The Clark County Council has a competitive race this year with a Republican appointee running to retain his seat against a longtime resident Democrat.
The Clark County Council District 4 race has incumbent Gary Medvigy facing off against current Battle Ground City Councilor Adrian Cortes. Medvigy was appointed this year to fill the vacancy left by former District 4 councilor Eileen Quiring, also a Republican, who won a tight election for council chair last year.
Longtime resident versus California transplant
Part of the campaign for Cortes has been a focus on his residency in Clark County, having lived in the area since he was 5 years old. He stressed that his experience living in the county has provided him with a deep understanding of constituent concerns, more so than his opponent, Medvigy, who moved to the county in 2016 after retiring as a judge in California.
Medvigy pushed back on his newcomer status being something to hold against him, pointing to his experience in Bosnia and Afghanistan as a civil affairs officer for the U.S. Army following conflicts as examples of his leadership ability. Medvigy, who rose to the rank of major general in the Army, said that technical experience is more important than having a long tenure living in the county.
“Just having lived here is not a credential for governing,” Medvigy said.
In the roughly three years he’s been in Clark County, he said he’s been digging into the issues, often relying on public input from longtime residents in decision-making.
The most apparent difference between Cortes and Medvigy might be party affiliation, though Cortes, a Democrat, feels that the race for county council should be nonpartisan.
“At the end of the day when you’re talking about public safety, when you’re talking about fixing potholes on roads and land use, there’s really nothing partisan in that,” Cortes said.
He acknowledged the conservative leanings of the district, adding he grew up in a conservative household and at one point was a Republican.
“I still hold on to some of those conservative values and a conservative lens,” Cortes said.
The candidates generally differ on concerns over growth in Clark County. Cortes brought up specific plans to bring industrial development to a stretch of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Brush Prairie, something he felt doesn’t fit the area.
Cortes said there is land along the railroad within Vancouver’s urban growth area that is already properly zoned for development along the line, which he feels would be a better focus, but he doesn’t want to see heavy industry come to areas such as Brush Prairie.
Cortes is advocating for the county to have a visioning initiative, similar to what Battle Ground has undertaken during his tenure on the city council. He said that initiative could come into play on projects such as lifting an urban holding designation from thousands of acres of land in the general area around the Northeast 179th Street interchange with Interstate 5. He said the county is looking for “short-term gains” by potentially allowing more residential development rather than work that will bring long-term employment.
Cortes also pointed to the council’s decisions on using money from the countywide road fund as well as hiking impact fees on new home construction to one of the highest levels of the state, questioning specifically whether the latter fit in with a conservative mindset.
Medvigy said the urban holding has artificially suppressed housing stock, causing prices to become unaffordable countywide. Even with residential developers being the first whose land will have the designation lifted, Medvigy pointed to economic studies on the overall Discovery Corridor area that includes those properties — studies that showed thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue as a result of a full buildout. Lifting the urban holding is just the start of that process, he said.
Medvigy noted that urban holding also affects more small-time landowners from their own development, such as subdividing property to give to their offspring.
Both candidates acknowledged the necessity of replacing the Interstate 5 bridge. Cortes wants the replacement to have a dedicated lane for bus rapid transit and freight mobility, noting that C-Tran is heavily invested in the former with its Vine projects in Vancouver. Cortes currently serves as the chair of C-Tran’s board of directors.
Medvigy said though he is against light rail being the mass transit component he isn’t against a replacement being light rail-capable — just not built as part of the project.
“I think most people realize that in today’s climate light rail is way too expensive. There isn’t enough usage, it’s too inflexible,” Medvigy said.
Cortes said it is a careful balancing act between his full-time job teaching special education at Camas High School as well as classes at the City University of Seattle and campaigning. He explained he knew what to expect regarding the demands of a county council race, mentioning he had previously served as campaign manager for current Battle Ground Mayor Mike Dalesandro’s run for Clark County Council Chair in 2015.
Medvigy said that though his position as a judge in California was an elected position, the county council race is the first truly competitive campaign he has undertaken. He reiterated that working internationally and in the states he has learned how to address problems similar to those currently facing Clark County.
“That (ability) doesn’t come from just living somewhere. That comes from training and experience, and I’ve got three decades doing just that,” Medvigy said.
Cortes acknowledged Medvigy’s resume, but stressed he knows what constituents want through his decades spent living in Clark County.
“Whoever wins will have a different vision, no doubt, but whoever wins will definitely be qualified for the seat,” Cortes said.