It will back candidates who support economic development projects

The leader of a Clark County business organization said Thursday he'll leave that job to launch a political action committee to back candidates who support economic development projects, including more funding for transportation improvements.

Paul Montague, executive director of the nonprofit Identity Clark County, said he wants the new organization to counter the direction of Republican Clark County commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke. That will start by supporting a candidate to fill the board seat vacated by Democrat Steve Stuart, whose views differed from those of Madore and Mielke. Montague said he's been having conversations with potential members of the as-yet unnamed group and expects it will be up and running before the May 16 deadline for candidates to file for election.

There's been a lot of discontent between the commissioners and the local business community since Madore, an anti-Columbia River Crossing activist and the owner of the local business US Digital, took office in 2013. Madore and Mielke fought against a Columbia River Crossing project that would have included light rail, a project that won support from a wide range of business organizations. Madore and Mielke have said their votes in favor of eliminating traffic impact and development fees are examples of business-friendly policies that they helped set. They did not respond to calls on Thursday.

Montague, 56, said it is too early to reveal individuals supporting his organization. He said the group will pool contributions and donate that money to campaign for candidates, ballot initiatives and legislation that support local economic development and against those that do not.

"I've had many conversations with community leaders," Montague said. "It's premature for names."

He hopes to raise between $200,000 and $500,000 to launch the PAC that will focus on three primary areas of dissatisfaction, Montague said. "Disappointment at the failure of the CRC, the lack of real action in the Legislature for funding the Southwest Washington transportation package and No. 3 is a serious concern about the current dysfunction of our county government."

Montague also said the PAC will focus on a slate of state legislative candidates from Clark County. It will look to support candidates who are approachable and share its focus on economic development.

"Really, the long term interest is about having people who are responsive," he said. "Basically (we want) folks who are going to listen to the community."

He admitted the group might sometimes disagree with other business organizations on some controversial issues, such as the proposed oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Some in the business community tout the project as an economic benefit. Others disagree.

Montague said the group is still in its formation stage and details have not yet been worked out about membership fees and levels. A call to the Washington state Public Disclosure Commission confirmed that no group has been registered under Montague's name.

The registration process is simple and has no waiting process, said Lori Anderson, the department's communications and training officer.

Montague said his group will focus first on the soon-to-be-vacant seat of Stuart, who will step down next month to become city manager of Ridgefield. Stuart announced in January he didn't intend to run for re-election this year.

"We know we have one critical election coming up, which is to fill Steve Stuart's seat," he said.

Montague plans to resign from his executive position with Identity Clark County on April 1. He has led the high-powered group of business advocates since 2011.

Made up of approximately 65 local, regional and national businesses, ICC staunchly supported the proposed $2.9 billion Columbia River Crossing to replace the I-5 Bridge, weighing in through Montague's words at public meetings about the project. The onetime bistate project died officially this month, when Oregon lawmakers announced plans to shut it down. Washington legislators denied support for the project last year.

"Paul had clear marching orders and the CRC was his No. 1 priority," said Scott Milam, Identity Clark County's board chair.

He said ICC's board now will begin the process of selecting a new executive director as it steps up efforts to cover the functions and programs of the organization during the interim.

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