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News / Business / Clark County Business

Brent vies for Port of Vancouver seat held by Orange

Port commissioner candidates, Columbian Editorial Board meet and discuss issues

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 16, 2023, 7:06pm
3 Photos
(Photo contributed by the Don Orange Campaign)
(Photo contributed by the Don Orange Campaign) Photo Gallery

Local businessman Russell Brent is vying to unseat Port of Vancouver Commissioner Don Orange. Both men share a similar goal — economic development. But in a recent Columbian Editorial Board meeting, the two debated port transparency, green jobs and how to get people more interested in the port.

Before trying their hands at local politics, Brent and Orange ran small businesses in the community. Brent owned the Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground, while Orange ran an auto repair business in Vancouver.

Brent said he has a passion for consensus building, something that has inspired him in his run for the commissioner position.

“The port is a great example of a company — a jurisdiction — that has incredible resources to help build jobs and to make the community a better place for all of us to live,” Brent said.

Orange, meanwhile, was inspired to run for his position in 2017 when an oil terminal was proposed at the Port of Vancouver.

“My view of my own role is to develop economic development that is environmentally friendly,” Orange said. He pointed to growth in the port’s budget and number of employees since he took office six years ago.

Transparency, community interest

During the meeting, Brent raised an issue he’s heard mentioned on the campaign trail — transparency. Still, he said port staff have always answered his questions.

“They’ve been very forthright, and they’ve allowed me to drill down to get deeper and to understand what’s going on at the port,” Brent said.

Brent said one key component of maintaining transparency is in asking the right questions and not “just going along with everything that’s being said.”

“Asking the real tough questions, I think, is a very important piece of being a commissioner,” he said.

“The issue of transparency that comes up is legitimate,” Orange said. However, he said he couldn’t talk about all the port was doing economically because it’s confidential.

When asked about this tension between confidentiality and transparency, Orange pointed to public awareness.

“To a great extent, a problem with relating to the public is getting the public interested in the port,” the commissioner said. He didn’t pay much attention to the port before hearing about the oil terminal, he said, that prompted him to run for office.

Orange called low voter turnout a disaster. He went on to point out how few people go to the Port of Vancouver’s commission meetings.

“To get folks to take a hard look at (the port) — to want to know — is difficult,” Orange said.

Brent praised the port’s communications team but said the port has “to do a better job marketing itself.”

He said he viewed The Columbian as having “a valuable role in making that transparency happen.”

Green jobs

Both Brent and Orange pointed to environmental projects during the editorial board meeting.

Orange said the port already has a great environmental team and a tough climate action plan the agency is working to meet.

“What we need to do to a great extent is green the jobs we’ve got,” Orange said. He specifically mentioned difficulties in lessening the pollution from employees who commute to the port.

Brent said he thinks the port is already working toward making its current workforce green with the climate action plan. He added that more local manufacturing jobs in Clark County could be generated through building facilities for green projects, such as marine wind turbines or battery storage.

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“We need to take a look at those opportunities to use our existing facilities to attract green jobs,” Brent said. “There’s lots of opportunity.”

Orange countered by saying he thinks domestic green energy manufacturing will happen, but in the Midwest.

“The amount of transmission that we have available to get electricity from the east side of Washington to the west is a serious issue,” Orange said.

During last week’s meeting, the men also touched on their visions for the port’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 5, the port’s role in the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement and the future of the community.

At one point during the meeting, Orange accused Brent of including a fake union label on his campaign sign, which Brent then apologized for and said he planned to rectify the error.

View the full editorial board meeting video at Columbian.com.