When Gary Medvigy began his campaign to retain his seat on the Clark County Council earlier this year, he hoped to have lots of town hall meetings to engage voters.
But with the challenges of organizing such large events in an election cycle marked by notoriously disengaged voters, Medvigy and his opponent, Adrian Cortes, have turned to the internet.
Since this spring, both candidates have posted a series of short videos to their campaigns’ social media pages. They’ve used these videos to state policy positions, trade barbs with each other and rally supporters.
Elections in odd-numbered years typically have low turnout, which presents a challenge for candidates. Jim Mains, a local political consultant, said in a text that campaigns have been moving toward social media videos as a means of staying relevant and engaged with active voters.
“Especially if it is done in a way that makes people relate to them,” he said. Mains pointed to how Temple Lentz used weekly videos in her successful campaign for county council last year to speak directly to constituents about “hot topic issues.” Mains said he sees Medvigy, a Republican, and Cortes, a Democrat, employing the same strategy.
So far, the videos have shown the style of each candidate while outlining the race’s defining issues, including industrial development in Brush Prairie, the cost of replacing the jail and taxes. More recently, the videos have taken combative tones and have turned to topics such as gun control, drag queens and people from California.
Board chairs and split hairs
Before moving to Clark County in 2016, Medvigy served as a Sonoma County, Calif. Superior Court judge, a position he was repeatedly elected to with no opponent. After being appointed to a vacant Clark County Council position in January, Medvigy is facing his first contested election.
Medvigy said he began producing the videos under advice from his campaign manager. Many begin with soft acoustic guitar music followed by a message from Medvigy. Over the summer, he produced two videos pushing back on claims made by Cortes.
In a video posted on July 25, Medvigy took issue with how Cortes had posted to his website an altered sentence from a Columbian blog post on each candidate’s positions on taxes. The original sentence read, “Does that mean that the Democrat in this race is more opposed to tax increases than the Republican?” With attribution to The Columbian, Cortes posted an altered version to his website that read, “The Democrat (Cortes) in this race is more opposed to tax increases than the Republican.”
Both candidates have taken stances opposing tax increases. But in his video Medvigy said that Cortes’ misrepresentation was “troubling.” He also took aim at how Cortes listed his position as chair of the C-Tran’s board of directors under elected experience in the voter’s pamphlet.
“It’s an error; it’s a misrepresentation,” said Medvigy in the video.
Cortes told The Columbian that C-Tran’s board of directors elected him chair and that Medvigy was splitting hairs. A two-term member of the Battle Ground City Council, Cortes said that Medvigy’s criticism shows his lack of knowledge of local government.
Regarding the quote from The Columbian, Cortes said that the point was to show that he has a stronger position against taxes. Cortes has said he won’t raise taxes until the county meets certain benchmarks. In the voter’s pamphlet, Cortes broadly commits to “not support increasing property taxes!”
“I’m the only candidate that has made a pledge in the first sentence in the voters’ pamphlet,” he said.
While Medvigy has declined to make a similar pledge, in the video he said that the Republican-led county council has sought government efficiencies over raising taxes. He said that the county “came out of the structural deficit” without raising taxes.
However, county officials have previously described an ongoing structural deficit, where expense outpaces revenues. In an interview, Medvigy acknowledged that the county is still facing a structural deficit.
In July, Cortes posted to Facebook to criticize Medvigy’s vote against a request from Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik for more than half a million dollars for a new case management system. Golik has said the system is critical to keep the courts functioning.
“I’m not sure how they run things in California, but in Clark County we support and trust our law enforcement,” wrote Cortes.
In August, Medvigy responded with a video pointing out that he’d worked in law enforcement for most of his adult life. He said that he, as well as a majority of the council, just wanted to make sure the county was getting a good deal on the case management system.
“So for him to say I’m anti law by not supporting our prosecuting attorney is just wrong,” he said.
Drag queens and firearms
Over the summer, Medvigy posted videos aimed at his base. In July, he posted a video criticizing Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries for hosting Drag Queen Story Hour, which he said he jeopardized community support for the library and its ability to pass levies. Clark County doesn’t directly oversee the library system but has a say over appointments to its board. Medvigy told The Columbian that he raised the issue when the county council considered library board appointments.
In August, Medvigy a posted video of him target shooting. He also posted another video titled, “Gary Medvigy Responds to Gun Law Agenda.” The video begins with a clip of a county council hearing shortly after the El Paso shooting. In it, Councilor Temple Lentz made remarks in support of gun control. She mentioned Initiative 1639, a gun control ballot measure that went into effect over the summer.
The video cuts to Medvigy’s response. He criticized I-1639 for infringing on a constitutional right through the initiative process without the “normal checks and balances.”
Medvigy had posted earlier videos criticizing I-1639 as well as a picture on Facebook with gun rights activist Shauna Walters who is seeking election to Battle Ground City Council. Walters along with Josh VanGelder, another city council candidate, have expressed a willingness to use city government to oppose I-1639.
Speaking to The Columbian, Medvigy said that he posted the videos because they play well to his base in the rural and conservative district he represents.
“I wanted to let my voters, my constituents, know, first and foremost, I serve them,” he said.
While Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins has been named in a federal lawsuit challenging the law, Medvigy said that there aren’t any other ways the county directly interfaces with I-1639.
Gun rights activists have called for local jurisdictions to pass “sanctuary” ordinances preventing the enforcement of gun control measures. When asked about the idea, Medvigy said that “I don’t think there is any possible, legal way to do it.” He also said he would accept the court’s ruling on I-1639.
Cortes said that Medvigy’s videos on “kind of humorous.”
“I go out and target shoot, but I don’t record myself doing it,” said Cortes.
Cortes’ videos show the candidate in Camas, Washougal and other parts of the district and elsewhere. In the videos, he highlights his roots in Clark County, his policy positions and criticisms that Medvigy is too bossy. In multiple videos, Cortes has been critical of growth in the county and expressed concerns that it’ll soon have the same problems as California.
“Do we really have a vision for where we’re going in our county?” he says in one video. “Or will we one day wake up and find out we’ve turned into California?”
Cortes went on to specifically mention the high cost of living in Sonoma County, Calif., where Medvigy previously resided. Medvigy said that his opponent has brought up his past residency in California to paint him as an outsider, which he called “insulting.” A retired U.S. Army general, Medvigy said he lived in the state for military service and left after retiring.
“It’s pejorative to anyone who has moved here from California,” he said.
But Cortes said that it’s fair to point out that, unlike his opponent, he’s lived nearly his entire life in Clark County.
“So the lens he is going to bring is from California,” he said. “My lens will be here in Clark County.”