Vancouver City Council candidate Justin M. Forsman hopes voters will overlook his felony criminal record in November’s election.
Forsman, 27, a part-time student at Clark College, filed May 15 to run against incumbent Councilor Bart Hansen, 40, a key accounts manager for Clark Public Utilities who has served on the council since 2010.
Forsman is surprised and dismayed by The Columbian’s interest in his past, he said Thursday, arguing that bringing up his criminal record served no purpose. He’s “just an ordinary man trying to stand up for my community,” he stated in an email to the editor.
“I haven’t been in pretty much any trouble at all (lately),” Forsman said. “There’s been a couple of things here and there, but nothing serious like when I was younger. … I’m just trying to move forward. … It sucks to be discriminated against for things you’ve done and things you’ve done your sentence for.”
He is eligible to hold office because under state law, felons’ voting rights are restored as soon as they are no longer under the authority of the Department of Corrections. He has been registered to vote since May 9, 2014, according to the Clark County Elections Office.
Forsman said he’s learned from his mistakes, which began at age 14 with a burglary conviction, followed by convictions for reckless burning, burglary and escape from juvenile detention, according to court records. As an adult, he has been arrested multiple times on allegations of theft and driving with a suspended license, most recently in 2013.
In 2008, Forsman, then 20, was convicted in Clark County Superior Court of trafficking in stolen property in the first degree and sent to prison. The case involved stolen laptop computers belonging to gas utility company Northwest Natural, according to court records.
“It took me going to prison for two-and-a-half years and giving my life away to sit and think and find out who I was as a person. I wasn’t happy with what I’d become, and my family wasn’t proud,” Forsman said. “In order to change, I had to change everything, because I didn’t want to be remembered as a criminal if I died.”
As a boy, Forsman said, he lived with his grandfather, who died when Forsman was 14. That same year, Forsman’s father and dog also died, he said. The teenager became a ward of the state and was placed into foster care.
“I kind of went off the deep end for a while,” he said. “I was kind of robbed of a lot of my childhood.”
Forsman attended high school in Olympia and Battle Ground, eventually earning his high school equivalency degree. He’s taken some writing and journalism courses and lists his occupation as “investigative reporter” on his Facebook page.
He announced his City Council candidacy on Facebook with a graphic that said, “Leadership, responsibility, experience, determination.”
Lower on his Facebook page, Forsman posted photos on May 6 depicting police pepper-spraying a man. “(Expletive) them pigs,” Forsman’s post said. The page has since been taken down.
“I had hoped nobody would be going through that,” he said Thursday of his Facebook page. “I guess that was a moment of emotion. … I am a very respectful person. I do care about the police.”
He objects to police militarization that makes community members feel threatened, he said.
Forsman said he’s running for office not so much for himself, but “for everybody who needs representing.” As far as a campaign platform, he opposes fluoridation of city water and wants to be a voice for the people whose opinions aren’t always heard, such as veterans. Forsman said he is working with a friend to launch Broken Pole Fishing Hole, a program intended to provide a place for wounded and struggling veterans to fish.
He chose to run against Hansen in council Position 4, he said, because “basically, I like the number four.”
Also, after watching Hansen’s YouTube video on the city’s website, “I thought he’d be a good guy to run against,” Forsman said. “It seems like it would be a fair race.”