In July, Port of Vancouver commissioner candidate Kris Greene told The Columbian that he wouldn’t be involved with an effort to challenge the eligibility of his rival, Don Orange.
“(I’m) not going to throw stones,” Greene said at the time. “It’s not my position to speak for his activities.”
But leaked emails obtained by The Columbian reveal an orchestrated attempt by Greene and his campaign to challenge Orange’s voter registration, including consulting with Carolyn Crain, a local Republican Party activist, as she brought an unsuccessful challenge to Orange’s residency and eligibility to run for the position.
The emails provided by Robert Sabo, the former campaign strategist for Greene, show Greene and members of his campaign shared information and discussed strategy with Crain in August.
“If there’s any question about him being an honest candidate, that should be completely eliminated in my understanding at this point,” said Sabo, who recently alleged that fossil fuel industry insiders are effectively dictating who should work with Greene’s campaign, reshaping the campaign’s message and directing how it would spend campaign contributions.
The Greene campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but Greene has filed a petition for an order of protection from harassment against Sabo. A hearing on that petition is scheduled for 9 a.m. today.
The documents also show that Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, who ultimately upheld Orange’s voter registration as the county’s top election officer, had early involvement with Greene’s campaign.
They also show that state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, sought advice from a legislative lawyer on behalf of Greene regarding residency rules.
Port commissioner races are typically sleepy affairs. But this year’s race for Port of Vancouver Commission District 1 position has been hotly contested and is now widely viewed as a referendum on a proposed oil terminal project at the port.
Vancouver Energy wants to build a $210 million oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. If built, it would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of oil per day, delivered by train from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota and stored and shipped out of the Port of Vancouver by water, bound for oil refineries along the West Coast.
Greene has expressed varying degrees of support for the project but as a candidate has stated only that he is in support of the state’s ongoing evaluation of the project. He has accepted $370,000 in campaign contributions from related companies with an interest in the terminal. Orange’s opposition to the project has largely defined his campaign.
Over the summer, Orange came under scrutiny for renting an apartment in the Port of Vancouver’s District 1 and registering to vote there so he could run for port commissioner. Orange owns a house outside the district, and his opponents have accused him of carpetbagging.
Sabo said Greene and his campaign staff knew as early as April that Orange had rented the apartment and saw it as an opportunity to remove him from the ballot. Sabo said he and another staffer examined Orange’s voter registration. Soon after, he ran a criminal and Washington Department of Licensing background check on Orange. At that point, all signs pointed to him still residing outside the district, and they saw an opportunity, he said.
The Columbian obtained campaign emails detailing how their strategy began to unfold.
In an email, sent June 12 from Pike’s legislative email address, Pike asked House Republican caucus attorney Mike Hoover “how does the state law interpret eligibility requirements when a person claims to be running for office by renting an apartment but they still sleep every night at their previous residence? Specifically, what does reside mean in the law? I need the legal definition.”
Pike’s email didn’t reference Orange’s candidacy or the port race. Hoover responded with an analysis, which included a legal definition of “residence,” a general summary of how courts have handled election results and the copy of a Supreme Court case. Pike then forwarded the email to Kimsey’s personal and Clark County email accounts, as well as to Greene and Sabo.
“The way I read this, unless one is away at college, in jail serving time, or serving in the military overseas or out of town, or at sea, you pretty much have to be living in the residence in order to qualify,” Pike wrote in the email.
Kimsey confirmed to The Columbian this week that he received the email from Pike. He said that he gets inquiries about voter registration issues and that it was appropriate for Pike to contact him on his county email. As for Greene and Sabo being included in the email, Kimsey said that they were undoubtedly interested in the issue.
Toby Nixon, a former Republican legislator and the current president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, said this week that the caucus attorney can answer a legislator’s legal questions. But he said that using that advice for a campaign could violate state law, which prohibits officials or employees from using government facilities to assist a campaign.
“There really is a separation,” he said. “The caucus attorney serves the caucus and their role as legislators, not as candidates.”
