How ‘Republican’ are nonpartisan local candidates? They ask, should it matter?

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: October 19, 2011, 10:52 AM

 

On the Web:

See which political party Clark County Republicans believes every local nonpartisan candidate belongs to at Clark County Republican Party.

Local candidates got a report card they weren’t expecting this week — and their grades weren’t the kind every high-schooler waits by the mailbox to get.

Clark County Republicans released a voters guide identifying, as they see it, where on the political spectrum nonpartisan candidates really lie.

The guide appeared online on Monday. Candidates for every nonpartisan race, from city councils down to the cemetery districts, received grades of R+ (for strongly Republican); R (Republican); D (Democrat); I (Independent); N (not enough information); or C (conflicting information).

The local party’s leader said they researched the backgrounds of all the nonpartisan candidates in order to help inform constituents, whom he said continue to call Republican headquarters asking for help with voting.

“These are based on research we have done — we’re trying to make it as clear as possible they are not endorsements,” said Brandon Vick, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party.

But candidates from the nonaffiliated races gave the move mixed reviews, with several questioning why a political party needs to dip its toe into races that have traditionally remained secular.

“I’m an independent,” Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith said Tuesday after hearing he was labeled a Republican. “I try to protect the nonpartisan position and I vote both sides of the aisle. I vote for what’s best for the city of Vancouver. I don’t want to vote on party ideology; it ties you up to party commitments.”

(Update: Smith was changed to a "C" late Tuesday).

The Republicans gave his opponent, Cory Barnes, a C for conflicting information, although Barnes often calls himself a hard-core conservative.

Vick said that a four-person committee took more than three months to study how the nonpartisan candidates voted in the 2008 presidential primary election, whether they had known affiliations with the left or right, and their public and private statements, including those made on social media.

Battle Ground school district candidate Ken Root, who is running to keep his seat after being appointed earlier this year, said he was “absolutely shocked” that the Republicans made such a guide. The party’s guide said Root is a Democrat, while his challenger, Amy Wheat, got a C.

“I am a registered Democrat,” he said. “I’m conservative in many different ways. I question why you actually have to label it one party or another. I don’t understand why this is now a partisan position when it was labeled as a nonpartisan.”

He said that keeping party affiliation out of the deliberations allows school directors to do what’s best.

“Party aside, it’s kids first,” Root said.

La Center mayoral candidate Troy Van Dinter, who earned an R+, called it “bizarre” for the Republicans to rate the politics of folks from ports, city councils, fire commissions and cemetery districts.

Both he and Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, who also earned an R+, said that they are comfortable with the label, but also don’t see it as a positive or negative influence in their races. Both also stressed their bipartisan support.

“I don’t see it as a negative,” Van Dinter said. “I see myself as working on both sides.”

Higgins said that partisan politics would grind the day-to-day functions of local government to a halt.

“In my core I’m definitely Republican leaning,” said Higgins, who has run for state office as a Republican. “But the beauty of local government issues is there’s not a lot of Republican or Democratic issues when it comes to water and sewer.”

Clark County Democrats have no plans to make a similar guide, Chairwoman Kathy Lawrence said. Instead, she said, her organization will stick to endorsing Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie for her 49th District re-election bid and take positions on statewide initiatives.

“How a candidate feels about local issues can be completely separate and less political than how they feel about hot-button issues on a national level,” local Democratic party treasurer Marsha Manning said in an email. “For example, I wouldn’t vote against Larry Smith just because he’s a Republican and I am a Democrat. I would vote for him because I support his work on the city council, and I applaud his support of veterans and veterans’ issues.”

Manning did say that she agreed with many of the labels, but said more of them should have been marked as having conflicted information.

Vick explained that the Republicans have an email list of more than 5,000 people and that many had asked to know about the candidates. He agreed that most city or other issues are rather innocuous as far as party politics go.

“But the more we get into this and the more we have big issues come up — like the baseball stadium per se — you can find some things that have a political tilt to them or at least philosophical differences.”

The first and only other time the Republican Party first assigned possible parties to nonpartisan candidates was in 2009, Vick said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall.