The Nov. 8 general election is just days away and includes key races that will impact Clark County residents at the local and national level.
At a quick glimpse, Washington voters are looking at two high-profile federal races, both of which have gained national recognition for their implications on the majority in the U.S. Congress.
Most candidates wanting to fill the three empty Clark County Council seats are political newcomers, ensuring the body will certainly have new perspectives. There are also new names wishing to remove incumbents from the state Legislature and Clark County Auditor’s Office.
There will also soon be a new sheriff in town, as voters choose who will succeed Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins.
Voters who haven’t turned in their ballot still have time to do so. Ballots must be dropped off at a designated drop box by 8 p.m. Tuesday or, if mailing in a ballot, must be postmarked that day.
Washington’s 3rd Congressional District race looks much different than previous years.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, conceded her reelection race following the August primary, making her the first incumbent to be defeated in the congressional district since 1994. In doing so, the 11-year congresswoman left a space for political newcomers Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Stevenson, to fight for her seat in a contentious race that has gained national attention.
Kent, a former Green Beret and Donald Trump-endorsed candidate, fashioned his campaign as “America First,” a label attached to nationalist movements that prioritize energy independence, southern border security and reducing governmental oversight.
His mission to take down Democratic policies has been tainted by his past connections with right-wing extremists and fringe movements, leading to the dissatisfaction withof some local Republicans.
Perez has described her opponent as having polarizing and alarming rhetoric that doesn’t align with Southwest Washington’s needs. In campaign messaging, Perez often touts her experience as a rural resident and small auto shop owner, underscoring that she is acquainted with the region’s concerns.
Her platform highlights the restoration and protection of abortion rights, the role trade jobs have in boosting the region’s economy and finding solutions to address climate change.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has represented Washington at a federal level since 1993, an extensive tenure that has positioned her as a leading Democrat in Washington, D.C.
Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley, a former nurse and veterans advocate, decided to campaign against Murray because she thought the senator became out of touch during her lengthy political career.
Although a political newcomer, Smiley has experience navigating governmental systems through her advocacy work and also did some outreach for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign. In her own campaign, Smiley has focused on border security and crime, inflation and also pledged to create two-term limits for senators, totaling 12 years.
Murray, who is vying for a sixth term, currently serves as the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chair and has previously been in committees focused on federal budgets, veterans issues and health. The senator nods to her legislative successes, such as helping pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as a prime reason why she should be reelected.
But it’s not the prime reason — the stakes are higher than in previous elections because “democracy is on the line,” Murray previously told The Columbian. She is running on protecting abortion rights, investing in sustainable initiatives and expanding child care.
In the nearly 24 years that Greg Kimsey has served as Clark County auditor, he rarely faced a challenger when running for reelection. That changed this year as a wave of false claims about the 2020 election and widespread voter fraud continued to roll across the nation.
Kimsey, a Republican, is facing fellow Republican Brett Simpson for the nonpartisan office. A political newcomer, Simpson is among those claiming Clark County’s elections are rife with voter fraud. During a Sept. 26 League of Women Voters forum, Simpson said his research showed “we have massive amounts of fraud in our elections.”
Simpson’s claims haven’t held up in court. A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Washington Integrity Coalition United, in which Simpson was one of 34 plaintiffs named in the case. Simpson also filed suit against Kimsey in Clark County Superior Court over nonpartisan races included on the August primary ballot. Both suits were dismissed Sept. 30.
While Simpson has focused his campaign almost solely on elections issues, Kimsey says the county auditor’s other responsibilities — such as managing the county’s payroll and bills, conducting performance audits, recording legal documents and issuing marriage licenses — are equally important to the county’s financial health.
Simpson said his campaign has been focused on elections because that’s what matters most.
The two candidates for Clark County sheriff are John Horch, 54, who currently serves as the agency’s chief criminal deputy, and Rey Reynolds, 64, who is a corporal with the Vancouver Police Department.
Horch is running on his 33-year career with the sheriff’s office, which culminated in his 2019 appointment to oversee the enforcement branch. He said he has the intimate knowledge of the issues to recognize what it will or won’t take to solve them.
Reynolds wants to bring new ideas to the agency that has struggled to hire staff and keep up with rising crime in the area. He says Horch’s leadership hasn’t worked for the sheriff’s office and that deputies need a new manager to make a difference.
Horch has seen endorsements from within the sheriff’s office and area leaders such as Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and NAACP President Jasmine Tolbert.
Reynolds has secured endorsements from the Clark County Republican Party, many county residents and small-business owners, and conservative figures such a Portland-based talk show host Lars Larson.
In any election year, it’s not unusual to have a single Clark County Council seat without an incumbent running for reelection. However, it is unusual to have three council seats on the ballot without a single incumbent among them.
That’s just what happened this year after Councilors Temple Lentz and Julie Olson, who represent District 1 and District 2 respectively, announced in April that neither would be seeking another term in office. Richard Rylander Jr., who was appointed as District 5 representative in April by Gov. Jay Inslee, had hoped to be elected to his first full term but lost in the primary.
- District 1
Vancouver residents Glen Yung and Hector Hinojosa both have experience working with nonprofits and are advocates for mental health. Hinojosa was co-founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens and has worked with Community Roots Collaborative, Stone Soup, Columbia River Mental Health Foundation, among others. Yung is a foster parent and served on the National Alliance on Mental Illness board and neighborhood associations.
