Ed Barnes to join county commissioner race

Retired labor leader, persistent critic is fourth candidate

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

Updated: March 24, 2014, 9:01 PM

 

Retired labor leader Ed Barnes said Monday that he is joining the race to be appointed to the county commissioners’ seat being vacated by Steve Stuart, the board’s lone Democrat.

He’ll join announced candidates Temple Lentz, a blogger and liberal activist; Kelly Love Parker, president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce; and Craig Pridemore, a former county commissioner and state senator.

“I think what has to happen (on the board) is for someone to bring some common sense, and bring parties together,” Barnes said. Detractors have characterized the current board as dysfunctional and prone to infighting.

The Clark County Democrats are expected to vote on a list of three appointment candidates at a meeting Friday. Party leaders will also rank the candidates from top to bottom. The list will then go to the board’s remaining two commissioners, Republicans Tom Mielke and David Madore, who will have 60 days from Stuart’s departure to make the appointment.

Stuart has butted heads with Mielke and Madore for the past year-and-a-half on a number of issues, most prominently their appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, a fellow Republican, to be the director of environmental services. Stuart vehemently opposed the appointment, citing Benton’s lack of credentials.

Barnes said he threw his name into the ring because of comments Lentz made March 21 at a meeting of Clark County Democrats. Lentz said she was not willing to mount a campaign to retain the seat if she were appointed.

Barnes said it sounded like Lentz’s “heart wasn’t in it,” and that Democrats needed to field candidates interested in running a strong election campaign.

For her part, Lentz said she had received such an outpouring of support from Democrats following the March 21 meeting that she may reconsider whether to run for election if she were appointed. But as of Monday, her position hadn’t changed, she said. She said Democrats needed to throw their support behind one candidate while at the same time presenting Mielke and Madore with three names. She said the top name was clearly Pridemore, who served on the board a decade ago.

It’s a strategy that would prevent two Republicans from making a choice for the Democrats, she said.

“Waiting for our opposition to pick a candidate is a weak position,” she said.

Whoever is appointed to the board will have to start campaigning almost immediately because Stuart’s term expires at the end of the year.

A political newcomer, Barnes said he would run a strong campaign if appointed to the board.

Barnes is a frequent attendee of county meetings, where he regularly criticizes Madore and Mielke over Benton’s hiring. He’s typically the first person to speak during public comments.

The target of Barnes’ admonishment is rarely at these meetings, but that hasn’t meant his remarks have fallen on deaf ears. Last year, Benton threatened to sue Barnes for defamation, creating a public backlash.

One of Barnes’ vows, if appointed, is to hold weekly press conferences and to try to calm the political waters.