former ownership of a trucking company and years in the Legislature among reasons voters should keep him in office.

"I think it's really important, especially in hard economic times, that we have someone with experience," he said. Of owning a company, "It's really a huge responsibility to sign the front of the paycheck instead of just the back of it."

He said the addition of the Clark County Department of Environmental Services, which created savings because work had been spread among departments, has been one of his proudest accomplishments. Among disappointments, he said: the inability to ease up on red tape because of state and federal regulations that commissioners are tasked with implementing.

"Sometimes you'd like to do more, but you can't," Mielke said.

He said commissioners have been working at reducing regulations to a minimum, and he said he'll continue to help create a business-friendly atmosphere.

Rules, leadership issues

Barca, a lean practitioner at Boeing Commercial Aircraft in Gresham, Ore., has spent 13 years on the Clark County Planning Commission, an advisory group. Wertz, a Ridgefield City Council member, works as the clerk for the Clark County Board of Equalization. He's a county employee hired by the board, which consists of members appointed by the commissioners to hear appeals of assessed values.

Barca has emphasized the need to help home businesses thrive by easing up on regulations, and encouraging the trend of smaller farms and related agricultural activities such as wineries. He decided to run to fill what he considers a leadership void. He said commissioners, even with a "right to farm" ordinance, a winery ordinance and other agriculture-related laws, haven't gone far enough to promote agriculture as an economic force.

"I think we have gone without a vision in Clark County since the initial phase of growth management in 1994," Barca said.

Wertz didn't want to criticize the current group of commissioners -- Republican Marc Boldt is up for re-election, too, and Democrat Steve Stuart was re-elected in 2010 -- but said, "I think we have an obligation as leaders to lead, and to do so enthusiastically and with as much vision and vigor as we can."

Freund, a self-employed general contractor, was motivated to run out of frustration with the county's building fees.

"There's no common sense. … It's not helping businesses, it's not helping families," Freund said.

Fees were recently restructured and pay for Department of Community Development employees. If the county lowered fees, it would shift private building and development costs to the public, as the difference would have to come out of the general fund.

Freund said he knows people who are taking their businesses to Cowlitz County because there are fewer rules.

Cowlitz County, because of its smaller population, is exempt from the state's Growth Management Act.

Split on casino

When asked about the county's decision to lead the way in suing the federal government for allowing the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to take 152 acres into trust west of La Center, candidates were split. Mielke defended the decision by saying the land is zoned for agriculture; he said a casino isn't an allowed use. The state requires the county to preserve agricultural land under the Growth Management Act, Mielke said.

"So the federal government tells us one thing, and the state tells us another," Mielke said.

Tanner supports the lawsuit.

Wertz said if the county loses in U.S. District Court, he'd have to study the facts before deciding whether to appeal.

Barca initially supported the county but no longer thinks it's worth the money to keep fighting. Even if a casino gets built, there's plenty of land to carry out the dream of a business-rich Discovery Corridor along Interstate 5, Barca said.

Freund said the county should let the tribe build a casino but also believes state laws should be changed to enable La Center cardrooms to have slot machines.

"I think it should be a level playing field," Freund said.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.