Legislative candidate registered car, never changed plates

Debbie Peterson blames stubborn screws for delay in replacing Oregon tags

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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When a person running for public office in Vancouver drives around town for several months in a car with Oregon license plates, it's bound to raise questions.

But in Debbie Peterson's case, she said she has a perfectly good explanation. Peterson, a Republican candidate for the Legislature, has obtained Washington plates for the 1990 Mercedes 190E she purchased in January. She says she's been busy, and hasn't been able to find the right tool to loosen the quirky screws fastening the Oregon plates in place.

"I knew someone would say that," Peterson said on Tuesday when questioned by a reporter about her Oregon plates. "That's politics. That's how it goes."

On Wednesday afternoon, Peterson provided paperwork that proves she paid the fees associated with registering a car in Washington. She bought the car Jan. 9, and the paperwork shows she paid $192 the next day to register the vehicle in Washington.

According to Washington state law, drivers must display their assigned license plates on their vehicles. Not properly displaying one's license plate can be punishable by a $124 ticket, but officers can use discretion about whether a ticket is necessary.

Trooper Ryan Tanner, a Washington State Patrol spokesman, said that he'd be inclined to help a driver get the new plates on the car rather than issuing a ticket. He also suggested that "if you don't have the proper tools to do it, any dealership or reputable auto shop should be able to help you out with that."

An officer also could issue the driver a correction notice that would give the driver a certain amount of time to change the plates.

Washington law does not provide a specific deadline for attaching new plates following vehicle registration, Tanner said.

"That's one of the gray areas," he said. "I just always urge people to do it as quickly as possible."

Peterson is running in the 49th Legislative District against incumbent state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Peterson said she had her car in the shop for two months beginning at the end of January, and that's part of the reason for not yet putting the Washington plates on her car. The Oregon plates were fastened to her car with screws that require a hollow Allen wrench to unscrew. These screws are sometimes used to prevent vehicle licence plate theft.

Peterson said she hasn't had time to go to the hardware store to get the right tool. In the meantime, she said she "was hoping someone would take pity on me" and help.

Oregon plates were a topic of talk in Clark County during election season two years ago, when it was discovered that legislative candidate Paul Harris continued to drive his 2005 Dodge truck with Oregon plates. The plates were licensed to his Portland-area paint company, which went out of business in 2008.

Harris called it "an oversight," paid $1,160 in sales and use tax and licensing fees, and went on to win his state House race.

The Washington State Patrol accepts citizen tips about suspected license fraud on its website.

Intentional vehicle license fraud in Washington state is a gross misdemeanor that can come with a jail sentence of up to 364 days, as well as more than $1,000 in fines. That applies to people living in Washington who obtain an Oregon address or post office box to register their cars in Oregon.

In cases in which it appears a person forgot or put off registering a car in Washington, offenders can receive a $1,122 ticket. That includes people who move to Washington and don't register their vehicle with the state within 30 days.

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