Redistricting activist shares thoughts on 18th District politics

John Milem, the Vancouver activist who challenged the state’s new voting district boundaries, also expressed distaste for the way former state Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, left office.

Milem said it’s another example of the current political system working for the politicians and parties in charge, rather than the average citizen. During my interview with him on Oct. 26, Milem said the state’s redistricting commission drew the voter boundaries in a way that benefits incumbents and limits political competition.

He added: “I would like to give you an example from this county of that very same attitude in a very different context, and that’s what Joe Zarelli did about his retirement.”

Zarelli announced after 5 p.m. on May 18 (the deadline for candidates to file the paperwork necessary to run for office) that he would not seek re-election. At the last minute, Republican Ann Rivers, who was serving as a legislator in the state House, filed to run for his Senate seat.

Less than two weeks later, Zarelli announced his resignation and said Rivers should replace him. Rivers was appointed by Clark and Cowlitz county commissioners to finish Zarelli’s term, but she is required to win the Nov. 6 general election to keep that seat.

Republican Liz Pike, another candidate in the 18th District, was then appointed to finish Rivers’ House term.

“If (Zarelli) had done the right thing, which would have been to announce in plenty of time for everybody to consider their options and decide what to do, we could have had an open contest for state senator in the 18th District,” Milem said. Instead, those in power “basically said, ‘We’re going to choose one of our own.'”

Milem ended up dropping his case to overturn the state’s new voter boundaries, which are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes. Milem, who is losing his battle with cancer, said his health problems prohibit him from pursuing the case any further.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or

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