This Port of Olympia commissioner is running for a second term. He also has a challenger.

Joe Downing and Helen Wheatley
Joe Downing and Helen Wheatley

Port of Olympia Commissioner Joe Downing, who represents Thurston County’s District 1, will seek a second, four-year term on the commission, the candidate announced over the weekend.

Downing was first elected in 2015 after he defeated former Commissioner George Barner.

Downing has also attracted a challenger, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Helen Wheatley has filed for the District 1 seat as well, PDC data show.

Wheatley said Sunday she is running for office for the first time, although she has long been involved with Thurston County Democrats. She’s also a longtime precinct committee officer and environmentalist, she said.

She earned a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University and previously taught history at Seattle University.

Wheatley was spurred to run because she has concerns about the mixed-use development on the port’s East Bay property known as Westman Mill. She thinks a better fit for the site, given the potential for sea-level rise in the area, is a wetland park.

She also said she was very much in the camp that didn’t think ceramic proppants or fracking sand cargo was good for the port, and she’d like to see the port work more collaboratively with other local governments and agencies.

“It really is important to give people a choice,” she said about her decision to run.

In a news release, Downing identified some port accomplishments during his first term.

Among them: a second phase of redevelopment was launched on East Bay, and more property was leased to support entrepreneurial opportunities.

“I am proud of the decisions and actions the port commissioners made over the last three years,” he said in a statement. “We are poised to continue the positive work we started.”

Before becoming a commissioner, Downing was employed by the state Department of Financial Institutions where he worked as a financial examiner of banks and other lending companies. He also previously served on the port’s citizen advisory committee.

Downing earned his MBA at the University of Oregon. He also has experience in manufacturing and production logistics, according to his news release.

Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.