Democrats prepare for Stuart succession

Friday meeting will allow party to query candidates

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Clark County Democrats will take an important step Friday toward drafting a list of three candidates to replace outgoing County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who will step down next month to become city manager of Ridgefield.

The end-of-week meeting is expected to draw more than 100 local Democrats to the Labor Center. There, party officers will pose questions to the hopefuls. The question-and-answer period will serve as the party's opportunity to vet the candidates, three of whom will be presented to the remaining two Clark County commissioners. The two commissioners, Republicans Tom Mielke and David Madore, will be tasked with appointing a replacement for Stuart, a Democrat.

County Democrats plan to make their list of three candidates official on March 28.

So far, the list is pretty well-established, as only three people have thrown their names into the field.

Mike Heywood, chairman of the Clark County Democrats, said the party is open to accepting the names of more people interested in the appointment, before the March 28 deadline.

"We want to spread the net as widely as possible so we don't miss anyone," Heywood said.

The list currently includes Temple Lentz, a Democratic precinct committee officer and freeholder; Craig Pridemore, a former county commissioner and state senator; and Kelly Love Parker, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.

Even though there are only three names vying for Stuart's position, county Democrats say they'll likely take other means to ensure the candidate with the most party support is appointed.

Heywood said Democratic leadership would likely rank the three candidates in the order of most support to least. The idea has the blessing of Lentz and Love Parker, both of whom attended a county Democrats meeting Monday and gave a nod of approval to being ranked.

Still up in the air is when, exactly, Stuart will step aside from the county. That will become an important date in the process. Upon Stuart's last day, commissioners Mielke and Madore will have 60 days to name a replacement.

While Stuart suggested earlier he'd stay at his county position up until practically the day before he takes the helm of Ridgefield's top administrative position on April 14, he said Tuesday that he'd made no definite decision on when his last day would be.

That decision will be formalized in a letter to Mielke and Madore, which will be passed along to the county Democrats.

It will spell the end of a two-month period in which questions swirled around Stuart's future.

In January, he announced he didn't plan to run for reelection, following a 10-year stint on the board. He cited a high level of political acrimony on the county commission board as the reason for his choosing to step out of politics.

Then, in February, Ridgefield named him one of three finalists for the city manager position.

On Tuesday, Stuart said he looked forward to exiting political life and setting aside his party leadership roles with the county Democrats.