County GOP fails to fill its slate of delegates

Convention in Vancouver breaks down in dispute

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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STATEWIDE: Santorum camp follows orders in ‘weird alliance’

SEATTLE (AP) — Despite Mitt Romney’s winning Washington’s straw poll at the precinct caucuses in early March, the fight for the state’s 43 delegates is still brewing.

The Rick Santorum and Ron Paul camps are teaming up to deny Romney delegates at the state convention, seemingly channeling those delegates to Santorum’s turf, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

Santorum state volunteer coordinator Graden Neal said the former senator from Pennsylvania directed the alliance in a recent conference call.

In an email to Santorum supporters, Neal said the presidential candidate joined a Wednesday conference call with Washington state campaign leaders.

“And the Senator didn’t mince words,” Neal wrote. “In order for us to win the nomination in Tampa in August, we must deny Romney delegates to that convention. If … Romney receives 1,144 delegates before the national convention, it is all over for our campaign. That is the reason why the Senator himself directed us to coalition with the Ron Paul delegates to deny Romney any state delegates.”

Neal confirmed the message Friday, and acknowledged that the effort has split Santorum’s Washington supporters. Neal said the alliance is showing a measure of success, but some Santorum backers are not happy with the strategy.

“We are a house divided,” he said.

The showdown should be evident this weekend as nine counties — including Snohomish and Clark — hold conventions to elect delegates to the state GOP convention, where the national delegates will be picked in June.

King County Republican Party Chairman Lori Sotelo called the coordination between Santorum and Paul supporters a “weird alliance” given Paul’s libertarian views, which are often at odds with Santorum’s socially conservative positions.

A spokeswoman for the Paul campaign, though, said in an email they are “fully aboard” with the effort.

State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said he’s growing concerned that scheming could lead to a disruptive fight at the state convention.

What began with a sense of unity to defeat President Barack Obama dissolved, over 12 hours, into infighting Saturday at the Clark County GOP convention.

Delegates elected at party caucuses in March were unable to finish the assigned task of electing 94 delegates and 94 alternates to the state convention in Tacoma.

Instead, even after the convention was extended by two hours, they ended up with 75 delegates and no alternates.

The blame was placed on Ron Paul supporters.

“You have to applaud their organization,” said Mike Gaston, executive director of the Clark County GOP.

The 49th and 15th Legislative Districts agreed on their allotted delegates (28 and 2 of them, respectively) while the 18th Legislative District will have 30 delegates instead of 32 and the 17th Legislative District will have 15 instead of 32.

The GOP rented the convention center at the Hilton Vancouver Washington from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., but as the proceedings ran late were allowed to use it until 8 p.m.

More than 1,400 people showed up, and registration delayed the start for an hour.

In the morning, the scene was set for the same disagreement that’s playing out nationally in the Republican Party even though attendees all applauded talk of beating Democrats.

Plenty of delegates were sporting Mitt Romney stickers, but there were also Paul supporters with stickers bearing “1,144” within a circle-backslash.

The sticker references the number of delegates needed to secure the party nomination, said Michael Delavar, who with his wife Katja, regional director for the Paul campaign, spoke to the crowd on behalf of Paul.

“Each of us is likely to believe our candidate is the best to beat Obama,” Michael Delavar told the crowd in the Heritage Ballroom.

Right now Romney leads, “but the fact that he hasn’t already secured those votes shows the debate isn’t over,” Delavar said.

He urged Paul supporters to support an open national convention, where the party’s pick to oppose Obama would be selected rather than confirmed.

“As of today, there’s no ‘presumptive nominee,’” Delavar said.

Representatives from the Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich campaigns blamed the media for giving the nomination to Romney, while a Romney representative referenced the “Unity Slate” stickers people were wearing to show support for any conservative except Paul.

In all, there were 811 delegates and 215 alternate delegates who’d been elected at the March 3 county caucuses.

In a straw poll taken at those caucuses, Romney finished first, while Paul came in second, Santorum placed third and Gingrich finished last.

On Saturday, after hearing speeches from federal, state and local candidates or their representatives and taking care of some party procedural business, the groups split up into legislative districts to elect delegates to the state convention, which will be May 31 to June 2 in Tacoma.

The process took eight hours.

First, people had to decide which alternates would get to fill the spots of delegates who did not show up, then each potential delegate gave a 30-second speech.

Brent Boger, the rules chairman, said late in the afternoon that the process was taking so long because Paul supporters were trying to block would-be Romney delegates, and Romney, Gingrich and some Santorum supporters were trying to block would-be Paul delegates.

Brian Peck, a Romney supporter trying to be named a delegate for the 49th District, said that when he asked his group if everyone would support the eventual Republican nominee, the people wearing Paul stickers did not raise their hands.

As the process dragged on Saturday, many non-Paul supporters left in frustration, with one man telling convention chairman Greg Kimsey, “You guys have the most bastardized convention process I have ever seen,” as he headed for the door.

“Well sir, I wouldn’t disagree with you,” Kimsey replied.

Peck said the aggravation was all for nothing.

“By the time our (state) convention comes around, Romney is going to be the only one left standing anyway,” Peck said.

At the state convention, delegates will be elected to the national convention, scheduled for late August in Tampa, Fla.

Delegates didn’t even get around to discussing the party’s platform Saturday. County Chairman Brandon Vick said 37 amendments had been submitted for consideration. Instead of being voted on by the group, the platform will be left in the hands of the executive board, Boger said.

Boldt greeted

Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, who was told he would not be able to speak at the convention since he was penalized for casting votes that the executive board felt were not in line with the platform, did show up Saturday morning and was greeted by well-wishers.

The morning started with speeches from 18 current officials, hopefuls and campaign representatives.

County Commissioner Tom Mielke, who has two announced Democratic challengers, Joe Tanner and Ron Barca, cited accomplishments including fighting the state over stormwater regulations and fighting the federal government for approving the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s application to take its land into trust near La Center.

He closed by saying, “I’m still a God-loving, gun-toting Christian and I need your vote to go back!”

After Mielke, Kimsey, who was introducing candidates, made no mention that there’s a second Republican county commissioner -- Boldt -- up for re-election. Instead he introduced David Madore, CEO of U.S. Digital, who is running against Boldt and Democrat Roman Battan.

“I support the fellow who just spoke here,” Madore said, referring to Mielke.

Mielke’s doing what he can, Madore said, “but right now, we’re in the minority.”

The third commissioner, Steve Stuart, is a Democrat.

Boldt said afterward that had he been allowed to address the crowd, he would have told them that county commissioners implement regulations handed down by the federal and state government. For lower fees and fewer rules, people need to get after state and federal lawmakers.

While Boldt would have made the point that county commissioners can’t just vote no on everything, voting no as a legislator was a point of pride for state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

He said he was criticized because he didn’t introduce a single bill this past session.

“I didn’t bring a bill forward because I didn’t think we needed another bill,” said Harris, who represents the 17th District. “It costs $4,000 to write a bill.”

Candidate Liz Pike, running for the 18th District against fellow Republican Dale Smith, said she will follow Harris’ lead.

“I’m going to repeal bills. I’m not going to pass bills,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who faces Democratic challengers Elizabeth Uelman and Jon Haugen, told the crowd the large turnout was due to the fact that “free men and free women who want to govern themselves feel their rights are being infringed upon.”

The Clark County Democrats have a convention scheduled for April 28.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.