So, where do we go from here? In an election dominated by philosophical differences regarding the prospect of a new Interstate 5 bridge and the extension of Portland’s light-rail system into Vancouver, the city’s voters delivered a message Tuesday. By apparently re-electing Mayor Tim Leavitt and city council member Jack Burkman, while seemingly also voting Alishia Topper and Anne McEnerny-Ogle to the council, city residents gave tacit approval to the Columbia River Crossing.
Before we go any further, there are two caveats that must be mentioned. First, election results are not final; Clark County officials reported that 57,679 ballots had been counted, while about 28,000 — roughly one-third — remained to be counted. Second, the CRC proposal, which is dormant at best and deceased at worst, is not the only issue being discussed. This wasn’t a single-issue election, nor was it a referendum on the CRC. But the issue did weigh heavily on the campaign, and the opponents of Leavitt, Burkman, Topper, and McEnerny-Ogle all ran on a platform of strong opposition to the proposal.
Yet while city voters backed those who are likely to support the CRC, county voters overall delivered a different message. Four of the five transportation-related advisory votes — which would, for example, instruct county commissioners to oppose any light-rail project unless explicitly approved by a vote of the people — were passing.
It’s understandable that ballots from within the city limits of Vancouver would reflect a different point of view from those throughout the rest of the county. Vancouver residents would be in closer proximity to a new bridge and to light rail and would, on average, benefit more than those beyond the city limits. But aside from philosophical differences, Tuesday’s vote reflects practical divisions as well — namely, that the advisory votes are nothing more than advice. They are nonbinding suggestions for county commissioners and essentially will have no greater impact than baying at the moon. Commissioners have no authority over interstate highways or bridges, although they do have three of the nine voting seats on the C-Tran board.
The most high-profile vote on the local ballot was that for mayor of Vancouver, a contest that will have countywide implications because of the mayor’s role on the C-Tran board. Leavitt appears to have won re-election despite a self-created albatross left over from his initial election for mayor. During the campaign four years ago, he ran on a position of being opposed to tolls across a new I-5 bridge, then quickly reversed his position. The fact that voters have moved past that flip-flop reflects the notion that there was, indeed, more to this election than a single issue.
“I want the citizens of Vancouver to be able to work — and play — in the city they live in,” Leavitt said Tuesday night, emphasizing the need to work with local businesses to create jobs in the city. He also highlighted a desire to move forward on development of the waterfront and on bus rapid transit for the Fourth Plain corridor.
If the election results hold as ballots continue to be counted over the next couple days, the mayoral race and all three city council races will reflect a decisive message. Their opponents had been linked together philosophically, and voters have rejected the philosophy. Which answers the question posed at the beginning of this editorial. Where do we go from here? Forward.