Jim Jensen is a 37-year-old Fox Island resident who’s spending $115,000 of his own money to try to land a seat on the Port of Tacoma Commission.
A 30-something is dropping large coin to join people old enough to be his parents on a board that supervises land use and other governmental functions at the Port of Tacoma?
Jensen has his reasons for running, as do his challengers, former port security director Eric Holdeman and John McCarthy, a retired Superior Court judge.
What sets him apart, aside from his relative youth, is his willingness to personally spend well over twice the going rate on a port commission campaign.
Taken together, Jensen’s own money and the $31,000 he’s raised in donations constitute the sixth-highest campaign-cash total of any local race in the state this year, according to records filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, which tracks campaign spending.
The only local candidates who have out-raised him are from King County, the state’s most populous.
They include King County executive Dow Constantine, Seattle mayor Ed Murray (who has dropped his re-election bid), King County Council members Kathy Lambert and Rod Dembowski, and Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee, according to PDC records.
I wanted people to know I was serious about it. I wanted to make sure people knew I had skin in the game
Jim Jensen, candidate for Port of Tacoma commission
Jensen’s opponents haven’t come close raising as much money.
“I’d say historically $50,000 has been a very, very healthy fund-raising number, and a lot of campaigns have raised less than that,” said Ben Anderstone, a political consultant who frequently works with Democrats seeking office. “You can win a Port of Seattle race, which is all of King County, with under $100,000, so this is a fairly impressive amount of money for a Port of Tacoma race ...”
Anderstone and Republican consultant Alex Hays told The News Tribune that Jensen needs the money because he is a political unknown running against two candidates with name recognition. That’s especially true of McCarthy, who previously served on the port commission and had a long tenure as a Superior Court judge.
Holdeman previously ran for a port seat but was unsuccessful.
“Really if Jensen wants to win, he does have to overcome John McCarthy’s name,” Hays said. “It really was the only way to make this race competitive, and since he can afford to, it’s really not that controversial.
“It’s: ‘I want to be port commissioner. I have to overcome this hurdle. Money overcomes this hurdle. I have money.’ Therefore, boom.”
That’s Jensen’s strategy.
“The only way I can get my message out is through marketing,” said Jensen, who works as a commercial real estate broker. “I knew I was up against a huge problem, to be honest — it’s hard to go up against established candidates who have run many times before,” Jensen said recently from his office on the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo building downtown, which has a view of the Tacoma Dome.
You can win a Port of Seattle race, which is all of King County, with under $100,000, so this is a fairly impressive amount of money for a Port of Tacoma race
Political consultant Ben Anderstone
He continued: “I wanted people to know I was serious about it. I wanted to make sure people knew I had skin in the game. It is my hard-earned money that I’m putting in because I think it’s so important. We’re bringing thousands of new people to Pierce County every month to live here, and we’re not necessarily bringing thousands of new jobs, and that scares the heck out of me.”
Jensen isn’t just buying yard signs.
He’s leased billboard space. He’s bought commercials on Comcast. He’s sent out mailers.
He also has a marketing presence on social media. A reporter for The News Tribune recently spotted a post sponsored by Jensen on Instagram. It featured Jensen with his wife and two daughters.
Jensen has the right idea, said Mark A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Washington.
Being in a local, low-visibility, nonpartisan race means every dollar spent on advertising and marketing is crucial, Smith said.
In such races, voters can’t even rely on party affiliation to make their choice, so just knowing a candidate’s name, even if they know nothing more about them, is helpful, the professor said.
“In that kind of a climate, being able to throw some money at it, that’s a big advantage because it’s just so hard to become known at all in those races,” Smith said. “Are you going to vote for a candidate you’ve heard of but don’t know much about, or the candidate you’ve never heard of?”
It really was the only way to make this race competitive, and since he can afford to, it’s really not that controversial
Political consultant Alex Hays
Jensen calls himself an outsider.
He’s never run for public office before.
He said he’s doing so now because he’s been successful in his 14-year career in commercial real estate and thinks he could use his expertise and relationships to bring new tenants — and jobs — to the port.
A self-described moderate Republican, Jensen is pro-business and pro-economic development. But he said he wants to bring green jobs to the Tideflats, and has specifically mentioned Tesla as a possible future tenant.
He said he sees vacant Port of Tacoma land as problematic for the economy and Pierce County’s tax base, but would have opposed plans for a proposed methanol plant at the port.
Regarding that plant, Anderstone said the fight over it raised the profile of the port commission and might bring more candidates – and money – to future races.
“The nexus between increased fund-raising and increased public awareness could change how port races are modeled in the future,” he said.