Yung wants to bring a holistic approach to county government to address the issues around homelessness, affordable housing, law enforcement and preservation of natural resources.
Hinojosa’s top priorities include preserving agricultural lands, transportation and infrastructure needs, racial equity and climate change.
- District 2
Michelle Belkot and Chartisha Roberts previously faced off in 2021 when both were running for a seat on the Vancouver Public Schools board. Although neither won, both say they came away further dedicated to serving their communities.
Both are working mothers and both live in Vancouver, but any similarities between the two candidates ends there. Belkot is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force who currently works as a civil servant. Roberts has been working in human resources for the past 13 years, primarily in the health care and transportation industries.
While both candidates put homelessness and transportation among their top priorities, they have different ideas for solving those issues. Belkot wants to put an end to homeless encampments and put more money into mental health and addiction treatment resources. Roberts says the lack of affordable housing combined with increased demand on social services is driving the housing crisis.
Belkot’s other priorities include increasing public safety, reducing government and taxes, addressing the county’s drug crisis and better government transparency. Roberts’ priorities include public safety, economic and job growth and nonpartisan leadership.
- District 5
Former state lawmaker Don Benton is facing rural Ridgefield farmer Sue Marshall for the District 5 seat.
Benton is certainly the more well-known of the two. Along with serving in both the state House and state Senate, Benton also headed the U.S. Selective Service from April 2017 to January 2021.
While still serving in the state Senate, Benton was appointed as the county’s director of environmental services. His lack of experience in the field and bypass of the county’s civil service hiring process led to sharp criticism of both Benton and the county council. Benton was let go in 2016 following a departmental restructuring but later won a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the county.
Marshall and her husband own and operate their farm, which has been in their family for over 60 years. Although new to running for office, Marshall said she’s been involved in county business, especially land use and planning, for many years.
Marshall said that experience will be needed as the county begins work in the coming months on updating the Comprehensive Plan due in 2025. Marshall said she is also focused on the county’s public safety and affordable housing needs.
Benton puts protecting property rights, rural economic development, reducing crime and addressing homelessness at the top of his priorities if elected. He has also pledged to never vote to raise property taxes and said raising taxes should always be a last option.
Ranked choice voting
Although there are six charter amendment measures on the November ballot, the one attracting the most attention is Amendment No. 10 to allow ranked choice voting for the county’s elected offices.
The proposed amendment is part of a package of 13 amendments placed on the ballot in 2021 and 2022 by the charter review commission before the commission disbanded at the end of 2021.
If passed, ranked choice voting would become effective for the county offices of auditor, treasurer, assessor, clerk, sheriff, prosecuting attorney and county council in 2026.
Commission member Terri Niles said ranked choice voting was one issue members of the public consistently asked for during their public meetings. She admits trying to describe how ranked choice voting works can be difficult, but it’s actually easier than it sounds.
Unlike traditional ballots, where voters pick one candidate for each office, ranked choice voting lets voters select (or “rank”) their first, second, third, etc., choices. If more than 50 percent of voters pick a single candidate as their first choice, then the candidate wins.
If no candidate claims a majority, the person who got the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. For the voters who favored the lowest-earning candidate, their votes go to their second choices.
If the redistribution, also called a round, is enough to get a single candidate over the 50 percent threshold, then that candidate wins. If not, then the process repeats itself as many times as needed to find the winner.
Supporters of ranked choice voting say it will encourage more voters to cast their ballots, ensures candidates with the broadest support will win and will reduce negative campaign tactics. According to FairVote Washington, a Bothell-based nonpartisan nonprofit focused on election reforms, the current winner-takes-all voting method is often affected by partisanship, entrenched incumbents and regional polarization that leaves women, racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented.
Opposition to ranked choice voting remains strong. People United for Clark County is encouraging voters to reject ranked choice voting as well as the other charter amendments.
“This amendment presents a completely new way of voting that will disenfranchise voters who are less likely to vote in the first place. The ultimate goal of this resolution is to flip as many seats from Republican to Democrat,” the group’s website says.
The group says ranked choice voting has been tried elsewhere, most recently in Pierce County and Alaska, and was a failure. They also say the voting method is confusing, will leader to lower voter turnout and that results will be difficult to validate.
In the race for Clark Public Utilities commissioner, well-known local environmental activist Don Steinke is challenging incumbent Nancy Barnes. The two have very different reasons behind why they’re running for office.
Barnes is counting on her years of experience serving on the commission to convince voters she is the best person to ensure the county’s electric and water needs are reliably met and that rates stay low.
Steinke’s goal in running for commissioner is to get the public utility to meet state and local climate action goals.
The Clean Energy Transformation Act, passed by the Legislature in 2019, requires utilities’ portfolios to be greenhouse gas emission neutral by 2030, and all electricity to be 100 percent renewable or nonemitting by 2045.
To meet those goals, Steinke said Clark Public Utilities will need to be an eager participant, something he says it currently is not.
Barnes said meeting those goals, while still providing affordable and reliable power, will mean focusing more on advanced metering infrastructure, bringing more hydropower into the utility’s portfolio, converting the local natural gas plant into a flex plant and conservation.
Steinke supports advanced metering infrastructure as well but said when looking at what is cost affective, the utility needs to consider the harm caused by pollution. He said the utility needs to invest in more solar power projects and incentives.
While commissioners aren’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the utility, they do set rates, approve revenue obligations, adopt system plans for electric and water utilities and establish utility policies.