Zarelli’s departure alters 18th races

Democrat sees tough Senate fight; last-minute filer seeks seat in House

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

Published:

 

Ryan Gompertz

Republican state Sen. Joseph Zarelli’s surprise decision to step down has shaken up the political landscape of the 18th Legislative District, which will be devoid of any incumbents this election season.

Ralph Schmidt, the Democrat who thought he would face incumbent Zarelli, said he might have a bigger challenge now that his opponent will be state Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. Rivers will not seek re-election as a House member in the 18th and instead will run in Zarelli’s place.

“I frankly think I’ll have a tougher race,” Schmidt said. He said he thinks Zarelli is less appealing to voters than he used to be.

Meanwhile, two Republicans have filed to take River’s vacated representative seat. In the district’s other state representative position, one Republican and two Democrats will run to replace Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who is now running in the 20th District because of redistricting.

Despite the change in his opponent, Schmidt said, “I wouldn’t have filed had I not thought I was a qualified candidate and would make a good senator.”

Schmidt, 70, is a retired information technology guru who has also worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury. He said he’s been a strong Democrat since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and he’s been involved in several Democratic campaigns in Clark County.

He said that if elected to the state Senate, he would make tax reform a priority.

He said he would like to use his campaign as a way to “preach and teach” to citizens about the state’s tax system. He said that the poor carry the toughest tax burden because landlords and retailers pass their tax expenses on to renters and consumers.

“Essentially, the poor and low-income people pay at the highest possible rate, and the wealthy pay at the lowest,” Schmidt said. Meanwhile, wealthy people “can only spend so much money. You can only buy so big a house.”

Schmidt has a master’s degree in taxation from Golden State University and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from California State University, Sacramento. He said his campaign strategy will not include door-belling because he has bad hips, but it will include participating in debates and possibly mailing out fliers.

Schmidt says he already has some small pieces of legislation in the works. One bill would give more support to dental hygienists who want to provide free dental care for seniors. The other would require pharmacists to take in people’s leftover prescription medications and dispose of them in an environmentally-friendly way.

Schmidt, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, lives with his wife in Camas. He has two adult children.

Rivers, who is serving her first term as a state representative, said she is taking a risk running for the Senate seat because she likely would have run for re-election unopposed. No Democrats filed to run for the vacancy she’s leaving in the House.

She said Zarelli’s decision to step down came as a complete surprise to her. He called her on the morning of May 18, the last day of candidate filing week, and invited her to coffee to inform her of his decision, she said.

“He’s been such a stalwart in Olympia, and I was just stunned when he decided not to run,” she said. Rivers said Zarelli told her: “I have every confidence in you that you are up to this task” of replacing him.

Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, has represented the 18th District for the past 17 years, and he has been the Senate Republican’s budget leader since 2004.

Zarelli, who also works as a business consultant, said leaving the Senate will give him a chance to support his wife’s endeavors and devote more time to his firm, JP Zarelli Inc.

Rivers said she plans to run the same “hard campaign” she ran two years ago for her House seat. As a senator, Rivers said her priorities would be to work toward fiscal responsibility, fully fund education, increase public safety and protect the most vulnerable.

When it comes to the job she’s leaving behind, Rivers said: “I have supreme confidence that the people of the 18th will choose the best representative for me to work with.”

Replacing Rivers

Republican Battle Ground City Councilman Adrian Cortes and Clark County Republican Party Chairman Brandon Vick will square off to take River’s Position 1 House seat.

Cortes, 35, was elected to the Battle Ground City Council in 2011. He also serves on the city’s planning commission and chamber of commerce, and he has served as commissioner for the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Commission.

He said his top priorities as a legislator would be to create jobs through reforming rules set by the Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Ecology, preserve levy equalization, which subsidizes K-12 school districts with below-average total property assessments, and foster better relationships with local governments.

“It seems like a lot of state budget has been balanced on the backs of cities and school districts,” he said. “I’m fully committed to 100 percent funding our schools. As someone who’s going back to school, I believe in the value of education.”

