Jobs dominate Mielke, Tanner's campaigns

Former legislator, CREDC president takes on incumbent

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



Online chat

To read a transcript of a recent online chat with Tom Mielke and Joe Tanner, click here.

Clark County commissioner candidates

Tom Mielke

Party: Republican.

Residence: Battle Ground area.

Age: 70.

Campaign website: Tom Mielke.

Major endorsements: Clark County Republican Party, State Sen. Don Benton, former State Sen. Joe Zarelli and State Rep. Ed Orcutt.

Campaign finances: $22,977, including $5 of his own money and a $2,750 personal loan.

Joe Tanner

Party: Democratic.

Residence: Ridgefield.

Age: 65.

Campaign website: Elect Joe Tanner.

Major endorsements: Clark County Democrats, Building Industry Association of Clark County, Clark County Association of Realtors, Southwest Washington Central Labor Council and Vancouver Firefighters Union IAFF Local 452.

Campaign finances: $127,810, including $31,000 of his own money and a $10,000 personal loan.

In 2008, former 18th District state legislator Tom Mielke, a Battle Ground-area Republican, narrowly won his first term on the Board of Clark County Commissioners by beating Democrat Pam Brokaw by 207 votes.

Now Mielke faces a former 18th District state legislator in Joe Tanner, a Ridgefield Democrat who touts a five-point economic development plan, to keep the District 1 seat.

Tanner has raised $127,810, more than five times as much money as Mielke — including $31,000 of his own money and a $10,000 loan to his campaign — and has the backing of the Building Industry Association of Clark County, which more often than not backs Republicans.

When the BIA announced its endorsements, executive director Avaly Mobbs said the Board of Directors considered Tanner to be a business-friendly candidate who has demonstrated history, as a former state lawmaker and founding president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, of creating jobs while bringing fresh ideas and energy to the table.

"Tanner will be more than just a vote, he'll be an active advocate for Clark County," Mobbs said in September.

Mielke, meanwhile, has raised $22,977, including $5 of his own money and a $2,750 personal loan.

That's less than what he raised in 2008 ($53,714) and during his failed runs in 2005 and 2004, when he raised $204,468 and $46,558, respectively.

Tanner has spent $88,965, and his biggest payments have been $7,316 to Markon Inc., a Vancouver sign company, $5,822 for postage for mailers, and $24,000 to Nick Ande, his campaign manager who serves as vice chairman of the Clark County Democrats.

Mielke has spent $9,084, and his biggest expense has been $1,440 for food and beverages for a campaign kick-off party.

Mielke has said he hasn't had time to raise money.

That didn't hurt him in the August districtwide primary. Mielke easily finished first, taking 40 percent of the vote. Tanner received 31 percent and three other candidates split the balance.

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

Mielke and Tanner will run countywide in the Nov. 6 general election. Ballots will be mailed next week.

All about employment

Both candidates stress the need to reduce the county's 11 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the Portland-metro area, by increasing the amount of "shovel ready" industrial land.

Tanner's five-point plan, as he referenced in a Columbian candidate questionnaire, involves: creating a "job-friendly" county government that reduces the time and cost to obtain permits; planning "big initiatives" such as establishing a research park near Washington State University Vancouver; clearing hurdles such as reducing stormwater regulations; reducing regulations in order to encourage rural businesses such as wineries and farms; and helping existing businesses grow.

Like David Madore, who is challenging Commissioner Marc Boldt, Tanner calls for a major reduction in business regulations and fees.

As the incumbents have found, that's easier said than done. Commissioners have gone through the county's development code book and eased up on regulations that go farther than the state requires and reduced fees so they only cover staff time. While both Madore and Tanner reject the idea that lowering fees shifts the cost burden of private development to the public, that is what has happened this year. Due to a county fee holiday, the Department of Community Development will need an estimated $179,000 from the general fund, which is used for public services.

Mielke, who did not return a Columbian candidate questionnaire and who has not updated his campaign website since 2008, said in an August interview that easing up on regulations isn't as simple as it sounds.

"We are a body in a building full of regulators," Mielke said. "We have to regulate. We are a subsidiary of the federal government and the state government and we have to operate under the rules they come forward with." Mielke said the county has streamlined the permitting process said the creation of the Development and Engineering Advisory Board has helped because representatives from the private sector can work with county employees and they can learn from each other.

Tanner said commissioners need to work with state legislators to reform regulations.

"I don't sit back and accept all of these limitations and all of these problems," Tanner said in the August interview. "The commissioners are elected to run the county."

Mielke pointed out the county has a lobbyist in Olympia, is an active member of the Washington State Association of Counties, a nonprofit advocacy group for which Boldt serves as president-elect and "is always on the doorstep" of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.

Tanner said commissioners have made the changes that are "easy to do" and that commissioners let the county employees run the county.

Tanner, who after leaving the Legislature spent 20 years as a corporate executive and currently co-owns a chain of Minit Mart convenience stores, said when he was at the Columbia River Economic Development Council the public sector, private sector and lawmakers were all "pulling on the same end of the rope."

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.

"We can do that again and fundamentally change Clark County for the better," Tanner said.

Commissioners work full time and earn $102,224 a year.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or