He has a common name, a busy agenda, and determination to end one of the country’s longest losing streaks in state government.
Meet Bill Bryant, a Republican challenger to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2016.
The GOP hasn’t occupied the governor’s mansion since 1984, when John Spellman was in office. Since then, Republicans have lost eight straight elections, the longest such dry spell in the country for the party.
Bryant, 54, vows to change all that. The two-term Seattle Port commissioner, who grew up in Western Washington and lives in Seattle, announced last month his intention to run for governor. His campaign will emphasize the need to create middle class jobs, protect and restore the environment, fund education and improve infrastructure for transportation.
“We have an incumbent who is not building community. He’s very divisive, hyper-partisan, and we’re not getting anything done,” said Bryant, who visited Auburn and Kent last week on business matters. “Our truck routes are deteriorating, Puget Sound is dying, and our schools are languishing without a sustainable funding source. … This isn’t a Republican or Democrat agenda. This is just about getting some basic stuff done.”
As a port commissioner and a business owner, the fiscally-conservative Bryant is in the habit of making deals. His firm helps companies and organizations open, access and expand international markets.
His work on the waterfront is perhaps highlighted by the news that Seattle and Tacoma port officials have officially agreed to consolidate operations. All 10 port commissioners unanimously approved the alliance at Auburn City Hall last Friday.
The Northwest Seaport Alliance will unify the ports’ marine cargo terminal investments, operations, planning and marketing to strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and attract more marine cargo for the region.
Bryant knows as much.
The alliance, he said, will enhance the Puget Sound market, and protect and add jobs.
But $700 million is needed to upgrade docks at Elliott and Commencement bays, Bryant pointed out, making it important for the ports to shoulder the improvements in a coordinated way.
And to allow for a greater volume of business and traffic, vital truck routes outside the port gates need improvement, he said.
“If we don’t modernize the docks for the next generation of ships, those ships will go to Vancouver (B.C.),” Bryant warned.
On education: There is no single solution for funding education, Bryant said, but property tax equalization needs to be part of a “tool box” approach to repair the problem. He stresses that education needs to be the spending priority out of the general fund, and that the education system needs to be reformed to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.
On wages: Bryant is concerned about a statewide minimum wage because the economies are so different. “What’s appropriate in King County,” is not elsewhere, he said. Bryant opposed an immediate, absolute $15 minimum wage for workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
On the environment: Bryant was criticized for supporting Shell oil rigs docking along Seattle’s waterfront in preparation for drilling off Alaska’s North Slope.
The Bryant campaign called the Shell fight “entirely symbolic” and defended the port’s environmental record.
Despite the controversy, Bryant insisted he has a reputation for being able to work with environmental and labor communities, protecting jobs and the Sound.
Bryant knows he has a fight on his hands. His is working to make inroads throughout the state, but perhaps none is more significant than swaying voters in King County.
Gubernatorial races are often decided here by the populous, predominately blue-blooded vote. Bryant knows he won’t be able to carry 60 percent of the vote in the county, as he did when he ran for port commissioner, but he’s trying to make more believers come late 2016.
“It’s daunting,” he confessed, “but I’m well known around the county. I’ve worked in Auburn, in Kent … in communities on economic development, transportation, small business and tourism issues.
“I’m very comfortable with where I am in King County.”