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July 13, 2020

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Four months in, Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy is making an impression

Appointed District 4 councilor will face at least one challenger in fall special election

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy is pictured Tuesday in his District 4 council seat. This fall, voters will decide whether he keeps it.
Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy is pictured Tuesday in his District 4 council seat. This fall, voters will decide whether he keeps it. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Getting involved with Clark County government wasn’t part of Gary Medvigy’s retirement plan when he moved outside of Camas in 2016. After serving nine years as a California Superior Court judge, Medvigy said he planned to take aviation courses and hike in the Cascade Range with his daughter.

“But I’ve always had an interest in doing more,” Medvigy said, speaking from his sixth-floor office in the Public Service Center, and he got that chance earlier this year.

In January, Republican Eileen Quiring began her term as Clark County Council chair. Her ascension meant she had to vacate her District 4 council seat representing a conservative and rural area that includes Camas and Washougal. The state Constitution required the local Republican Party to nominate three candidates to fill the seat, and Medvigy decided to pursue it.

Equipped with a resume that included stints as an Army general, prosecutor and judge, he beat out multiple familiar faces in Clark County’s Republican Party and was confirmed unanimously by the council to Quiring’s seat.

Since being appointed, Medvigy said it’s been like drinking from a fire hose as he’s gotten up to speed on the often bureaucratic machinations of county government, which includes a $518 million annual budget and 1,640 employees who carry out functions in criminal justice, permitting, planning, code enforcement, land-use and more.

Most of the five-member council had prior experience serving on county advisory boards, such as the planning commission. Medvigy has faced a steep learning curve, meaning considerable meetings and asking many questions. During his short stint on the council, Medvigy has perceived what he sees as past missteps by the state and county over taxes, transportation and economic development that he hopes to help correct.

He’s also established community ties and gotten a foothold in the local Republican Party while maintaining good relationships with the rest of the council.

“I really see him as a very well-rounded person and councilor,” Quiring said. “I do think he will represent the district well. It is a conservative district, and he fits it.”

To continue his efforts, Medvigy will have to prevail in a special election this fall where voters in District 4 will determine if he’ll finish Quiring’s term, which expires in 2020.

Only Battle Ground City Councilor Adrian Cortes, a Democrat, has stepped forward, so far, to run for the position, stressing his deep roots in Clark County.

Cortes said he met Medvigy at an awards ceremony in March. Describing him as a “great gentleman,” Cortes said the two had a good conversation, but he was taken aback at how unfamiliar Medvigy was with Battle Ground.

“I’m honored to be able to run against him, Cortes said. “But he just moved here from California, and he just doesn’t know the area the way I do.”

‘The General’

Medvigy grew up in New Jersey in a family where many members served in the military. He knew at an early age he wanted to serve, too, and enrolled in the U.S. Army.

He also attended college and law school in Vermont. His first active-duty assignment was in the Bay Area. He married his wife Christine Ping, also a lawyer, in 1984. The couple has four living children (one child passed away at age 2).

During his 33 years in the Army, Medvigy rose to the rank of major general and saw deployments to Germany, South Korea, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar. According to his resume, he worked on judicial infrastructure in Afghanistan. He also planned for “psychological operations” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a deputy commanding general in South Korea.

While in the Army, Medvigy also had a career in law, serving as a deputy district attorney in Sonoma County, Calif., where he prosecuted homicides and sex crimes, among other cases. In 2007, he was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Superior Court judge.

In a 2016 article in The Press Democrat on his retirement, Medvigy criticized Proposition 47, which reduced sentences for some crimes. He also scolded a white mother and daughter for their bigotry and entitlement during their confrontation with a black sheriff’s deputy. In another article published a year later, Medvigy took aim at professional athletes who took a knee during the national anthem, saying: “I will never take a knee or tolerate those who do.”

Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Posey said lawyers referred to Medvigy as “The General.” She said he was a disciplined and punctual judge who would start an 8:30 a.m. court proceeding at 8:28 a.m.

“He does not believe in mediocrity,” Posey said. “He expected and commanded professionalism.”

She said Medvigy displayed compassion and would give defendants with underlying substance abuse or mental health problems a chance to enter rehabilitation services. But she said he was unforgiving with defendants who blew that chance.

