By Eric Rosane
The race between appointed incumbent Kyle Markstrom and challenger Paul Crowner for Port of Centralia Commission District No. 1 could determine the future of the port’s leadership in the years to come.
Markstrom was originally appointed to the seat by the Lewis County Board of Commissioners late last year after port commissioners Julie Shaffley and Peter Lahmann failed to come to a timely agreement on who should succeed former commissioner Dan Keahey, who resigned.
He’s seeking his first full term as a commissioner.
Crowner, 76, is challenging him and running on a platform of bringing about more transparency at the port and establishing a sea change in leadership.
Both candidates will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
Documents recently obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request show Lahmann entered into a contract for Crowner’s campaign to utilize his museum, America’s Team Museum, at a rate of $1 per month.
Some have criticized that as a conflict of interest, labeling the agreement as a sign of support. Though the contract was included within Lahmann’s port business notes, it doesn’t appear to be at all related to port business.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Lahmann said Crowner is a “nodding acquaintance” whom he’s known for 50 years in the community, though he stopped short of saying he was a friend or a campaign supporter.
“I think they’re both good people and come to the position with different attributes,” said Lahmann, whose seat is not up for election this year.
Port of Centralia staff and commissioners have been inundated in recent meetings with calls from some public commenters for greater transparency and more answers from Executive Director Kyle Heaton on agenda items presented. Some have questioned the port’s decision-making through the Centralia Station project, which has seen delays and changes.
“Centralia Station has been called a debacle — and it definitely hasn’t gone as planned. There was a lot of issues years ago. I’m focused on the future, I’m not focused on the past. I wasn’t there for any of that,” Markstrom, 33, said during a recent debate hosted by The Chronicle Editorial Board, which is separate from The Chronicle’s newsroom. “My goal is to see Centralia Station get completed. I think it’s vital that that key piece of property on the I-5 corridor in Centralia is developed into something that’s beneficial to our entire community.”
Markstrom works for ZEV Technologies, a firearm accessory manufacturer and designer currently based within the port. He has touted his experience relocating the business from Tumwater to the Port of Centralia after it outgrew its facility as a blueprint for what he’d like to help other companies do.
According to information provided in the voters’ guide, Markstrom graduated from Centralia High School. He’s served on the Centralia School District Budget Task Force, the Centralia School District Strategic Planning Leadership Team, the Lewis County Citizens Budget Committee and is president of the Noah Jon Markstrom Foundation, which was founded in honor of his son following his death due to cancer.
“In time of need, this community lifted my family up. I want to continue paying back that generosity by creating a more successful community as your Port of Centralia commissioner,” Markstrom wrote.
Markstrom said he’s passionate about port work and hopes to continue bringing family-wage jobs to the area, noting he “doesn't have an axe to grind, I’m not focused on the past or the mistakes of others. I bring solutions in a forward-thinking perspective.”
If elected, Crowner said “attracting technology firms, knowledge based economy and broadband improvements would greatly benefit the community” and should be a port priority.
Crowner writes that he prides himself on being an “independent thinker” who believes the port would thrive under new leadership that’s “willing to work with Centralia, Chehalis, Lewis County officials, plus community and service organizations, schools and business leaders.”
He holds a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University, a master’s degree from the University of Portland, and had a 37-year career as a teacher.
“For several years, I’ve been critical of the Port of Centralia … I feel it’s time now to act on my views and run for commissioner for District 1,” Crowner said. “The port’s website says that the port operates in the public interest, and I feel it has not always lived up to that goal.”
Crowner said he’d like to see the port “revisit and reevaluate” the original intent of the Centralia Station project and start from square one. He’d like to see more partnership and transparency on the decision making with the project moving forward.
The Markstrom-Crowner race for the Port of Centralia has seen a large influx of contributions, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission filings. As of press deadline, Crowner had collected $10,662 in contributions and Markstrom had roughly $8,049. About $3,000 of that has been Crowner’s own contributions and Markstrom has contributed about $5,184 of his own money into his campaign.
All registered Lewis County voters should have already received a ballot by mail for the general election, according to the Lewis County Auditor’s Office. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 or in a county-certified election drop box by 8 p.m. on election night.
Voters can confirm their ballot status after submission by going online to www.votewa.gov.
The last day to register or update voter registration via online or by mail to vote in the Nov. 2 election was Oct. 25. Washington state voters can still show up in-person at their local auditor’s office to register or change their address up until 8 p.m. on election day.
Editor’s note: Chronicle Owner-Publisher Chad Taylor is a financial supporter of the Committee to Elect Kyle Markstrom, according to PDC filings. Paul Crowner is also a former Chronicle columnist, and worked as the paper’s Newspapers in Education manager.