Clark County commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke on Tuesday appointed Ed Barnes, a retired labor leader and frequent critic of the commissioners, to join them on the three-member board.
The decision ends a two-month appointment process begun when Democrat Steve Stuart stepped down from his District 3 seat on April 11.
The two commissioners, both Republicans, failed to reach an agreement May 27 on a successor after interviewing the three candidates. They met again Tuesday afternoon to choose among three Democrats nominated by the county party: Craig Pridemore, Kelly Love Parker, or Barnes.
Barnes, who accepted the nomination to serve the remainder of Stuart’s term, will be sworn in next week so his family can watch him take the oath. The seat’s term expires at the end of the year.
A vocal critic of Madore, Mielke and Department of Environmental Services Director Don Benton, Barnes was seen as a dark horse candidate for the appointment. Pridemore, a former county commissioner and state senator, was the Democrats’ top pick for the appointment and had the backing of both Love Parker and Barnes. Pridemore is also the only candidate running an election campaign for the position’s next term. He’ll face Republican Jeanne Stewart, a former Vancouver city councilor.
Barnes said he had been skeptical of the appointment process, which he believed was stacked against appointing Pridemore. Upon accepting the nomination, Barnes vowed to continue being his outspoken self on the board.
“I still have my opinion,” he said. “I won’t change that. If I disagree with the commissioners … I will continue to (voice) what I disagree with.”
Mielke responded to accusations that he had told his supporters that he wouldn’t appoint Pridemore under any circumstance, saying he had deep respect for Pridemore. “People have to be careful about rumors,” he said.
He did not say what changed during Tuesday’s executive session that led the commissioners to pick Barnes, after first postponing the decision on May 27 because the commissioners had reached an impasse.
Pridemore did not attend the meeting because he was working in Olympia as the finance director for the Department of Licensing. He plans to quit the job at the end of the month to focus on campaigning full time.
Reached Tuesday, Pridemore said he wasn’t surprised by the commissioners’ decision and had given himself a 1-percent chance of landing the appointment. He also had some advice for Barnes: “He needs to maintain his integrity,” Pridemore said. “Don’t let the negativity of the political world get you down, and stay true to your integrity and ideals.”
Although his name appeared at the bottom of the local Democrats’ list of three appointment candidates, Barnes received a round of praise from the commissioners.
Many of the remarks, bordering on effusive, came from Madore, a regular target of Barnes’ barbs.
“We are going to invite you to be part of the solution,” said Madore, who called Barnes a “recognized leader” in Clark County.
Madore said he would now have to buy an “I am Ed Barnes” T-shirt, a reference to when Barnes supporters took to wearing the shirts in response to a threatened defamation lawsuit brought on by Benton.
It wasn’t the only fashion statement made at the afternoon meeting. Barnes showed up wearing a lapel pin reading “jobs,” similar to the one Madore publicly sports at commission meetings.
Barnes said his priority during his time on the board, short as it will be, would be fostering job growth.
“We need to do something to create an atmosphere here that brings (businesses) in,” he said.
He said he also supported renewing conversations about the Columbia River Crossing — despite the bi-state bridge project being dead — and prioritizing the county’s other transportation needs.