Press Talk: That open commission seat. Hmmmm

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor


photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

Whoever plays the game better, wins.

It's really that simple. And make no mistake, it is a game, albeit a very important one.

The wheels already are fully in motion to replace outgoing Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart. Stuart has had enough of Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke (the M&M boys) and announced in January he wouldn't seek re-election.

Almost as soon as the words came out of his mouth, he applied for — and then got — the city manager's job in Ridgefield.

That created one less playmate for the M&M boys. But, hey, never fear, there are other players for that $100,000-a-year job.

Stuart's rear end wasn't even out of his $600 Allsteel Virage office chair when possible successors' names began to appear.

photoStuart's seat is still warm.

Here is how the replacement process will work: Because Stuart is a Democrat, the local Democratic Party will present three names to — you guessed it — the M&M boys. And the M&M boys will choose one of those three names to fill the position. There is no immediate public election. However, the seat will be up for election this November.

The two early front-runners are Democrats Temple Lentz and Craig Pridemore. Lentz was the first out of the box. Minutes after Stuart got the city manager's job she thanked him for his service and got right to why she's the woman for the open seat.

By the way, Lentz is the sharpest tool in the shed. Anyone who has hung out with her knows this. She's bright, articulate and funny. She's also an über-liberal. All of the unions will get behind her for this position. In fact — although she is now transitioning out of the job — she presently works in communications for a union in Portland.

She has her fingers in other stuff locally including a startup consulting firm called High Five Media.

She's very community oriented. She appears to be involved with everything and everyone.

Oh, one other thing: She has beaten the M&M boys like an old rug in her mostly liberal political blog called "The (Not Quite) Daily Couve." And we're not talking about patty-cake here. She has left them bloodied and bruised.

Pridemore is also a liberal but much more moderate than Lentz. He's actually been in the very seat Stuart now occupies. After five years on the commission he stepped away to become a state senator. Coincidentally, it was Stuart — back in 2004 — who filled the commission seat that Pridemore vacated.

Pridemore then stepped away from his Senate seat to unsuccessfully run for state auditor. He now is the chief financial officer for the state Department of Licensing.

• • •

Now back to the game. First, the game isn't between Lentz and Pridemore. It's between the M&M boys and the local Democratic Party.

Barring another prominent name surfacing, at first glance you'd think the M&M boys would pick Pridemore. He's the seasoned professional who is more likely to have a tempered opposi

tion to the two Republicans. If Lentz is half as tough as her blog is — and she gets the job — we're all in for a wild ride.

But this isn't about making a logical choice. This is a chess match. It's likely the M&M boys will pick the person whom they think is less likely to be able to carry the county in the November election. And that's Lentz. Her liberal background will serve her well in Vancouver. But outside the city limits ... good luck with that.

The only card the Democrats have to play is to not put someone up that they don't think could carry the county. But I suspect that won't happen. They'll put up the best candidates and hope for the best in November.

I did ask both of them — if they didn't get the appointment — would they run against the other?

Pridemore: "I think this will be a difficult campaign for whomever gets appointed. For me, the most critical factor will be whether or not there's productive and comprehensive policy discussions on the board. I don't think that would be served by having a third commissioner who's fully in line with the other commissioners. A primary battle would be bruising for whomever the candidate is. I'll do whatever I can to avoid one."

Lentz: "Too early to say for sure. But if I felt the appointee wouldn't serve the county well, yes, I'd consider it."

For my money these are two very good people who would serve the county well. Now let's see how this plays out.