Don Orange is well ahead in early returns in the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners District 1 election, buoying opponents of a proposed oil terminal at the port.
Initial results released Tuesday night showed Orange leading with 28,875 votes, or 64.2 percent of counted ballots. His opponent, Kris Greene, captured 13,644 votes, just over 35.2 percent with about 18,000 votes left to be tallied countywide.
“I’m shocked, but I’m so God dang proud of our campaign that worked so hard for this,” Orange said Tuesday night at the Clark County Courthouse just after the election results came in. “We are America’s Vancouver, and we’ve been heard from tonight. I never imagined any numbers like this.”
Although he was initially far behind, Greene didn’t concede.
“We still have a lot of votes that haven’t come in yet, so it’s not over until it’s over,” Greene said from his watch party in downtown Vancouver.
The race was seen by many as a referendum on the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal. The company plans to build a rail-to-marine oil terminal capable of handling 360,000 barrels of oil per day at the port. The project is being evaluated by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, and the governor is supposed to have the ultimate say over its construction.
Orange was an outspoken critic of the terminal long before he decided to run for the Port seat. As a candidate, his platform focused heavily on canceling the lease between the port and Vancouver Energy.
Greene said he was committed to seeing the state process through to the end and wouldn’t cancel the lease.
District 2 Commissioner Eric LaBrant is a vocal critic of the terminal and has tried to have the commissioners cancel the lease. But District 3 commissioner Jerry Oliver is a staunch supporter of the project, and outgoing District 1 Commissioner Brian Wolfe has sided with him every time cancellation has come up.
Campaign donations to the two candidates reached more than $1 million, making it one of the most expensive port races in recent state history.
Vancouver Energy and its supporters contributed about $594,000 in cash and in-kind donations to Greene’s campaign. Those contributions made up nearly 87 percent of his war chest.
Orange took in just over $413,500, with nearly 72 percent of that in-kind contributions from the Washington Conservation Voters — an environmentally focused political nonprofit. As a candidate, Greene denied the donations had any effect on his politics. However, last month, Greene’s former campaign strategist and friend said there were close ties between the Greene campaign, officials from Vancouver Energy and others working on behalf of fossil fuel projects around the states.
Greene’s campaign also spent significant resources attacking his opponent’s financial past, environmentalist bone fides and ability to govern. Greene’s campaign used a combative tone rarely seen in local elections.
“This isn’t fun for a family, for the people that work for my company — this wasn’t fun,” Orange said.
Orange moved into an apartment within the district just before filing his candidacy.
That turned out to be a controversial choice. Orange found himself subject to a lawsuit and then a voter registration challenge brought by local Republican activist Carolyn Crain, who unsuccessfully sought to use it as grounds to have Orange removed from the ballot.
Now that the campaign is over, Orange said he’s looking to the future of the port.
“This is about using that port to build a solid 21st-century economy in Vancouver,” he said.
With 61,008 ballots returned as of Tuesday morning, voter turnout stood at 22.36 percent. That number will rise with ballots dropped off or mailed before the 8 p.m. deadline.
The next results will be released late Wednesday afternoon.