Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Feb. 1, 2023

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Clark County Council will have new look after election

Political novices in hunt for three of panel’s five seats

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Chartisha Roberts
Chartisha Roberts Photo Gallery

With three of the Clark County Council’s five seats on the Nov. 8 ballot, and most of the candidates for the District 1, District 2 and District 5 seats being relative political newcomers, the council convening in January will undoubtedly look and function differently than the current council.

“It depends on who’s sitting in the seats. It depends on how they behave, on how they communicate, on how much they actually want to serve the community or serve their own self-interests or the interests of a few,” District 2 Councilor Julie Olson said in an interview.

While the business of the county will go on no matter who is elected — primarily due to the qualified staff who “know what they’re doing,” Olson said — the actions of the council will impact residents.

“The business of the county will continue. It’s just a matter of whether Clark County will be respected in our legislative community, be respected around the state, if we can actually be productive and professional as the work gets done,” Olson said. “And that all depends on the individuals and how they operate on a day-to-day basis.”

Here are the races:

District 1

The race is between Vancouver residents Glen Yung and Hector Hinojosa. Candidate Doug Coop was eliminated in the primary.

Although both candidates have prior experience working with nonprofits and community organizations, and neither has served in an elected office, they offer different approaches to similar issues.

Hinojosa, who is perhaps more widely known as one of the founders of the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens, says the county needs to do more to address homelessness.

“Vancouver has been leading the way with that type of funding,” Hinojosa said during The Columbian’s editorial board meeting in July.

Yung, who owns a residential remodeling company, said the county needs a holistic approach that incorporates homelessness, housing, law enforcement and more.

Hinojosa’s top priorities include preserving agricultural lands, transportation and infrastructure needs, racial equity and climate change. Yung lists affordable housing, public safety and preserving the county’s natural resources as his top issues.

District 2

Two former contenders for Vancouver Public Schools’ board are facing off in the race for the District 2 seat. Michelle Belkot and Chartisha Roberts, both of Vancouver, took the top two places in the August primary. Neither candidate has been elected to office previously. A third contender, Kim Hamlik, lost in the primary.

Belkot is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force and works as a civil servant. Roberts has worked in human resources for the past 13 years, primarily in the health care and transportation industries.

Although both are working mothers, any similarities between the two candidates ends there.

Belkot was a vocal critic of mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic and supported a mini-initiative to “ban discriminatory health mandates,” such as mask and vaccine requirements, that was ultimately voted down by the council in January.

Belkot said there is a disconnect between residents and the county council. She lists public safety at the top of her priorities, along with homelessness and transportation. The top priorities for Roberts are homelessness, affordable housing and transportation.

Both candidates put public safety among their top concerns, but they have different approaches. Roberts said her chief concern is making sure the sheriff’s office is adequately funded, but she also wants to make sure those funds are spent wisely, especially the newly passed public safety sales tax.

Belkot was opposed to the public safety sales tax but does support increasing sheriff’s deputies’ pay, which she said lags behind the pay in other jurisdictions.

District 5

Of all the candidates running for a county council seat, perhaps the two most dissimilar candidates are District 5’s Sue Marshall and Don Benton. Current District 5 Councilor Richard Rylander Jr. and former law enforcement officer Rick Torres were eliminated in the primary.

Benton is certainly the more well known of the two. A former state lawmaker, state campaign manager for former President Donald Trump and one-time head of the U.S. Selective Service, Benton is now semi-retired and works for McKeon Group, a consulting and lobbying firm based in Alexandria, Va.

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 family farm in rural Ridgefield. While she may live in a rural area and is a political newcomer, Marshall said she’s been involved in county business, especially land use and planning, for many years.

Benton has made protecting property rights, rural economic development, reducing crime and addressing homelessness the cornerstones of his campaign. He has also pledged to never vote to raise property taxes and said raising taxes should always be a last option.

With Clark County soon to begin updating the Comprehensive Growth Plan, due in 2025, Marshall has focused much of her campaign on land-use policies, but she also wants to address public safety and affordable housing.

On the web

For more information about all of the candidates, check out The Columbian’s election coverage at www.columbian.com/elections.

An earlier version of this story misstated which districts were represented by Temple Lentz and Julie Olson. Lentz represents District 1 and Olson represents District 2.

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