Behind the ballot: Five local races with hidden consequences

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With nearly 90 elected offices or ballot measures, the Nov. 7 Clark County general election ballot offers a graduate-level lesson in civics.  Odd-year elections lack partisan races that tend to attract the electorate’s time or attention, but this year’s smaller races — there are contested races for cemetery board and sewer commissioner, for example — affect us close to home. Sometimes even one vote decides the outcome.

Today, The Columbian is writing about five of those races where voters’ decisions may have unusually lasting consequences.

Costly Port of Vancouver race could prompt new election law

This year’s Port of Vancouver race has topped $1 million, making it one of the costliest in the state. But two state representatives, whose legislative district includes the port, are hoping to limit future campaigns.

The District 1 race is viewed widely as a referendum on Vancouver Energy’s plans to build the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil terminal at the port. Don Orange, an opponent of the terminal, has received $410,599, including a $290,000 in-kind contribution from the political action committee associated with the Washington Conservation Voters. His opponent, Kris Greene, has stated during the campaign only that he wants to see the permitting process continue. He’s received $591,157 in campaign contributions, most of which have come from companies with a direct interest in the project.

“That’s a lot of pressure for a candidate not to be influenced by one stakeholder,” said state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Stonier and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, say they’ll introduce legislation when lawmakers meet this winter to cap contributions in future Vancouver port races. Under state law, candidates in port districts with more than 200,000 registered voters are subject to campaign contribution caps. Only the ports of Seattle and Tacoma meet this threshold. In these races, individuals, political action committees, unions and corporations are limited to donating $2,000 for each election. Political parties can give $1 per registered voter in each district. The Port of Vancouver has 175,438 registered voters.

“Essentially there is no reason I know of to not have the same rules for all port races,” Wylie wrote in a text.

Should the contributions be limited, it still wouldn’t put an end to the attack ads. Under state law, the cap wouldn’t apply to independent political expenditures, which are made by an interest group that is not part of a candidate’s official campaign. These groups could still spend large sums of money running potentially inflammatory campaign advertisements.

“Sometimes the most negative campaign pieces are done this way but the candidate that benefits is blamed for the tone and content,” Wylie wrote. “It is hard for the public to know who is doing what for whom in these instances.”

— Jake Thomas

If the late Scott Campbell wins, who will serve on Vancouver City Council?

There appears to be a good chance Vancouver voters will elect a dead man to the Vancouver City Council. But if Scott Campbell wins, who will serve?

Any registered voter who’s lived in Vancouver for two years can apply; the city council will choose the winner.

The first name being tossed around is that of Tanisha Harris. She announced a run for Position 1 months ago but dropped out after Campbell announced in April. She previously ran for a seat on the Clark County council as a Democrat.

“You know, I’ve heard the same rumor about myself,” Harris said.

But she said she hasn’t decided whether to apply should Campbell — who died Sept. 17 from complications of cancer — win the election.

“I’m keeping all my political options open at this point,” she said.

The other front-runner is Jim Mains, a well-connected political consultant, former assistant to philanthropist Ed Lynch, and Campbell’s campaign manager.

Mains said he’s had numerous people encourage him, including incumbent Councilor Jack Burkman, who is stepping down.

“I just don’t even want to think about it until we know the outcome and who else would throw their hat it the ring,” Mains said. “I’m honored by the amount of people who have asked me to consider running.”

He said he will consider applying, however, should Campbell win.

“I feel like I would want to honor Scott and I’d want to honor the community,” Mains said.

An issue for applicant-hopefuls is the sheer pressure of accepting the position. An appointee would have to be elected in November 2018, meaning the campaign trail begins immediately.

“For anybody that’s going through this appointment, it’s going to be a lot of work; they have to be ready to campaign,” Mains said. “There’s a lot of factors to consider for anybody that’s considering running.”

Of course, Campbell may not win. But the living candidate, Maureen McGoldrick, is a newcomer who has done very little campaigning. In a five-way Aug. 1 primary, Campbell won 54 percent of the votes; McGoldrick captured 16 percent.

— Katy Sword

Plaza’s history with city of Woodland thorny

It’s no secret that Woodland voters like police officers — four of the last five mayors have had law enforcement backgrounds.

But how will residents feel about a city council candidate who had an unceremonious end to his law enforcement career?

Dave Plaza is running for Position No. 3 on the Woodland City Council against Nate Cook, and so far, Plaza’s history with the Woodland Police Department hasn’t seemed to affect his campaign.

He finished first out of three candidates for the position in August’s primary, scoring 42 percent of the vote to Cook’s 40 percent.

Plaza worked for the Woodland Police Department from 2008 to 2015, starting out as a patrol officer and eventually getting promoted to detective. But his career ended with acrimony.

