Challengers Karen Bowerman and Jesse James were leading incumbent John Blom in Clark County Council District 3 in a test of the relative power of political parties and incumbency.
Republican Bowerman led the trio with 43.16 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat James with 34.08 percent. Blom, who ran with no party preference, trailed with 22.76 percent. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election Nov. 3.
District 3 falls roughly east of Interstate 205, west of Camas and south of Orchards.
The race offered district voters stark ideological contrasts in Bowerman, a Republican and staunch conservative; James, a Democrat and self-described Bernie Sanders-style liberal; and Blom, a moderate.
“The outcome is like I predicted,” Bowerman said. “I believe this is an issues-oriented race, and I feel that I am right with the issues.”
James said he was pleasantly surprised with the results.
“I’m in the running,” James said. “I’m very happy to see what’s happening right now.”
Blom could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
One of the campaign issues has been the council’s annual 1 percent increase in property tax collections, the largest allowed under state law, for the county’s general and road funds.
Blom voted for the increase, saying it’s necessary to adjust for inflation and offset the county’s structural deficit. County officials have estimated they lose millions of dollars in revenue each year due to Oregon not having a sales tax.
James said he would also approve the increase, while Bowerman said she would not.
Bowerman has said that she would like to cut “feel-good programs” from the budget, but she declined to mention any of them when pressed repeatedly during an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. She has also said that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic ramifications created more of a desire for lower taxes.
“I believe that that’s consistent with the will of the people right now,” Bowerman said.
Bowerman also said she supports the county’s law and justice budget, which includes $65 million — about 12 percent of the total county budget.
Blom said that, while the number of deputies employed by the sheriff’s office is adequate, he would support a program for mental health crisis intervention. He said that such a program could lower the sheriff’s overtime costs, the largest of any county department.
James repeatedly mentioned, and Blom supported the concept of, a decades-old mobile crisis intervention program in Eugene, Ore., that employs unarmed responders.
“We may need to see some changes done with our justice system in terms of having to help people with their needs in a way that police can’t,” James said.
Blom led the challengers in fundraising with $28,425 by Tuesday, while Bowerman had raised $20,155 according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Blom’s campaign also reported $91,361.60 in third-party expenditures.
Blom’s top donors include $2,000 from local philanthropists David and Patricia Nierenberg and the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee. The Clark County Republican Party Central Committee contributed $15,000 to Bowerman’s campaign in late July. Bowerman’s husband, Earl Bowerman, is chairman of the county Republican party.
James selected the state’s mini-reporting option, meaning he had a $5,000 raising and spending limit and couldn’t accept more than $500 from any individual donor. He said that his campaign has spent about $1,500.
“I’m delighted that we’re able to make a difference with such a small amount of money so far,” James said.
But James said that he plans to forego the mini-reporting option for the general election.
“I think that the stakes are going to have to be raised for the general campaign,” James said. “We want to keep our message the same, but we want to get that message out to more people.”
When asked about his possible strategy for the general election, James mentioned Bowerman’s lack of specificity about which budget programs she would cut.
“It seems like Karen Bowerman has a difficult time answering questions, so we’ll press her on those questions,” James said.
Bowerman said she plans to take more time before focusing on Nov. 3.
“I’m going to start thinking about the general election tomorrow,” Bowerman said. “Of course it is a little bit different when it is a Republican versus a Democrat. That changes the dynamic a bit.”