Gunn keeps lead for port commission job

rboone@theolympian.comNovember 7, 2013 

After a second round of ballot counting Wednesday, Port of Olympia commission challenger Sue Gunn maintained a 3-point lead over incumbent Jeff Davis — the same lead she held Tuesday night, although election officials continued to count their way through another 23,135 ballots.

The surge of ballots, which represented those deposited into drop boxes Tuesday afternoon and others recently postmarked that arrived Wednesday, boosted voter turnout from a dismal 30 percent Tuesday night to 44 percent Wednesday, a figure closer to estimates, Thurston County elections manager Steve Homan said.

Results of a second ballot count that were released about 6 p.m. Wednesday showed Gunn leading Davis 51.15 percent to 48.31 percent.

Some observers of the port commission race said they welcomed Gunn’s apparent victory, while others reacted with surprise and said it represents a step back for the port.

Gunn supporter Bob Jacobs of Olympia, a former Olympia mayor and often a critical voice when it comes to the port’s budget, said Gunn’s intelligence and broad background will be an asset to the commission.

“I think there’s the real potential for a real examination of the status quo at the port, which is long overdue,” Jacobs said, adding that Gunn can examine all of the policies and issues surrounding the port to make it work for all the people of the county.

“I think that’s a really healthy thing,” he said.

But Richard Wolf of Olympia, a port and Davis supporter who frequently attends port commission meetings, said a Gunn victory was a potential setback for the port.

“I’m afraid (the port) is going to take some backward steps rather than move forward,” said Wolf, concerned that certain materials will no longer be shipped through the port.

“That will decrease the business at the port, and the port will suffer because of it,” he said.

During the campaign, Gunn took issue with the port’s import of ceramic proppants, a material used in an oil and gas extraction process known as “fracking.”

The port imports those materials in bags, then pours the material into enclosed rail cars that are sent to North Dakota.

Gunn said at one point during her campaign that she would seek a resolution requiring that cargo brought in and out of the port be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Port Commissioners Davis and District 2 incumbent Bill McGregor, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s election, could not be reached Wednesday.

District 1 Commissioner George Barner said he was surprised by Gunn’s apparent victory, but he also said he had more to learn about her.

“I don’t want to pre-judge, and I’m not going to assume this or that,” he said. “I want to hear from her.”

He added: “I have to see where she comes down on the port’s business model; hopefully, we can work together and continue to go forward to generate revenues for the port’s bottom line.

“I’m confident we are going to continue to do business and make a difference in the local economy, and we want to keep that going. I think she’ll be surprised at the extent of our environmental agenda and how committed we are to protecting the environment,” he said.

Gunn, 65, holds a doctorate in isotope geochemistry. She also has been involved in environmental causes, including as director of budgets and appropriations with The Wilderness Society.

Davis, 45, was elected to the commission in 2009. He is a longshore worker who works mostly in the Longview area.

Both had no trouble raising money. Davis won the backing of labor groups and raised about $37,000 to Gunn’s $21,000, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data.

Gunn said Tuesday she has a lot to learn about the port and is prepared to work, but she also said she has created a two-page policy outline of goals for the first two years and the following two years. Port commissioners serve four-year terms.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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