Throughout long career, she has held fast to consistently conservative politics, unafraid to ‘stand alone’
One morning in late summer, Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring sat in the cab of a locomotive and gazed out the window at the pastures and houses as she rolled through Brush Prairie.
Over the rattle of the engine, Quiring recalled memories of growing up in Brush Prairie, where she rode horses, changed irrigation pipes on the Lagler dairy farm and attended a Baptist church where her father was pastor.
As Quiring rode the rail line, she saw her past and a part of the county’s future that she hopes to realize as chair of the Clark County Council. A recent change to the state’s land-use laws allows for industrial development on land adjacent to the rail line. Quiring views this pastoral area as an economic engine that fits into her vision of a more affordable, prosperous Clark County where private property development rights are protected and fewer workers need to commute to Oregon.
Quiring, a Republican, could soon be in a better position to advance that vision. She emerged from the four-way August primary in first place with 38 percent of the vote, enough to defeat incumbent Marc Boldt, no party preference. She will face the second-place finisher, Democrat Eric Holt, in the general election.
“She is absolutely the most qualified and experienced candidate that we have running for council chair,” said state Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, who praised Quiring for her record on jobs growth and fiscal restraint.
Before returning to her roots in Clark County, Quiring spent decades away in North Carolina and Oregon, where she worked in real estate, owned a small business, ran a charitable foundation and steered her party’s legislative agenda as a state senator. More recently, she served on Clark County’s Planning Commission before being elected to the Clark County Council in 2016.
Throughout her career Quiring, 70, has maintained stridently conservative politics and aligned herself with controversial figures, prompting some critics to question if she’s the right person for a job that requires a high degree of cooperation.
Under the county charter, the chair runs meetings and serves as the spokesperson for the council. Boldt said that Quiring holds such strong views that he’s skeptical she can speak for the council.
“I believe you have to be as nonpolitical as you can (to be chair),” said Boldt.
But Quiring said that there are misconceptions about her. She said her past leadership positions show she can work with others and set her views aside when needed.
“I would want to get along with people,” she said. “But sometimes you have to remain strong in your viewpoints and sometimes you stand alone.”
Crossing the river
After graduating from Battle Ground High School, Quiring lived in Beaverton, Ore., where she owned a hair salon. In 1983, Quiring (then Eileen Qutub) moved with her then-husband to Charlotte, N.C., after he was transferred for his job.
In Charlotte, she got a job with a city-county agency working on right-of-way projects. She recalled that an employee would get a $1,000 bonus for suggesting an improvement to city-county operations if it was adopted as policy. After successfully suggesting a more efficient way of processing parcels in the right of way, Quiring said her view of government changed.
“(I realized) that change probably happens with policymakers and decision-makers,” said Quiring. “And I truly wanted to make improvements.”
Years later, Quiring would get her shot.
In 1991, she and her husband moved back to Beaverton. Three years later, Quiring beat eight-term state Rep. Mary Ford, a moderate Republican, in a primary battle, then went on to narrowly defeat a Democrat in the general election.
Bill Lunch, professor emeritus of political science at Oregon State University, said that during the 1990s, Oregon saw an upsurge of conservative political activity, including two ballot measures limiting property tax hikes. He called Quiring a social conservative who fit in with more business-oriented conservatives.
In 1995, Quiring said in a videotaped interview that while she appealed to her party’s grass roots, she had great respect for her colleagues. State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, who previously served in the Oregon Legislature with Quiring, recalled her as “absolutely kind” despite their disagreements.
Quiring served one term in the House before being elected to the state Senate, where she was elected to a leadership position in the Republican majority. According to The Oregonian’s archive, Quiring opposed funding for light rail and abortion. She opposed same-sex marriage and Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide laws, and tried to restrict nude entertainment.
“She’s the fire-eating, emotional, steely-eyed champion of the right,” read a 2000 story in The Oregonian, which also said few candidates had worked harder to galvanize their base.
• Eileen Quiring
Total contributions: $43,839.26 ($3,357.30 in in-kind donations).
Largest contributions: $2,000 each from developer David Barnett and Creekside Contracting.
Notable contributions: Building Industry Group ($1,000), Camas investor Ken Fisher ($1,000), state Rep. Liz Pike ($250), former County Councilor Tom Mielke ($145).
• Eric Holt
Total contributions: $28,896 ($3,485 in in-kind donations).
Largest contribution: $1,547.21 from Washington State Democrats.
Notable contributions: Republican political donor David Nierenberg ($1,000), Clark County finance manager Adriana Prata ($1,000), Vancouver Port Commissioner Don Orange ($100), Clark County Treasurer Doug Lasher ($550).
Quiring said she enjoyed the work but was frustrated by her party’s slim majority and clashes on spending and prison siting with then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.
During Quiring’s time in the Legislature, she received backing from the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a conservative Christian political organization that sponsored ballot initiatives seeking to curtail the rights of gays and lesbians. Earlier this month, Wylie criticized Quiring’s affiliation with the OCA, posting on Facebook that the organization rose to the “level of hate groups.”
