The ballot counting is almost over in the two Port of Olympia commission races. The port agency is facing a new day with the election of two new commissioners.
We think it’s for the better.
Joe Downing, a state financial examiner, takes office early next year to serve a four-year term.
Downing soundly defeated two-term incumbent George Barner. Downing brings considerable financial skill and enthusiasm to a port that needs to improve its bottom line after a disastrous year at its international shipping terminal.
A shipment of 1,400 dairy cows to Vietnam from the terminal on Budd Inlet last week shows the port already is finding new ways to make money from shipping.
E.J. Zita, a physicist at The Evergreen State College who also has a farm near Tumwater, is the other winner. With only a few ballots left to count, Zita held a 241-vote lead early Monday over Jerry Farmer, and Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall expects Zita to be sworn in Wednesday to fill an unexpired term. A machine recount of ballots, which isn’t expected to change the outcome, is scheduled for Dec. 2.
Zita is an environmentalist and fills the unexpired term of Sue Gunn, an environmentalist with financial experience who resigned for health reasons this year. Gunn was replaced by Michelle Morris, who did not run for the seat. Zita becomes only the third woman to serve on the port’s three-member governing board.
Some backers of Farmer, including longshoremen, saw Zita as a threat to the port’s industrial past. For instance, she thinks deep water shipping is a losing proposition, and she has some facts to back up that contention. Downing, on the other hand, wants to give the terminal more time to prove its value, which we agree is the better course.
With Downing and Zita joining Bill McGregor, there is sure to be some friction over the port’s future. Downing and McGregor are both traditionalists who see the deep water enterprise as an essential part of the port’s economic development mission.
But we expect them to search earnestly — along with staff — to find smaller specialty cargoes that fit better with Olympia’s smaller operation. The cows sent to Vietnam fit that bill.
We have high hopes for both commissioners. Zita is likely to continue much of the financial and environmental scrutiny Gunn provided in her nearly 1 ½ years.
Zita and Downing won our endorsements for some of the same reasons. Both bring analytical minds to the port’s challenges and problems.
Downing and Zita share goals of promoting local agriculture through the food hub that the port has been exploring at its Tumwater properties. Though she has more rough edges than a traditional politician, Zita has ideas for sustaining and growing the local economy.
It will be in the interest of our community if the new commissioners find ways they can work together with McGregor, despite any differences in philosophy. The election is all but over, and now it’s time to see what Downing and Zita can do for our community.