Cortes is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human development from Warner Pacific College in the Portland metro area.

Cortes lives in Battle Ground with his wife and two daughters. In addition to his work on the Battle Ground City Council, he works as a real estate investor.

He said he’s running for office because, “I’ve always had this desire to leave an example for my daughters as far as serving the community.”

Vick, 27, is making his second attempt at running for public office. Vick ran for the same House seat in 2010, when he lost to Rivers.

He said he wasn’t expecting to run in this election until the last day of filing week, when state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, called Vick at 4:30 p.m. to tell him to file for candidacy.

“Politics is about timing and opportunity, and obviously there was a situation here where a lot happened in a matter of a half-hour,” Vick said.

Of his political priorities, “No. 1 is jobs,” Vick said. “But it’s not just a buzzword. It’s something we really need.” Another one of his priorities is to make sure education is fully funded, in light of a recent state Supreme Court decision that ruled the state was short-changing its public schools. He also wants to focus on energy policy and said if hydropower was counted as a renewable energy source under state law, energy would be more affordable for households and businesses based in Clark County.

Being a representative is “about working on a team and working with folks of like mind and just moving forward and really building something that’s meant to last,” Vick said. “This is not a top-down mentality. I really want to get (constituents’) input and represent them.”

Vick lives in Felida with his wife. Outside of politics, he is involved in his family business, Vick Landscaping, and he serves on the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission. He has an associate degree in communications from Clark College.

Position 2 rep

Prior to candidate filing week, just two candidates — Republicans Liz Pike and Dale Smith — had announced they would run to replace Orcutt, whose residence now falls within the 20th Legislative District because of 2010 Census redistricting.

Since then, Pike, a former Camas city councilwoman, has stayed in the 18th race and Smith has dropped.

Also, Democrats David Shehorn and Ryan Gompertz have entered the race.

Shehorn, 67, is a retired computer systems engineer who has worked for IBM and other companies, including Longview Fibre and Freightliner. He is chairman of the 18th District Democrats.

Shehorn said he’s running for office because, “I think I can make a contribution and a cooperative political environment,” he said. “I’ve always worked as somebody who can talk to both sides of the aisle and work out compromises.”

Shehorn said the key to fixing the state’s budget problems is growing jobs, because, “the more people who have jobs, the more tax revenue there is.”

He said he can bring his knowledge of technology to the Legislature to make sure the relationships between the tech industry and Southwest Washington stay strong.

“I have a background of working in high-tech industries that I think are key to Southwest Washington’s new growth areas,” Shehorn said. He also said encouraging people in Clark County to buy locally will help the region’s economy.

Shehorn said his other priorities include protecting the environment and civil rights.

“That includes women’s rights and the right to organize,” he said. “I believe the right to marry is universal, and people should be able to marry who they love. I’ve been married for 35 years.”

Shehorn lives Felida with his wife. He has a bachelor’s degree in electronics technology from the University of Houston.

Ryan Gompertz, 19, of Camas, said he might be young, but his youth would allow him to bring more energy to the state House. Gompertz is a history major at the University of Washington and also has his sights set on law school.

He said he’s running for office because “politics has always been an interest of mine. I pride myself on being informed.”

Gompertz said lawmakers and the state should be more transparent about how taxes are used. People complain about taxes, but they should be shown the results of what their taxes pay for.

He also said the Legislature needs to avoid partisan gridlock.

“We’re looking at a country that’s supposed to be recovering,” Gompertz said. “To me, it’s just another time that politics as usual hasn’t really done anything.”

Gompertz said his friends and family have been supportive of his decision to run for public office. He said his grandmother told him: “The question shouldn’t be why a 19-year-old is running for office. It should be: Why aren’t more 19-year-olds running?”

“I realize this is a little unusual,” he added, “but that’s not always a bad thing.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523, http://www.facebook.com/reportermathieu, http://www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.