Ron Dotzauer spends a lot of time on airplanes. Last week, he was in Salt Lake City, where his lobbying and communications company, Strategies 360, was helping set up a new municipality. Later that week, he was in Seattle, where his client, Oak View Group, won permission to redevelop Key Arena into a venue suitable for a National Hockey League team.
During the week, Dotzauer, wearing his signature cowboy hat and boots, was also in downtown Vancouver, where Strategies 360, which has a presence in 12 states and Washington, D.C., has opened another office. This one is of personal significance for Dotzauer.
“This is the place I started,” said Dotzauer, a former two-term Democratic Clark County auditor who was elected in 1974 at the age of 27. “To me, of all the places and all the big cities we’re in, this holds a special place in my heart. Honestly, it does.”
Since leaving the county, Dotzauer has gone on to gain a reputation as a knowledgeable and hard-charging consultant. He successfully ran statewide campaigns before founding the Seattle-based Strategies 360, which has worked for hospitals, school districts, tribal governments, energy companies and nonprofits as well as high-profile clients such as National Public Radio and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dotzauer said the new Vancouver location will have two dedicated staff who will share resources with the company’s other offices. He said Strategies 360 is setting up shop in Vancouver primarily because the company landed a contract with the Port of Vancouver.
“So it gave me all the excuse I needed to open an office in Vancouver,” he said.
Abbi Russell, communications manager with the port, said that Strategies 360 was awarded a $585,000 contract for advertising, marketing and public relations services. She said that Strategies 360 beat out seven other firms and will help the port attract new businesses.
According to Jeff Reading, the company’s vice president for communications, Strategies 360 also has hired state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, on a contract basis, to help the company identify new projects and opportunities in the area. Reading said Rivers (who didn’t respond to a call for comment) will start work after the Legislature ends its current session. In Washington, legislative service is considered part time and members frequently hold outside jobs.
Strategies 360 has already done work on a controversial project to build a refinery in Longview (the plans for which have been abandoned) and in 2015 helped the Hockinson School District pass a $39.9 million facilities bond. According to Reading, the company is also working with Pacific Coast Fertilizer in Longview and the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association.
Dotzauer said that working out of his firm’s Portland office isn’t enough and the Vancouver location will serve as a hub for future projects in Southwest Washington.
“If you’re working there, you need to be there,” he said.
Dotzauer, 70, grew up in Snohomish County and attended Central Washington University. He dropped out and served in Vietnam before returning to finish his degree. While in college he hosted a public affairs show and interviewed Don Bonker, who at the time was the Clark County auditor and was running for secretary of state. Dotzauer said the two struck up a friendship and Bonker invited him to move to Clark County and work for him.
“When I got to (Clark County) in 1972, I’d only been out of Vietnam for two years,” said Dotzauer, who added that the experience left him eager to change the world.
Bonker lost his bid for secretary of state but would go on to be elected to Congress. Dotzauer, a Democrat, agreed to run for his boss’s position as county auditor. At the time, Clark County had less than half of its current population and Dotzauer recalled getting up early and driving through rural areas in his orange Volkswagen with Doug Lasher, who would go on to be elected county treasurer, stuffing campaign literature in mailboxes.
He won his race and took office in the county courthouse. At the time, he said the building housed all the elected officials, the courts and the jail.
“People used to come here on the weekends and yell at their buddies in jail,” recalled Dotzauer. “And I would yell, ‘Hey, look at the jail visiting hours.’ ”
Lasher recalled Dotzauer as an energetic and personable politician who had a habit of adjusting his tie. Liz Luce, who would later be elected county auditor, said that he seemed to have one speed: “high energy.”
Both said he changed how the office worked. Lasher said that Dotzauer used the office, which manages elections, to encourage voter turnout. He also used his office to conduct performance audits, where staff evaluates the effectiveness of county programs and was then a new practice.
“There were some departments that had never been audited and there was some pushback,” recalled Mike Plymale, who was hired by Dotzauer to perform audits. “But we had some successes and the (county) commissioners seemed to like that we were finding and fixing things.”
In 1980, Dotzauer made a run for secretary of state. He lost, but caught the eye of U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who hired him to run his 1982 re-election campaign. In 1984, he ran Booth Gardner’s successful campaign for governor and later helped Maria Cantwell unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000.
He said he’s now done running partisan political campaigns, but his firm will do ballot propositions.
Standing in downtown Vancouver, Dotzauer said it was hard to leave Clark County and had doubts about his decision.
“I felt like I got to a spot in the community where I was making a difference,” he said. “For me it all started right here. It really did. I don’t mean to be sappy about it.”