The three-member commission that oversees the Port of Olympia sets the policies and objectives that enable the port to fulfill its primary mission, which is to drive economic development in Thurston County.
Commissioners must ensure that the South Sound benefits from the jobs created by the port’s four operating divisions at Olympia Regional Airport, Swantown Marina and Boatworks, NewMarket Industrial Campus and the marine terminal.
Two of the three members of Port of Olympia Commission are up for re-election this year, but only one has drawn a challenger.
Bill McGregor is running unopposed for the second time. McGregor was appointed to the commission in 2006 and ran for election in 2007 to fill out the unexpired term of former commissioner Steve Pottle.
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Jeff Davis is seeking re-election to a second term. The Olympian editorial board strongly endorses him over challenger Sue Gunn.
Davis vs. Gunn
The Port of Olympia has benefited from Jeff Davis’s knowledge of port operations. Davis, a longshoreman with Local 21 at the Port of Longview, spent his first term focused on turning around the profitability of the marine terminal, which lagged the port’s three other divisions.
Davis pushed to make the warehouse more attractive to shippers, leading the port toward reaching the highest recorded revenue in its 91-year history. In 2008, a year before Davis joined the commission, only three ships used the port’s marine terminal. This year, it is trending to 36.
Davis has played key roles in improving open-government policies and community outreach. His experienced governance and policy direction have resulted in the port’s recent financial improvements and its progress in environmental cleanups.
Challenger Sue Gunn comes with impressive environmental credentials, but does not make a compelling argument for unseating the more balanced record of incumbent Davis.
Gunn says she “hasn’t made a decision on (whether to keep) the marine terminal,” meaning she might prefer to see it closed because of her environmental perspective. That would deal an economic blow to the region and the state, which receives about $30 million per year in tax revenue from the port.
Some of Gunn’s ideas for the port are unrealistic. She suggests the port take on mass transit, such as light rail, but the region already has Intercity Transit, a multi-jurisdictional, taxpayer-subsidized agency.
She suggests the port buy some of the Tumwater brewery buildings and lease them to replace revenue from the marine terminal. That belies an ignorance of the complexities and market realities confronting the brewery, which the city of Tumwater knows all too well.
Gunn mistakenly charges that taxpayers are subsidizing Weyerhaeuser exports. Weyerhaeuser and other marine terminal customers pay fair market rate for the acreage they lease, and will soon be paying a share of the port’s new storm water system.
Gunn repeats concerns over the port’s property tax levy. It’s a misconception that tax levies pay operating expenses. The port uses tax revenue for environmental cleanup activities and to pay down bonds. All but two of the state’s 77 ports rely on a property tax levy.
The challenger has tried to imply that Davis dislikes the Olympia Farmers Market. It’s an untrue and unfair accusation. Davis understands the value of the market and the local jobs it creates. Supporting the market fits the port’s economic mission.
In short, we fear Gunn views the port as an intellectual exercise in social engineering, which could threaten the port’s recent positive trends.
Davis is the clear choice for voters who want to maintain the port’s profitability, expand economic development opportunities in the rural areas of the county and continue its recent improvements in government transparency.