Press Talk: Crazy election times

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Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.

I’m pretty sure everyone — and I mean everyone — was thinking that when the M&M boys (you know, County Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke) exited stage right, our beautiful Clark County would return to normal.

Well, think again.

Our upcoming local election — which should have basically been a throwaway, off-year snoozer — turned into Crazy Town. So let’s take a peek …

Color me …

Take the very colorful Vancouver port commissioner race. It’s Orange vs. Greene. Well, those are the last names of the guys in this race, but that’s not why this race stands out. It’s a talker because the race really is a referendum on what we want Vancouver to be.

If you want Vancouver to be Vancouver — clean, inviting, the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and the developing waterfront — you vote for Don Orange. If you want Vancouver to be Houston, you vote Kris Greene.

You see, there’s this little thing called the largest oil terminal this side of Uranus that’s being proposed for Vancouver. If built, it would make Houston proud. Ever visit Houston? Don’t. OK, that might be a little harsh, but you can’t take three steps without running into something oil-related. Good for them.

If Orange is elected, he’ll do everything he can to end a goofy contract the Vancouver port commissioners agreed to several years back that allows this colossal monstrosity to be built here. Greene says that if the thing is deemed safe, he pretty much likes the idea.

Greene, you see, is missing the point. I really don’t care if it’s 100 percent safe (that’s impossible, by the way). It’s simply a bad idea for our quality of life.

Sure, I wrote a few years ago that regardless of what our port commissioners do, our environmentally conscious governor — who has the final say on it — will nix the project in its present form. But it never hurts to have backup.

Orange should win.

Madam mayor

The next strange race is for Vancouver mayor. Get used to saying madam mayor because Anne McEnerny-Ogle will win this race. No one ever doubted the outcome, but the race became stranger and stranger as the days passed.

McEnerny-Ogle is running because Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt is a young guy who needs to use his engineering degree to make some cash before he gets old. Those hand-tailored suits from Portland don’t come cheap. So he’s giving up the part-time mayor’s gig.

McEnerny-Ogle entered the race along with Steven Cox. Cox is a very bright guy and a military veteran through and through. I first met him at one of The Columbian’s Editorial Board meetings. He was stiff and insistent and somewhat troubled. He came off as almost programmed, not himself.

Oddly, he confirmed that when the meeting wrapped up. I shook his hand as he was walking out, and he whispered in my ear.

“Glad that’s over. Now I can be my real self.”

No seasoned politician would ever say that. But I found that both enlightening and refreshing. He was admitting that he was way out of his element trying to play politician.

Several days after our meeting, Cox — still playing politician — accused Councilor Jack Burkman of saying something he didn’t. Cox was so distraught when the mistake was pointed out that he immediately withdrew from the race. Again, refreshing. Cox also went very public with his personal issues. He spoke about veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries or post traumatic stress disorder.

I contacted Cox and asked him about it.

“I am a soldier, not a politician, and live by a warrior’s ethos. Men like me should be locked up in a box and only let out for the next war. There really isn’t much more to understand than that.”

Of course, Cox was clearly wrong when he spoke about locking himself in a box. There is much value a man like Cox can bring to a community like ours. He needs some guidance, for sure, and some moderation in his political views. But I’ll take my chances with an honest candidate.

Then, however, the race became more bizarre when — a few weeks later — Cox confronted a man in his backyard before dawn. A struggle ensued, and the trespasser was shot and killed. I contacted Cox again.

“That guy had me and I was going to be a dead man and probably my wife too.”

I asked him if his military training kicked in.

“Yes it did, but I am too old for this. I had clarity of mind as I fought him off until I knew he had the upper hand and I was going to be dead if I didn’t shoot.”

That’s more than a lifetime of serious issues in a few short weeks.

“I just want to go back to finding peace,” he told me.

I sure hope he does find his peace. I’ve grown to like and respect this guy. Even though he has withdrawn from the race, his name will still appear on the ballot. McEnerny-Ogle is by far the better candidate and would have won this race regardless. But Cox will do better than many expect him to do.

The Burkman seat

After serving the city well for years, Burkman has decided to not seek re-election. I’ve had more than a few run-ins with Burkman, but I’ve always respected the guy. While most other city councilors sat in the shadows, Burkman was always willing to come out publicly and mix it up with us common folk. Huge props for that.

His retirement opened up his seat, and the huge community name that stepped up was Scott Campbell (no relation to the publisher of The Columbian).

He had been battling cancer for several years but said he felt good enough to run and serve. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. After coming in first in his primary race, his cancer got the best of him. He died in September. His name is still on the ballot along with Maureen McGoldrick, who finished a distant second. She has been very reluctant to speak much about the race and — in particular — has avoided interviews with The Columbian.

So voters are faced with the strange dynamic of voting for someone who is no longer with us, or voting for McGoldrick, about whom we know very little. Notwithstanding some sort of write-in miracle, I suspect Campbell will still win this race.

And that means the city council would be responsible for appointing someone to the seat. Look, I’m very skeptical about any governmental body appointing people to elected positions. It feels very undemocratic. But there are no better alternatives.

If Campbell wins — and how strange would that be? — expect the city council to appoint Jim Mains. Mains has a lot of irons in the fire including his role in High Five Media and his position as executive assistant to the Ed and Dollie Lynch estate. But the city council gig is part time, and Mains, who is a friend of mine, would be a strong choice.

Now — if you haven’t already — mail in your ballot. Vote!