LONGVIEW — Backlash already is brewing in Woodland after a candidate who described herself on Facebook as a “radicalized progressive witch” is set to join the Woodland City Council.
Jenn Rowland is leading the heavily contested race for Position 6, but is short of a full majority of votes. Rowland was in the race with Aaron Berghaus, a local business owner who suspended his campaign over the summer; and Janice Graham, a council member in a different position who launched a write-in campaign against Rowland in August.
Rowland said she expected some level of opposition from being a 34-year-old Hispanic woman running for city council. Since taking the lead in the election results, Rowland said she was surprised by some of the vitriol on the public Facebook groups for Woodland residents.
“It’s especially hurtful when I see people I know, that I worked with or went to school with, be so angry over the fact that I might win. It feels alienating, but change is uncomfortable,” Rowland said.
Rowland had 36.61 percent of the votes from Woodland residents as of Tuesday. Berghaus received 31.83 percent of the votes, while write-in ballots accounted for 31.56 percent of the votes.
Rowland’s family moved to Woodland in 2000, when she was a middle-schooler. After graduating from high school, Rowland traveled to Moscow, Idaho, with a former boyfriend. She moved back to Woodland around 2012 and is raising her 10-year-old daughter as a single mother.
Rowland pursued a later-in-life degree at Lower Columbia College starting in 2018, where she was involved with student government and the college’s Multicultural Club. Around the same time, a friend encouraged Rowland to apply for a vacant seat on the city council.
“For any changes that go on in the city, our age group and our children are the ones that will be dealing with it the longest,” Rowland said.
Much of the opposition has been based on Rowland’s personal Facebook page. Her banner illustration depicts a black cat named “Anarkitty” tearing at the throat of a KKK member. Right below the description of herself as a progressive witch, Rowland wrote that she is antifascist and pro-police reform.
Amy Tallbut has been one of the most vocal critics of Rowland over the last week. Tallbut lives outside the city limits, so she wasn’t able to vote in the city council elections, but she shared concerns with several others of the public Facebook group Woodland Washington Community Chat about the election results.
“It’s appropriate to have a diversified council, it’s good to have many perspectives, but a radical individual is probably not the type of person who can see things from both angles,” Tallbut said.
Tallbut said the high number of votes for Berghaus showed how ill-informed many Woodland residents had been about the council race. She said it didn’t seem right for a councilwoman to be elected without a majority vote and had concerns about how unwilling to compromise Rowland would be once she joined the council.
Rowland said her personal page is an exaggerated, heightened version of her beliefs. She supports the city council’s attempt to create a Transportation Benefit District by increasing the retail sales tax. The biggest changes she suggests for the Woodland Police Department are diversifying its ranks and reviewing how officers handle domestic violence calls.
The “witch” comment was similarly hyperbolic, but based in real beliefs. Rowland calls herself a “kitchen witch,” part of a recent online trend that brings elements of spirituality and positive thinking into preparing food — and doesn’t involve casting spells.
“It’s positive manifestation. It’s you putting your energy in things and believing that your energy is going to do good,” Rowland said.
Tallbut has talked to Rowland once since the election. Tallbut said the conversation was civil, but she was unsatisfied with some of Rowland’s answers about her progressive platform.
Despite the concerns raised by Tallbut and some Woodland voters, Cowlitz County Auditor Carolyn Fundingsland said there is no clear way to prevent Rowland from being certified. Berghaus was legally listed on the ballot because he failed to notify the election office of his withdrawal by the state deadline. None of the other complaints raised reached the level of preventing the current result.
“These residents have been thorough in reading our elections statute. But what happened in that race, while frustrating to some, is in accordance with the law,” Fundingsland said.
The recall process also is not suited for disgruntled voters to overturn an election result. Fundingsland said in order for a recall to be considered, residents have to bring forward multiple acts of malfeasance that an elected official has committed while holding office.
The Nov. 2 election also is set to return former councilor J.J. Burke to office in Graham’s current position. Graham said she hopes both will be able to work with their fellow elected officials.
“We take the office seriously and we’ve worked together well,” Graham said. “I hope they listen, learn, and do the best for the city and not just go for a personal agenda.”