Posey, who considers Medvigy a friend, said he’s affable and seeks to get along with people. But she said his background as a general and prosecutor might prevent him from being open-minded and fully considering both sides of an issue.

“I think he thinks his opinion is always the right one, and his way of doing things is always the right way,” she said.

‘An open mind’

Medvigy keeps his gray hair in a tidy haircut. He often wears a sports jacket, with no tie, and an American flag pin on his lapel. He’s soft-spoken and grins often.

Medvigy said he’s always been a Republican and that Clark County’s political makeup was one of the reasons he and his wife retired here. He considers himself more moderate, he said, on some social issues.

“I try to keep an open mind to everything and not be an ideologue on anything,” he said.

That open-mindedness extends to his diet. A few years ago, he adopted a plant-based diet (he still eats fish) after one of his daughters in medical school flooded him with information on its benefits.

His fellow councilors have praised Medvigy for proactively taking on the work and handling disagreements well.

“He’s incredibly reasonable. He understands process,” said Councilor Temple Lentz, the council’s sole Democrat. “We’ve already found places where we disagree potentially on some policy issues, but he is wonderful at expressing his opinion and listening to others, and I really think that is what we need the most.”

Medvigy currently serves as the county council’s representative on the board of directors for the Council for the Homeless, a nonprofit that coordinates social services. Vancouver City Councilor Ty Stober, an appointed representative or alternate on the board, said Medvigy is the first county representative he’s seen consistently attend the meetings.

“I very much appreciate the effort that he’s putting forward there,” Stober said.

County matters

Medvigy said partisan politics play a minimal role in county government, but he sees some issues through a “classic Republican filter.”

For Medvigy, that means keeping taxes, housing costs and the overall cost of living low, while finding government efficiencies and promoting economic development.

“As you grow, the tax base should cover all the essential services, to public safety to sewer,” he said.

He’s called the tax hikes passed recently by the Democratic-controlled Legislature unnecessary. He’s criticized the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that mandated the Legislature fully fund basic education and resulted in a property tax spike. He advocates for a third bridge across the Columbia River on his campaign website.

On his desk, he keeps a file on eight homeowners facing “negative impacts” from the Growth Management Act and the county’s comprehensive plan. He said he’s trying to work with property owners to restore their rights but said there “may not be anything we can do.”

Though Medvigy has Quiring’s old seat, their stances differ slightly on some issues.

During the county’s measles outbreak, he supported legislation tightening the state’s vaccination requirements; Quiring opposed it. While he hasn’t taken a stance on lifting the county’s ban on recreational cannabis businesses, he said the drug should be rescheduled federally and heavily studied (which Quiring opposes).

Medvigy said the county lost a “good chunk of money” on a permitting fee holiday — a program championed by then-county Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke that’s since been discontinued.

“I don’t want to lay blame on any previous commissioner or manager,” Medvigy said. “Things have changed. We’re a new council. I really feel like that.”

He said the council and county Manager Shawn Henessee are working well together, and he’s optimistic the county can find more efficiencies.

On the issue of taxes, Medvigy opposes raising taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements in an undeveloped area north of Vancouver. But he wouldn’t take a firm position on increasing the county’s general fund levy by 1 percent, which Quiring has opposed. Other members of the council have supported the increase, which results in a few extra dollars on the tax bill of most households, as necessary to help fund county government.

“I’m not taking any pledge,” he said. “But, boy, we’ve been taxed enough.”

Republican base

Medvigy, so far, has maintained support in the local Republican Party, which has been marked by infighting in recent years.

“I’m confident the local GOP, which doesn’t often unite, will indeed unite behind Gary Medvigy,” Ann Donnelly, a Republican Party activist, said in an email, citing his military and legal experience.

John Ley, an airline pilot who was one of three nominated by the GOP to replace Quiring, said in an email he’s happy with Medvigy so far, and he appears to be a good fit for the district.

Republican activist Brook Pell, who was also nominated to replace Quiring, filed to run for the seat in January but has since announced plans to move out of state. Quiring initially backed Pell but voted for Medvigy, along with the rest of the council.

Quiring said it became clear to her that the council was leaning toward Medvigy, and she said she cast her vote in the interest of having a good relationship with him.

“I think he’s excellent and hope he wins his election,” Quiring said.

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