It's a sunny day late in September, and Julia Anderson is driving her red 2006 Nissan pickup truck (license plate: Idaho Cow Girl Real Women Drive Trucks), toward the River Road plant for a tour she'd scheduled.
She is a burst of energy and outgoingness. She engages you, exuding intelligence, curiosity and competitiveness.
As she powers her rig past land comman
deered by the Port of Vancouver, she's asked whether she considers herself the underdog in the race.
She cocks her head and quietly considers this.
"I feel like you're leading me," she says, finally. "Am I supposed to say I'm an underdog?"
Another quiet moment passes.
Suddenly, Anderson's answer crystallizes.
"Hell no!" she says, and laughs an infectious laugh.
A teacher and journalist
Anderson, who has a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Idaho, grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. For a time, she was one of two white teachers at an all-black junior high school in Atlanta, where she taught seventh-grade social studies and journalism. She also launched the school's newspaper.
Ultimately, she would make a career in journalism, landing at The Columbian in late 1983. Not long after, she was appointed as the paper's business editor. With Anderson at the helm, The Columbian's business section won awards, including for best in the country for its newspaper size from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
Anderson also received numerous awards for her business columns. "I worked really hard … to provide some leadership on the discussion of (Clark County's) economy," she said.
She also founded and expanded the newspaper's annual Economic Forecast Breakfast, an event well-attended by regional business and political leaders.
Looking for other opportunities and to travel, she left The Columbian, after 26 years, in March 2010.
Today, she's a freelance writer and, up until she launched her campaign for the utility board, she wrote the Energy Adviser column for Clark Public Utilities, which she said gave her valuable insight into several issues, including the importance of conservation.
She also serves on a regional advisory board for Umpqua Bank and does weekly radio business reports for KXL 101.1 FM.
Anderson said her professional career is evidence that she's capable of asking utility staff tough questions, of punching holes in opaque answers to help the public understand the utility. She said the utility must be run like a business, to boost customer service and hold down power rates, and that her business management experience and financial expertise enables her to review the utility's work to ensure it's operating efficiently.
Economic development focus
As a commissioner, Anderson said, she would spark a dialogue about how the utility might promote economic development. In a position paper she addressed to The Columbian's editorial board -- which endorsed her candidacy -- she charged that opponent Jim Malinowski "says nothing about the role of the utility in economic development or job creation."
She unleashes other criticisms of him, too.
Malinowski is "really smart," she said, but too close to the details and too stuck in the past, still criticizing the River Road power plant.
Anderson said Clark Public Utilities already has a technically minded staff to carry out the utility's daily business, rendering Malinowski's experience less important and ill-fitted to the role of a commissioner. Malinowski, she said, wants to be the expert, while "I'm more interested in listening to the experts."
If she has critics, Anderson said, they'd likely come from organized labor. Referring to her editing position at The Columbian, Anderson said: "My title was business editor, not labor and business editor."
An Amboy area resident, Anderson has woven herself into the fabric of Vancouver's business and political establishment, as evidenced by her campaign endorsements.
Anderson's backers include numerous regional business and political leaders, including outgoing utility commissioner Carol Curtis, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and the city's former longtime mayor, Royce Pollard, whom Leavitt defeated in 2009.
Anderson also received the blessing of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. Jamie Howsley, an attorney for the BIA of Clark County, said Anderson is "proactive," someone who understands that government and business can work together to solve problems. "She fit the bill," he said.