2021 Port of Olympia Commissioner District 2 Candidates

Editor’s Note: District 2 is the easternmost commissioner district in Thurston County. Its eastern border follows the meandering Nisqually River. District 2 includes much of Lacey including the Jubilee and Hawk’s Prairie areas and includes parts of the Nisqually Indian Reservation and Joint Base Lewis McChord and the cities of Rainier and Yelm.

The Port of Olympia, a sprawling public enterprise that’s been besieged by controversy and is millions of dollars in debt, will have two new commissioners in 2022.

The decision by Commissioner E.J. Zita (Port District 3) to not seek re-election had been expected. Commissioner Bill McGregor’s (Port District 2) announcement that he did not wish another term was a bit of a surprise. But voters now have a chance to make a substantial change in the Port’s leadership and priorities.

Three candidates are in the Aug. 3 primary election for District 3: Lawyer Melissa Denton, real estate agent Amy Evans and solar power entrepreneur Joel Hansen. The League of Women Voters District 3 candidate debate may be viewed here.

Nisqually Tribal business CEO Bob Iyall and political campaign manager Jesse Simmons will meet in the general election for the District 2 seat. They did not appear before the League because they are not in a primary race.

In the primary, candidates for Port Commission run only in their home district; then run countywide in the Nov. 2 general election. Commissioners serve four-year terms and importantly, appoint its executive director, who carries out the port’s policies, objectives, and budget priorities and supervises the port’s day-to-day operations. 

The races have yet to garner much public attention, despite the contentiousness and controversy at the Port over the past four years over its accountability and transparency, the types of cargo it accepts and ships, the handling of protests on its properties, its financial position, and most recently, a lease with a private developer for 200 acres of its property in Tumwater. 

To pay for operations, the port levies property taxes in all of Thurston County. Its bond indebtedness is long-standing and often criticized. It operates a seaport/marine terminal, a marina, the Olympia Regional Airport in Tumwater, and owns substantial amounts of real estate in Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey. 

The Candidates

Editor’s Note: Neither candidate will appear on your August 3rd ballot. In our system, there is only a primary election if more than two people run for a seat. Look for them on your Nov. 2nd General Election ballot.

Jessie Simmons

Occupation: Political consultant, campaign manager

Raised: $18,970. Find a full list of contributors here

Spent: $14,971.

Campaign information, including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia Port Commission?

I am running because I see an opportunity to grow our port into a destination for people, cities, and other stakeholders throughout are county and beyond. I believe we can attract intelligent r=growth and expand our tax base, increase revenue, clean up the bay, and create a culture of accountability at the port. Some have suggested that our port will never be able to compete and that we should simply let it go. I do not agree with this narrative. I believe we can grow our port into a true destination for our community. I believe I bring the vision and can-do attitude to the job that the port needs. 

What does a Port Commission member do? 

In general, a Port Commission member is a publicly elected official who sets policy and objectives for operations at the port. To expand further, Port Commissioners are both legislators and advocates for the goals and success of the port, and they must maintain a vision that promotes efficient and effective economic development for the port and the broader community.

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected?

First, I live in the district I am running for. And I chose the position of Port Commissioner due to the fact that much of my military experience is related to the duties therein. I have been assigned to port logistics at ports in Kuwait, South Korea, and California. I also spent much of my military career as an Environmental Compliance Officer and certified in the shipping, containment, and disposal of hazardous materials.

What sets you apart from your competition?

I have real world experience in the enforcement and accountability of environmental regulations and having to balance that accountability with the overall mission of ports around the world. I also hold multiple degrees that focus on areas such as strategic governance, public policy/administration, and public finance. 

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible.

I am a union member and view the world through the lens of working people. My number one priority and passion is to both protect and grow good paying jobs and opportunity for the residents and neighbors in our community. This does not mean that I have a narrow view of what is most important, but that my vision is centered in how we can do all things while protecting the dignity of the working-class. For example, I believe that by putting workers first we can create a culture of accountability at the port that promotes both a sustainable economy and environment. We can grow the port by being conscious of practices that make it a place for people. I foresee environmental cleanup, growing lines of business, promoting recreation, and creating a space for community as being capable through the contributions of organized labor and in cooperation with local organizations and entrepreneurship. In other words, our opportunities at the port are not an either/or dilemma but a test of how we can do it all.

More specifically, I would like to see creative ideas in several aspects of port operations. I would like to revisit the idea of opening the Olympia Regional Airport to commuter service. I would like to seek out creative lines of business-like manufacturing of solar panels and tiny houses at the port. I would like to find ways to utilize some of the port facilities that sit empty for much of the year by doing things like leasing them to unions and other organizations for training and apprenticeship purposes. These are just a few ideas, but I believe we can grow the port into a more productive community asset that ultimately protects and grows good paying jobs, boosts the local economy, and eases the responsibility to taxpayers and working people in our county.

What is one thing the existing Port Commission has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

I believe the Port Commission has taken major steps in the direction of conducting operations that align with the values of the community. They have been creative and improved in areas concerning environmental stewardship and financial responsibility. They have even received certifications and awards for their progress on addressing their environmental impacts. They are obviously not perfect but have made significant improvements.

The one thing that I believe the Port Commission can do differently concerns transparency. Many residents have expressed concerns about not having a voice in the process when it comes to public works projects and private development decisions. This is a difficult thing to address, because not every resident is aware or directly concerned with the operations at the port. I believe we can do a better job of actively engaging with community members and ensuring those who are impacted by projects are fully informed about those impacts. And I believe that we can do a better job at ensuring every community member has a voice in these decisions. This takes effort and the practice of being intentional about inclusion and community outreach. This is not to say that the commissioners have not taken great strides to improve this practice, but just that if there are community members who do not feel like they have a voice it is our job to improve. 

On a scale of 1-10, how important is ensuring the Port’s work is transparent to the public that elects you? Please explain why you feel that way and if it is important, how you would ensure transparency.

As I mentioned before, I believe one of our most important responsibilities as elected officials is to represent the people who elect us. You cannot do that without transparency and seeking input from the public. The Port, and any other entity that serves the public, can always improve in the area of transparency. We do this by intentionally and purposefully putting our decisions before the public and seeking input from all who are impacted. 

What is the role of the Port in conjunction with Thurston County Emergency Management, in planning and preparing for disasters, such as earthquakes?

The Port of Olympia’s central location makes it a critical player in the event of a disaster or major emergency. In the case of such emergencies as a volcanic eruption or an earthquake resulting in the blockage of highway transportation services, the port becomes a key source for the transportation of cargo, people, and emergency supplies. The Port has assets like the Harbor Patrol and an Emergency Response Vessel that could prove key to logistical operations in coordination with Thurston County Emergency Management strategy concerning disaster response. The Port has played a major role in past training and preparedness exercises concerning such potentially catastrophic disaster scenarios and should continue to do so. 

Bob Iyall

Occupation: Chief executive officer, Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation, overseeing management of for-profit enterprises owned by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, including the Nisqually Red Wind Casino, Nisqually Construction Services, Nisqually Markets, Nisqually Communication Services, Nisqually Post and Print and Medicine Creek Cafe

Raised: $13,187. Find a full list of contributors here

Spent: $9,371

Campaign information including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

The candidate did not respond to The Tribune’s questionnaire. 

By Mindy Chambers

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