Election 2020: County Council District 3

Incumbent John Blom challenged by Democrat Jesse James and Republican Karen Bowerman

As of Thursday morning, just 19.86 percent of the 302,573 eligible voters in Clark County had returned their ballots for next week’s primary election. The Aug. 4 top-two primary includes several races that will pare down the field to just two candidates for the November general election.

Jesse James • Karen Bowerman • John Blom
Jesse James • Karen Bowerman • John Blom

On Wednesday, Clark County Today featured one of the highest profile cases in the primary, the race for the Washington State Senate in the 18th District, where incumbent Ann Rivers is being challenged by Democrat Rick Bell and Republican John Ley. Today, the focus turns to the race for the County Council District 3 seat. 

Current Councilor John Blom is being challenged by Republican Karen Bowerman and Democrat Jesse James. Like the race in the 18th District, this County Council race has also had its news in recent weeks.

First, Blom filed for re-election as an Independent candidate after previously winning the seat by running as a Republican. That sparked the filing of Bowerman, who stated that she wanted to give voters a Republican option in the race.

More recently, Blom was the subject of an ethics complaint filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission by Eric Temple, the president of the Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR). Temple alleged that Blom issued threats against his business over a campaign contribution made by PVJR to the Clark County Republican Party. Blom stated the allegations were “100 percent false.’’ On Thursday, the PDC dismissed the complaint.

For this final look at the race prior to Tuesday’s primary election, Clark County Today asked the candidates what they believe the county needs to do to address the COVID-19 pandemic and also what each candidate believes the voters should be focused on when making their decision. (Responses first in alphabetical order, then second in reverse order.)

Primary focus of the race (Blom)

“The most important issue/issues are finding actual, specific solutions to the challenges Clark County faces, whether that is the budget, homelessness, transportation, housing affordability, or economic recovery,’’ Blom said. “In parallel with that, what are actual issues within the county’s area of responsibility? Karen (Bowerman) promises she won’t raise taxes, but doesn’t say how she will pay for that.  She has criticized the 2019 budget, specifically funding requests from the sheriff and the courts, but couldn’t say what she would have done differently.  People have to ask themselves if they are willing to have those departments cut to save 50 cents a month (the average cost of the 1 percent property tax increase).

“I bring experience finding actual solutions,’’ Blom said. “Evidenced by my work on the budget that found the money to pay for the sheriff and court requests, participating in the County/City Homeless work group to find ways to better coordinate our efforts, working with state legislators to get funding for packages like the widening of SR-14, establishing a public/private funding plan to open up new land for housing at 179th St, and working to fund grant programs for small businesses.’’

Primary focus of the race (Bowerman)

Bowerman indicated she was focused mainly on three important issues:

“Taxes – Clark County citizens and business owners are hurting from the extended economic impact of coronavirus,’’ Bowerman said. “I would not vote to raise taxes, but my two opponents have stated that they would do so.  In the case of the incumbent, that promise for the future is an extension of his annual vote while in office so far of raising taxes annually by the maximum allowed by law.

“Budget – Control spending so that public safety remains a priority to be funded to its current levels,’’ Bowerman added. “We must not have a ‘tax and spend’ mentality in the county but instead priorities must be established. Remember that there are endless attractive programs, but there is a time to say ‘no’ that all cannot be funded, and choices must be made.

“Traffic Congestion – We cannot relieve congestion without development of additional lanes across the Columbia (River) for automobile traffic although they are not planned for in the current discussions; because Clark County commuters would be double-taxed if there were tolls into Oregon, there must be strong voices for no tolls, including my own voice,’’ Bowerman said. “Transportation is not all about public transportation or light rail, but about providing good roads and adequate highways that the county needs for movement of people and freight.’’

Primary focus of the race (James)

“The people and future of Clark County should always be the focus,’’ James said. “Climate change, rising housing costs, homelessness, crisis intervention, and urban sprawl which threatens our sustainability are all important issues we should be concerned about.

“However, today it seems ethics is a major concern,’’ James added. “The council has suspended its review of ethics complaints against sitting councilors until after the November election.   We currently have ethics complaints against three sitting councilors, one of whom is my opponent.  While the complaint and redress system are flawed, it is disappointing that our elected officials cannot, or chose not to follow the established guidelines to address these issues in a transparent manner before the citizens must cast their votes.

