Pridemore, Stewart differ on big issues

They disagree on charter, east county bridge, transportation

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Clark County commissioner candidates pound the pavement: Democrat Pridemore, Republican Stewart ring Clark County doorbells to get face time with voters

Clark County commissioner candidates pound the pavement: Democrat Pridemore, Republican Stewart ring Clark County doorbells to get face time with voters

The two candidates running for Clark County commissioner say now is the time to end extreme partisanship.

But anyone looking for more shared ground than that will likely be disappointed.

During an interview with The Columbian’s editorial board Wednesday, candidates Craig Pridemore, a Democrat, and Jeanne Stewart, a Republican, took turns differentiating their positions on a variety of topics ranging from the proposed home rule charter to transportation.

So while the two agreed that something needed to be done to repair regional partnerships and build consensus within the halls of government, they stopped short of agreeing on how that should be accomplished.

Pridemore, a former county commissioner and state senator, said changing the form of county government would be a start. Voters will decide whether to approve a home rule charter when it appears on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

The charter calls for several changes to the way county government works, including adding two commissioners and an appointed manager to run daily operations.

He called the charter an effort to make the county better. He said the county was a different place today than it was in 1889, when the president approved the state constitution, which spelled out the composition of county government.

“When you look at the scale of functions the county provides, it’s far greater than” when the state constitution was approved in 1889, Pridemore said.

Stewart, a former Vancouver city councilwoman, disagreed, saying the home rule charter was an extreme reaction by some to the actions of Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke, both Republicans.

Among the top controversies in county government was their hiring of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to run the county’s Department of Environmental Services. The decision was criticized by some for not following the county’s historic hiring policies.

Stewart stopped short of calling the hiring wrong, saying instead that because she wasn’t privy to the decision-making process, she was uncertain about how commissioners made the decision.

She acknowledged she probably wouldn’t have supported the hiring if she were on the board, however.

Pridemore was more direct, saying that while Madore and Mielke were within their legal authority to hire Benton, their decision to do so was wrong.

Bridge plan a ‘hoax’

On the issue of transportation, Pridemore called the idea of an east county bridge a “hoax.” Whether the county should pursue a third crossing at Southeast 192 Avenue will appear on the general election ballot in the form of an advisory vote.

Pridemore said an east county bridge wouldn’t relieve the county’s traffic congestion and, because it’s not located on a main arterial, it wouldn’t bolster the county’s economic development efforts.

“It can only function as a commuter bridge,” he said.

Stewart said she needed more information about the bridge proposal before supporting it completely, though she also said the county will need a third crossing at some point.

She also said she’d support another investigation into how to the make an Interstate 5 replacement project work, as long as it didn’t include light rail or tolls.

“(The I-5 crossing) could be rebuilt as a drawbridge,” she said. “They are building drawbridges in this country.”

Stewart’s reference to tolls followed Pridemore’s acknowledgement that he supported tolls on the Columbia River Crossing during his time in the Legislature.

Pridemore called transportation the region’s most pressing need, adding that congestion relief would improve the county’s ability to grow economically.

Not limited by support

Both candidates defended where their campaign contributions have come from. Stewart received maximum contributions from Madore and his wife during the primary, while labor unions have given Pridemore money.

Stewart said she didn’t see Madore’s support as a hindrance to her campaign. It would have no impact on her views, or how she would conduct business on the board, she said.

“If it mattered to me,” she said, “I’d have to figure out why it mattered to me.”

Pridemore countered accusations that his campaign was backed by unions, saying those contributions only accounted for “not more than 15 percent” of all campaign contributions.