Port Commission’s Bill Bryant ‘seriously exploring’ run for governor

By Joel Connelly, February 5, 2015, Seattle PI

Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant is “seriously exploring” a run for governor, echoing themes used by Republicans back in days when they won statewide races.

 

“It is a huge endeavor involving a very diverse state,” Bryant said Thursday.

 

Bryant is a successful businessman who has spent his life dealing with Washington’s vast trade economy. He holds office on the west side, but spent seven years working overseas sales of Washington apples as an executive with the Northwest Horticultural Council.

 

He uses words denoting activist government, heard a generation ago when Dan Evans and John Spellman lived in the governor’s mansion. Bryant talks about the urgent need to clean up Puget Sound. He cites example after example of where the state has neglected its infrastructure and difficulties in getting cargoes to and from the state’s ports.

 

Would today’s very conservative party embrace a Republican who celebrates the conservation record and activist presidency of Theodore Roosevelt?

 

“Or Dan Evans for that matter,” said Bryant. “I haven’t heard they won’t. There’s a recognition that Republicans here are not D.C. Republicans . . . And there’s an increased awareness our state is a diverse place, and when you try to put together 51 percent of the vote you appreciate that diversity.”

 

Republicans held the governor’s office for 16 of 20 years between 1964 and 1984. A young GOP legislator, Dan Evans, ousted Democratic Gov. Al Rosellini in a year when Lyndon Johnson and Democrats were sweeping the nation.

 

A Democrat, Booth Gardner, ousted Spellman in 1984, the year of Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep.

 

Republicans haven’t elected a governor since, although Dino Rossi and Rob McKenna came close in recent years. The Democrats’ hold on the office has endured through 31 years, five governors, and one famous race (Gregoire-Rossi) that ended up in court.

 

The potential field of 2016 GOP candidates is sparse. McKenna is prospering in the practice of law. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert delivers an annual post-election hint that he may take the plunge.  State Sen. Andy Hill, R-45, survived a major Democratic challenge (fueled by billionaire Tom Steyer’s money) in 2014.

 

Bryant won his seat on the Seattle Port Commission in 2007 by coming from far back in the primary to upset incumbent Alec Fisken. He was assisted by Blair Butterworth, one of the state’s canniest Democratic strategists.

 

He’s not willing to go into specifics about Gov. Jay Inslee, but Bryant’s record and language indicate his approach to the race.

 

He’s impatient with posturing. Bryant sharply criticized green groups who called a news conference to denounce plans to let Foss Marine use Terminal 5, at the Port of Seattle, to berth, supply and retrofit Shell Oil’s drilling fleet for the Arctic. He supports the Shell lease.

 

Instead, Bryant sings praises of specific efforts in specific places — the Nisqually Partnership, Stewardship Partners and the Methow Conservancy — to restore salmon habitat and preserve migration routes for the state’s wildlife. It runs in the family. His wife, Barbara, was instrumental in putting together the parks and river shore trail of the Yakima Greenway.

 

“The one thing to understand about being a commissioner, if you are with the Port of Seattle, you have statewide responsibilities,” said Bryant.  “We have a relationship with every city that is a feeder into the Port of Seattle.”

 

He cites the new BMW carbon fiber plant at Moses Lake, with materials trucked over the Cascades. “They’re building an industrial base there with direct access to a deep water port.  The trade mobility between North Bend and Seattle?  It means a great deal to apple growers.

 

Bryant has twice spent extended periods of time living under dictatorships, in a military-governed Brazil and China at a time “everybody wore green, blue or gray.”  The experiences helped instill a deep belief in personal autonomy.

 

“I try to be a good Catholic,” he said, alluding to the church’s moral teachings. “But a government that can impose my religion on anybody else would also have the power to impose its religion on me.”

 

He’s an interesting guy. Bryant is off in weeks ahead to speak at several Lincoln Day dinners of Republicans around the state. He will lecture on the Battle of Gettysburg and also introduce himself and do a lot of listening.

 

The experiences will help him decide if a run for governor is feasible or winnable, or a Pickett’s Charge against Democrats’ well-defended office.

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