Alliance demonstrates power at GOP grass roots

Group wins roles in nearly half the county's precincts

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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A movement to breathe new life into the Clark County Republican Party saw some success in Tuesday's primary elections.

The grass roots movement is being led by a group called the PCO Liberty Alliance -- PCO being short for precinct committee officer -- and the alliance wants to challenge what it sees as an "establishment mentality" within the current Clark County GOP. It led this push by encouraging 150 like-minded Republicans to run for PCO seats.

The group is confident that the more than 90 allied precinct officers who won Tuesday will give the group enough power to reform the Clark County Republican Party and even influence its leadership, said Christian Berrigan, of the PCO Liberty Alliance. The alliance wants the party to support candidates that share the values of its base rather than supporting candidates who simply have the best chance of winning an election, Berrigan said.

"We want to see things work from the bottom up rather than the top down," Berrigan said. The alliance says the Clark County GOP is more influenced by Republicans at the state level than by Republicans at the grass roots, according to the group's website.

The job of a PCO

PCO elections are decided in the primary, not the general election. Each of Clark County's 222 voting precincts can have one Democratic PCO and one Republican PCO.

Precinct committee officers are members of the party's central committee and choose who should serve in party leadership roles as well as help recruit candidates and determine which candidates to support using the party's resources. They also play a role in selecting interim state legislators if a lawmaker leaves office prematurely.

At least 92 Republican PCOs who align with the Liberty Alliance's mission won Tuesday, according to updated election results released Friday. About a dozen precincts in the county have no Republican PCO, and there are other PCOs who won Tuesday who might be willing to join forces with the alliance, Berrigan said.

'We have the numbers'

"I think that we have successfully proven the power of building coalitions," Berrigan said by phone on Thursday. "I believe that we have the numbers, that we'll be able to institute certain reforms within the party."

Berrigan described the group as a combination of Tea Partiers, libertarian Republicans, and values voters. They formed after this year's Clark County Republican Convention and are primarily supporters of Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

The alliance's website includes ideas for reforming the party, such as better training for PCOs and for people involved in running conventions, as well as more-frequent meetings.

The group's formation is not the only bit of controversy the county's Republican Party has seen this year. First, Republican Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt was sanctioned by the party for being too centrist. Then, the county convention ended without agreement on a full slate of representatives to the state party convention. Recently, former county chairman Brent Boger left the party, citing a growing extremism toward the far right, and the strictness of the Tea Party in particular.

The alliance was criticized last month by a Republican PCO who worried it was a front group for a Ron Paul Revolution offshoot. Berrigan said that although many in the alliance favor Paul, their intention is simply to make sure the party leaders and the candidates the party promotes are more representative of Republicans in Clark County.

"There are a number of people who are skeptical of our intentions," Berrigan said. "This group was 100 percent organically grown out of Clark County."

'Amazing' interest

Although the alliance had success, longtime Republican leaders also were elected as PCOs on Tuesday. Boldt and county Auditor Greg Kimsey won their PCO bids, as did the current Clark County Republican Party chairwoman, Stephanie McClintock.

On Thursday, she called the heightened interest in being a PCO "amazing."

"Whether these candidates came from the PCO Liberty Alliance, the (Mitt) Romney delegates from the county caucuses or somewhere else, it's great to see the Republican Party generate this level of interest," she said in an email. "It will take all of us working together to win in November, and I believe that we will."

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.