In a text this week, Pike explained that her query was constituent work. She wrote that Greene is a constituent of hers and she was responding to a question he asked her about residency requirement for filing for office.
“I didn’t have the answer, so I asked my House Caucus attorney to clarify,” she wrote via text. “Then I passed the information onto my constituent. And yes, I have concerns about Mr. Orange’s residency. And yes, I support Kris Greene for Vancouver Port Commissioner.”
Sabo said that Greene’s campaign didn’t want to be tied to the challenge to Orange’s residency and instead wanted the appearance of taking what he called the “moral high ground.”
“We’re trying to play the good guy,” said Sabo.
Sabo said that the campaign initially tried to recruit Pike to bring the challenge. (Pike did not respond to questions regarding this claim this week). Sabo said that Crain is a known “antagonist,” and it made sense to have her initiate the challenge against Orange.
In August, Crain filed a lawsuit to have Orange removed from the ballot on the grounds he didn’t live in the district and was ineligible to run.
“Kris Greene was not involved in my effort,” Crain said when contacted this week about the emails. “I dealt with it myself.”
An email thread Sabo provided to The Columbian shows that Greene and his campaign communicated with Crain about the challenge, however.
According to emails provided by Sabo, on the evening of Aug. 28, Greene sent an email to members of his campaign. The email was in response to an email Orange sent to his supporters asking them to show up at the court hearing where his residency would be challenged.
“Should we have signs? Don is a Liar?” Greene wrote.
Crain chimed in via email, writing that she agreed with a campaign team member who advised against bringing signs. Crain claimed in writing that Orange had lied in documents he filed and that she had asked her attorney to challenge them. Greene responded, “Do you [sic] any of the documents he filed to share?”
When contacted by The Columbian about the emails this week, Crain said her email had been hacked. She also maintained that there was no contact between her and Greene regarding the voter challenge.
A judge dismissed Crain’s initial lawsuit seeking to remove Orange from the ballot because the lawsuit was filed past the deadline for such challenges. Afterwards, Crain and Camas resident Jason Atkins challenged Orange’s voter registration, arguing that he didn’t live where he is registered to vote. The challenge would have cleared the way to remove Orange from the ballot.
The decision fell to Kimsey. He upheld Orange’s registration in September.
According to Sabo, the Greene campaign had earlier assembled an advisory committee that included Kimsey, among others. Sabo said that the committee began discussing the topic of Orange’s residency at a meeting in mid-May.
“We had prepped that all, that data set, for the committee meeting because we knew Kimsey was there, so we wanted the auditor to verify,” said Sabo. “(We thought) we’ve got him in house, so we want to know how to proceed.”
By Sabo’s account, Kimsey said he he’d have to investigate what the law required to be a resident. That was the last meeting Kimsey attended, according to Sabo.
When asked about his involvement in Greene’s campaign this week, Kimsey said it was limited to attending advisory meetings in April and May and making a $35 donation. He said he stopped attending meetings because of travel arrangements. He added that when Orange’s candidacy was challenged in court, he took a step farther back from the campaign.
“I’m not a big fan of drama,” he said.
Kimsey said he’s happy to give advice to almost anyone seeking public office. He said he offered general advice to Greene. He said that when the issue of Orange’s voter registration was raised, Kimsey said his only comment was that it’s very difficult to prove that a person does not reside where they say they reside.
Kimsey said he decided he didn’t need to recuse himself from making the call on Orange’s voter registration after he consulted with a special appointed deputy prosecuting attorney regarding the situation.
“The thing that really made it easy for me to say I don’t need to recuse myself is that I had not endorsed (Greene),” said Kimsey. He said he was confident he could make an unbiased call.
When asked if he worried about the appearance, Kimsey said that recusing himself might make it appear that he had “no backbone” and was unwilling to do his job. He said there’s no clear standard for when he’s expected or required to recuse himself from voter registration challenges.
“There short answer is, there is no standard,” said Washington Secretary of State spokesman Erich Ebel, who pointed out that recusal aren’t mentioned in state law.