“There is nothing to say about it,” said Quiring, and that she’s been unfairly associated with the group.
Quiring said that she remains socially conservative and that while she had the backing of the OCA, she was never a member and never campaigned for its initiatives.
Lunch, the retired Oregon political scientist, said, “If you look at (Quiring’s) legislative record, she was supportive of the kind of policies that the OCA favored even though she may not have been a formal member of the organization.”
In 2000, Quiring lost an expensive bid for re-election. Afterward, she made an unsuccessful run for county commissioner in Washington County, then worked as advancement director at a Christian school and as executive director at the Randall Charitable Trust.
Her family still lived in Clark County. In 2009, she decided it was time to go home.
After moving back to Clark County, Quiring ran unsuccessfully for an open state Senate seat representing Vancouver in 2012. She later finalized her divorce, and returned to using her maiden name. She moved to a house just outside of the Vancouver city limits, sold real estate, was appointed to the Clark County Planning Commission and pondered her next move.
In 2016, Republican Tom Mielke announced his retirement from the county council, where he had represented a mostly rural conservative district. Quiring was elected as his successor with 62 percent of the vote.
Unlike state government, counties rarely deal directly with social issues, such as gender or sexual identity. While on the county council, Quiring has been generally supportive of public health initiatives meant to address drug use and mental health. She voted with the rest of the council to bring legal action against the manufacturers of addictive opioid medications. She’s been steadfastly against lifting the county’s ban on recreational marijuana businesses.
Much of the county’s work focuses on fulfilling state and federal mandates. While on the council, Quiring has been supportive of property rights and giving landowners the ability to divide and develop. She’s also resisted more taxes, fees and regulations. Her positions have led her to sometimes cast the only “no” vote.
“We are an arm of the state,” Quiring said. “But one of the reasons we have local government that’s closer to the people is so we can implement the things we want.”
Last year, Quiring was the only councilor to vote against raising the county’s total property tax levy by the 1 percent annual increase allowed by law. She was also the sole “no” vote on a moratorium on land divisions for some agricultural and rural lots the county council adopted in response to a decision by a state land-use board.
Both the Clark County Association of Realtors and the Building Industry Association of Clark County have endorsed Quiring. Representatives for both groups praised her familiarity with challenges facing the industries and affordable housing. She’s also been endorsed by Susan Rasmussen and Carol Levanen, leaders of Clark County Citizens United, a property rights group that’s been sharply critical of county land-use policies.
Quiring said that there is a misconception that she wants to do away with all land-use planning and allow unmitigated sprawl. Instead, she said she is seeking more flexibility. She pointed to the example of an aging owner of large parcel of forestland who’d like to divide part of it to allow his children to take over, but can’t.
But her stances have drawn criticism. In August, Republican Councilor John Blom took to Facebook to endorse Boldt. He criticized Quiring for a campaign mailer claiming Boldt had voted to “slash” the sheriff’s budget when he had voted to increase it. He took issue with Quiring offering no solutions when voting against increasing taxes.
He also brought up her support for supporting a controversial zoning proposal crafted by former Republican county Councilor David Madore, and accused her of using his “same tactics of distortion and outright lies.”
Before losing his bid for re-election in 2016, Madore, backed by Mielke, lobbed accusations at county staff, feuded with other councilors and picked fights with other organizations, such as the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.
David Nierenberg, a prominent local Republican political donor, launched a political action committee in 2016 to support Blom and Jennifer McDaniel, a moderate Republican running in that year’s primary. McDaniel was edged out of the race by Quiring and a Democrat. Nierenberg said Quiring has failed to distance herself from Madore and Mielke since then.
“I worry that making her the chair will bring that unfortunate era of Madore back,” Nierenberg said.
During an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, Quiring shrugged off the comparison, saying that Madore moved too fast with policy.
“You can see the differences,” she said.
Mielke gave Quiring a small donation and has campaigned for her. But Madore, who has given to other candidates this year, has not donated to Quiring. In her nearly two years on the council, Quiring has at times disagreed with councilors and staff, but hasn’t stalled business when she’s disagreed.
Boldt, who had an acrimonious relationship with Madore, said Quiring is different. Even after losing to Quiring, he said their relationship is “fine,” even though they disagree.
Quiring said that although she was disappointed with Blom’s endorsement of Boldt, she said they still have a working relationship. Blom even praised her recently for her work on a county resolution regarding the replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.
“The misconception that I can’t work with people is unfair,” said Quiring. Laughing, she said that she probably doesn’t deal out enough retribution.
Quiring pointed out that she chaired committees while in the Oregon Legislature, was elected majority whip, served as state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council and was selected for the Council of State Governments’ Henry Toll Fellowship Program.
“I don’t go along to get along, especially when it comes to principle,” she said. “I can collaborate with people, but I will strongly work for my particular point of view.”