“I believe it is unethical for a candidate to accept campaign money from those who can financially profit from the business of the council,’’ James said. “Both of my opponents seem happy to take the money.  The council deals with land use issues.  Taking money or favors from Realtor associations and developers to advance your campaign is wrong.  At what point is a favor expected, especially if you want their money again in the future?  Taking money from a businessman who has lawsuits against the county is equally troubling.  Where is the loyalty to the citizens when you have been bought and paid for by special interests?’’

Dealing with impacts of COVID-19 (James)

“Considering the limited funds that the county can work with, I feel the Department of Health is doing a great job,’’ James said. “We must do what we can to help our friends and neighbors get through this pandemic.  Small businesses which were forced to shut down to protect our citizens should have their property taxes prorated.  They should not be forced to pay taxes for the days they were forced to close.  The county should push Olympia to help cover the shortfall in those tax revenues. 

“We must recognize that this pandemic will not be the last,’’ James said. “Clark County should create a rainy-day fund which can be tapped into during unforeseeable economic downturns.  We should be prepared as much as possible to deal with the unpredictable yet inevitable.’’

Dealing with impacts of COVID-19 (Bowerman)

“Health Information – The primary role of the county should be with information rather than with control, in part because the role of the state is strong,’’ Bowerman said. “When the Board of County Councilors meets as the Clark County Board of Health excellent information is presented and discussed. Although that information is available to the public, as a member of the public, I do not find that it is particularly accessible. Unlike many citizens I go to the Public Health website regularly, but given the importance of accurate information to guide appropriate responses to COVID-19, I would like to see this information become top-of-mind with wide media circulation.

“Financial – Jobs development is key, both in terms of supporting prior businesses to re-open, and new local businesses to launch successfully within the county,’’ Bowerman said. “My plan involves a mix of steps from both private and public sectors.  Initially though, the county must be persistent in going after the millions of Clark County dollars that the state is keeping from federal funds (the county receiving $26.6 million instead of $80 million).  When that funding comes through, as much as possible should go to help small business and therefore jobs development, but first a proper process must be put in place for distribution of those funds.  

“My general jobs development plan is as follows:

1) County Council should ensure that there are no unnecessary costly regulations; in fact, any regulations going beyond State requirements should be stopped.

2) County Council should have the general approach of always making it simpler with regulations and opportunities for doing business in Clark County.

3) Councilors themselves may coordinate to recruit firms to headquarter in Clark County, communicating the benefits of location in the county, including its business-friendly environment. The Columbia River Economic Development Council remains a partner in achieving these results to benefit Clark County businesses.

4) Engage the private sector to ensure that owners are aware of mentoring and workshops available to guide on topics such as permitting, loans, laws surrounding furlough, guidelines for effective teleworking, best practices for adapting the organization’s business model to coronavirus impacts, applications for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) to delivery and pick-up options.’’

Dealing with impacts of COVID-19 (Blom)

“The challenge for responding to COVID-19 is finding the right balance of health/public safety and the economy/financial concerns,’’ Blom said. “As a council, we need to support Public Health in their response to the virus. Specifically, encouraging people to wear masks and for businesses and other organizations to follow the rules that are in place.  We know far more than we did a few months ago and we need to continue to engage with the state to adapt based on that new information.  

“Based on what we understand now, we know that stores and offices are relatively low-risk, so long as masks and social distancing practices are followed,’’ Blom added. “We’ve seen that hairdressers can operate safely using masks.  But, we also know that larger groups where people congregate in close proximity for an extended period of time can easily turn one case into dozens of new cases.  

“My family and I attend New Heights Church, and we greatly miss seeing our church family every week, but I greatly appreciate Pastor David’s leadership in taking a very conservative and responsible approach, while finding new and unique ways to keep the church family connected,’’ Blom said. “We need to find that balance — opening the economy where we can do so safely, finding new ways to adapt the activities that can’t be done safely, and taking individual responsibility to prevent the spread within the community. 

“We are also working on some programs that can provide direct support for small businesses using the CARES Act funding,’’ Blom said. “Public Health will be presenting a program to help restaurants, one of the hardest hit industries.  We are also hearing from other departments on partnerships we can look at to find ways to get those funds into the community in ways that have the biggest impact.’’