Battle Ground has competitive races for its city council seats this time around as two of the three seats up for re-election in 2019 have contests in the August 6 primary.
Battle Ground City Council positions 3 and 7 both have races with three candidates apiece. Though incumbent Position 7 council member Philip Johnson is running for a third term, the current seatholder for Position 3, Stephen Phelps, is not running again for his office.
Instead, three newcomers are aiming to replace Phelps, with two challengers going up against Johnson. In both races members of a local gun-rights group have taken up campaigns, spurred in part by what they believe to be an infringement of constitutional rights brought on by the voter-approved Initiative 1639.
Johnson, a 25-year Army veteran, said that if he manages to retain his seat it will be his last term.
“If I make it this time, then 12 (years) is it,” Johnson said.
Regarding chief issues for the city, Johnson pointed to a few major projects regarding water utilities and the potential for the city to be annexed into Clark County Fire District 3, which Battle Ground currently contracts with.
“We’re doing our best to get 11 cents out of every dime,” Johnson remarked. He said the city has a backlog of work such as road repair that stemmed from the economic downturn of last decade.
Johnson’s competitors both differ with the incumbent on I-1639, as Johnson has stood behind the voters’ approval of the measure.
“I believe in the system,” Johnson said, reiterating his stance that going against the initiative would equate to voter nullification.
One of Johnson’s competitors, Katrina Negrov, an office manager for a trucking company based in Brush Prairie and Prairie High School graduate, said she decided to run based in part from the goings-on in Olympia this past year that raised her concerns. She said legislation regarding vaccinations and sexual education caught her attention, worrying her that personal freedoms were deteriorating as a result of new laws.
Negrov moved from Ukraine when she was seven and wants to give a voice to Battle Ground’s slavic community.
Among the issues she hopes to take on, she noted a rise in homelessness in the city.
As a way to foster community-building, Negrov pointed to Flash Love, a local nonprofit that gets youth to take part in community service projects, as an example of what she would like to see embraced by the city.
The key message of Negrov’s campaign appears to be participation in the community, exemplified by her standing up to run for office herself.
“It’s better than sitting at home and hoping someone else will do something,” she said.
Regarding gun rights, Negrov felt that I-1639 forced citizens to “jump through more hoops” to take advantage of their rights, putting unnecessary restrictions on those already following the law. Her stance on the initiative was similar to one of her competitors, Joshua VanGelder, who has been active in gun rights activism with North County Sons and Daughters of Liberty (NCSDL), a recently-formed group with a focus on opposition to the initiative.
VanGelder, crew lead for Ridgeway Landscaping, started to get politically involved this year, taking part in activist group Patriot Prayer’s events, specifically with regard to I-1639.
“I stand for everyone’s rights,” VanGelder remarked, pointing to how locally voters in Battle Ground were against the initiative. His stance extended to development, noting that as a councilor he would not stand in the way of property owners and what they wished to do with their land.
VanGelder isn’t the only NCSDL member running for a city council seat. He is joined by Shauna Walters, who is running for the Position 3 seat. Walters, a 12-year Army veteran currently studying for a management information systems degree at WSU Vancouver, said about a month before filing week she was approached by some members of NCSDL who felt she would make a good candidate.
Though initially she thought the time commitment would be too much, the support from other group members has helped get her campaign moving.
Walters, like VanGelder, was spurred on by the city’s stance on I-1639 which she disagreed with. She worried about community engagement, which she felt was lacking in Battle Ground compared to other local communities.
One example of that lack of engagement had to do with council meeting attendance, something she’s noticed after regularly attending the sessions as she’s become more invested in what the city does.
“I’ve noticed that when the topics are a little bit boring, there’s nobody there,” Walters remarked.
Though she’s been more involved, Walters noted that she wasn’t a politician, “just a citizen.”
“I believe in protecting the ideals of a small town,” she said.
Walters will face off against another newcomer, Neil Butler, a past Battle Ground Parks Advisory Board member.
Butler, a manager at a Vancouver Mall-area Walgreens, pointed to the city’s recent visioning process where a number of members of the community designated as “navigators” took a look at what the city wished to accomplish at an ideological level.
“There’s this goal that they want to achieve that extends beyond personal opinion and personal agendas,” Butler said. “I really want to fulfill that vision that the citizens of Battle Ground had.”
Outside of the high-level visioning, Butler pointed to traffic issues like those at Main Street and Grace Avenue as well as the State Route 502/203 intersection as emblematic of problems the city had with moving people through it.
Butler pointed to his past 15 years of management experience as an asset should he be elected. He also pointed to several areas of community service, such as work with Relay for Life and the Boy Scouts, to show that he’s one to be involved and invested in taking part.
“I bring the experience and the background to help Battle Ground move forward with its vision to creating a more livable city while maintaining the affordability that we’ve come to appreciate,” Butler said.
Though she did respond to initial request for comment, candidate Candy Bonneville never replied to following emails and phone calls prior to The Reflector’s print deadline. According to her information in the voter’s pamphlet, Bonneville points to more than 25 years of management experience handling projects on a budget as an asset should she be elected to the council.
Bonneville, a current Battle Ground Planning Commission member, said that she enjoys that position’s influence on the city’s direction, but that she “would like to do more” as a city councilor.
“The decisions council is making now affect our futures,” Bonneville wrote in her campaign statement. “Let’s make sure they are good solid decisions that we can build on for generations.”