While working as a police officer, Plaza brought allegations of misconduct about then-interim Police Chief Brad Gillaspie to then-Mayor Grover Laseke. After filing his complaints, Plaza said he was treated within the department like a criminal and regularly accused of disciplinary violations. He spent nearly a year on administrative leave after being accused of stealing a digital camera from the department. A Washington State Patrol investigation into the allegations yielded no evidence of a crime.

Plaza filed local and federal lawsuits against the city and settled out of court.

Plaza received $200,000 in the settlement, $50,000 at the time and a check for $150,000 made out to his lawyers in a trust for him.

Plaza also agreed to not “reapply for or request future employment with the city of Woodland.” While the city councilors and mayor receive a stipend from the city, they are not considered employees, according to City Administrator Pete Boyce. City councilors receive $150 per month and an additional $25 per city council meeting not to exceed four meetings a month, and the mayor receives $800 per month, according to Boyce.

There is currently no pending legal action between Plaza and the city, which is why he thinks now is the time to run for office, he said before the August primary. He now owns a screen-printing business.

— Adam Littman

Charter-school issue divides school board candidates

Local school board candidates often provide a similar profile: former or current parents of children in the district, school volunteers and community members wishing to make a difference.

But this year’s political climate has added a new dividing line: their stance on the expansion of charter schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a proponent of charter schools — privately run but publicly funded — as an alternative to the public education system.

Washington’s charter school policy is in its fledgling years compared with many other states. The independent Washington State Charter School Commission can authorize charter schools. But the law also allows certain school districts to authorize charter schools within their boundaries. So far, only Spokane Public Schools has been approved by the State Board of Education to do so.

“Public charter schools can be an option for communities that are looking for a public school option to serve students who are systemically underserved, while ensuring a high level of accountability in exchange for flexibility to innovate and personalize instruction to meet students’ diverse learning needs,” said Patrick D’Amelio, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, a nonprofit that advocates for new charter schools.

But the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers union, opposes the expansion of charter schools. Spokesman Rich Wood said they direct public dollars into “unaccountable schools run by private organizations.”

“That’s one of the concerns and one of the reasons why it is an important issue at the school board level,” Wood said.

In Clark County, WEA’s local political action committees have endorsed Megan Miles in the Evergreen Public Schools Position 1 race and Wendy Smith for the Vancouver Public Schools Position 3 seat.

Wood said that’s due, in part, to their positions against expanding charter schools.

For example, Smith’s opponent, Heather Christiansen, said “charter schools may be a good option” for some students. Smith took a hard stance against them.

“(Vancouver Public Schools) has demonstrated, again and again, that public schools can offer families choice without siphoning public funds into private hands,” Smith said.

— Katie Gillespie

Big names influence small-town election in Washougal

small-town mayoral race has attracted some big-named backers: David Madore, Liz Pike and Eileen Quiring. The result could be a bellwether on next year’s race for county council chair.

Current Washougal City Councilor Dan Coursey and former Councilor Molly Coston are running for the open seat, along with Paul Godin, who filed as a write-in candidate in September.

Coursey, who was elected to the council in 2015, has raised more than $11,000 in cash. His biggest donors are former county Councilor Madore and his wife, Donna, who live in Vancouver, along with the Clark County Republican Party. All three donated $1,000. Also among his donors: state Rep. Pike, R-Camas, who gave $300, and county Councilor Quiring — who is politically aligned with Madore and Pike — who gave $100.

Madore has remained mostly out of the political spotlight this year. But could he and Pike be using the Washougal mayoral race as a testing ground for 2018? In August, Pike announced she will run for Clark County council chair in 2018 against incumbent Marc Boldt.

The announcement comes with a bit of history. In 2012, Madore defeated incumbent Boldt for a seat on what was then the board of county commissioners. After two combative years with Madore, in November 2014 voters approved changing the form of government from a three-member commission to a five member council. The next year, Boldt challenged Madore to become the new council’s first chair.

After finishing third in a five-way primary, Madore backed Pike as part of a general election write-in campaign, and contributed more than $250,000 to organizations who were financially supporting her. Despite receiving the large donations, Pike didn’t end up campaigning, and Boldt won.

That wasn’t the last of Madore’s misfortunes. Because his term hadn’t expired, he stayed on the county council and ran for re-election in 2016. Despite spending more than $240,000 of his own money, he finished third in the primary, behind Democrat Tanisha Harris and Republican John Blom. (Blom won in November.)

For those looking ahead to the county chair race in 2018, they might want to pay attention to see the mayoral race in Washougal for a sneak peek on how things could play out.

— Adam Littman