In Our View: Crowded Races in Local Cities

Voters have numerous choices as council candidates prepare for battle

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Every politician — regardless of party or position — needs to be challenged by opponents. It's good for the elected officials to not only be held accountable but to respect and even fear that process as he or she works for the voters. And it's good for the electorate to not only have choices but to leverage the electoral process as an ominous reminder throughout the term of office.

That's why we're glad to see a healthy dose of candidates in city council races throughout Clark County, now that the filing period for the Nov. 5 election has closed. Sadly, there are high numbers of unchallenged races elsewhere in the county this fall (we'll get to those later in this editorial), but in the eight cities that are having council elections, half of the councilor positions have at least two candidates. And in the three largest cities — Vancouver, Battle Ground and Camas — nine of 10 races are contested. And in the largest city — Vancouver — a robust collection of 14 hopefuls (including four incumbents) are set to do battle, and three of the four races begin with the Aug. 6 runoff.

This abundance of political competition is good for voters. Unfortunately in Woodland and Yacolt, no races have more than one candidate.

In the top local showdown, we're not surprised to see Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt draw an opponent. He angered many supporters when he changed his mind on tolls after taking office. But after the heavy, seemingly nonstop criticism of Leavitt in recent years, we are surprised he drew only one foe. And even that opponent, City Councilor Bill Turlay, seems to have taken a might-as-well, nobody-else-will approach when filing for the office late Friday. "It just seemed like somebody should be running, that's all," said Turlay in a Saturday Columbian story. Not exactly the most captivating campaign slogan.

Turlay himself faces criticism from supporters after the consummate conservative in November voted in favor of a tax increase, reluctantly, at the time explaining, "I'm dead set against it, but I've got no other choice." Sounds like Leavitt on tolls.

Elsewhere on the largest city council in the county, the action will be hot and heavy as incumbents Jack Burkman (three foes), Jeanne Stewart (two) and Jeanne Harris (four) all must face challengers in the summer primary. As we said, that's great … for the public servants and for the public.

However, we wonder why 16 of 23 school board races in Clark County have only one candidate each. Four school board races haven't even drawn one candidate. (For more information about the extended filing period for these races, visit Clark County Elections). A stronger accountability process would be helpful, especially in the four largest school districts. In each of those districts (Vancouver, Evergreen, Battle Ground and Camas), one of two school board races has a challenger.

In local fire districts, constituents apparently are even more satisfied with the performance of their elected officials. Six fire districts have eight commissioner races on the ballots, and not a single one has drawn more than one candidate.

The same is true in three local ports, where four races show no more than a single candidate.

Fortunately, though, city council races are well-stocked with choices for voters. In these cities, countless key decisions will be made in coming years about economic development, transportation, taxes and other issues. We urge voters to prepare to make informed decisions in the Aug. 6 primary (ballots will be mailed July 17) and the Nov. 5 election (ballots will be mailed Oct. 16).