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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

John Ley’s candidacy and felony election fraud charges complicate 3-way race for 18th Legislative District

Ley faces felony election fraud charges related to his unsuccessful 2022 run for same seat

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 12, 2024, 6:03am

Campaign season for the 2024 election is underway, and the 18th Legislative District is starting to look particularly competitive.

Sen. Ann Rivers is not running for reelection, and Rep. Greg Cheney is vying to succeed her, leaving his House Position 2 seat vacant.

Three people are running to succeed Cheney: Democrat John Zingale, a Vancouver Public Schools teacher; Republican Philip Johnson, a former Battle Ground mayor and city councilor; and Republican John Ley, a former airline pilot.

John Zingale

Zingale, 43, is a middle school social studies teacher who previously had a career in the retail grocery industry. The Democrat lost his 2022 bid for state House Position 1 to Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver.

He said he is running “to do something more for the people of the 18th District.”

“People are struggling, and they need a voice,” he said. “Clark County is changing rapidly, and we have to be forward thinking with our legislation. We can’t use temporary Band-Aids. We have to bring people together, and we need someone who will represent everyone.”

Zingale said his top priorities are fixing the education system, providing more affordable housing and lowering health care and child care costs.

“In Southwest Washington, lots of teachers are being let go, and we need to look seriously at this, and who better than a teacher who knows how things work in the classroom and knows where those dollars go?” he said.

He said too many people are being priced out of their homes.

“We need to make housing more affordable,” Zingale said.

He also wants to provide more reasonably priced child care facilities.

He is the only abortion-rights candidate in the race, he noted.

“Reproductive rights are on this ballot,” he said. “I am the only candidate who will fully support the right to choose. … We need to make sure that these rights are protected in Washington.”

Philip Johnson

Johnson, 63, served on the Battle Ground City Council from 2011 until 2023 and served two terms as mayor during that period. He did not seek reelection for his city council seat last year.

The Republican said he is running to increase affordability for families, support law enforcement and address homelessness.

“We have families in Battle Ground and in the 18th who are going through their bills, deciding that the water gets paid this week, the electricity this week and so on,” he said. “They want affordability, but time and again, we see tax proposals out of Olympia that my neighbors can’t afford.”

Johnson said his constituents want well-funded law enforcement that protects them from crime.

“In Battle Ground, it’s mostly traffic issues,” he said. “People have forgotten what speed limits are for, and it’s time to give police a little more leeway for making stops.”

Johnson wants to protect retired people who are vulnerable to losing their homes.

“Homelessness is bad, but it’s worse when you’re older,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to land policy to make affordable housing more accessible.”

He added he is especially concerned about seniors living in mobile home parks in Battle Ground that are being bought up by large companies that exorbitantly raise lot rates.

John Ley

Ley, 68, a Camas Republican, is a former reporter for ClarkCountyToday.com.

One of Ley’s priorities is to halt the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project, which he called “ridiculous” in an email Tuesday.

“The current (bridge replacement) proposal does nothing to save people travel time or reduce traffic congestion,” he said.

He vehemently opposes light rail and tolling on the new bridge and advocates instead for additional Columbia River crossings.

Additionally, Ley said he wants to “rein in unsustainable state spending” and lower taxes. He advocates for bolstering public safety.

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“The ‘defund the police’ effort of a few years ago has had horrible, negative consequences in our communities,” he said. “Let’s keep repeat offenders off the streets for safer neighborhoods and to reduce crime that’s harming local businesses.”

Residency questioned

The three-way race includes a wrinkle: Ley faces felony election fraud charges related to his unsuccessful 2022 run for a seat in the same district. He is accused of providing false information for voter registration and providing false information on a declaration of candidacy. He pleaded not guilty in Clark County Superior Court in November. His trial was set for April but was delayed until October.

The case stems from a voter registration challenge alleging Ley does not live in the 18th District. The issue was taken to court, and Superior Court Judge David Gregerson ruled Ley was an ineligible candidate.

Ley contends he lives in the 18th District. Although he owns a house in Camas, he has rented an apartment in Hazel Dell for nearly two years. He argues the charges against him are politically motivated.

“It’s unfortunate for the people in the 18th District,” Zingale said. “We should be talking about policy and debating ideas. … Instead, I’m being forced to talk about my opponent’s trial.”

Johnson also criticized Ley’s candidacy.

“Why would anyone who has a nice house in one city choose to live in an efficiency apartment nearby?” he asked. “I understand he’s done it for two years. There’s a housing crisis, and here’s a man more than able to afford a nice house taking up an efficiency apartment, and he says he’s a conservative.”

Johnson emphasized his experiences.

“Ley and my Democratic opponent don’t have a record, though it’s possible in October that Ley may have a record, but it won’t be an elected record,” he said, referring to Ley’s upcoming trial. “I agree with (Ley) on a lot of issues. The tolls on the bridge are a nonstarter, and we probably agree on things financially. The difference is, I have a record, and people can look and see where I’ve done my part.”

Ley argued Johnson “has voted repeatedly to increase taxes on Battle Ground residents” and that “he also supported the entire (I-5 Bridge replacement) project, including tolling.”

Johnson argued he worked with other city councilors to significantly decrease Battle Ground’s debt.

“We left the people of Battle Ground in good shape,” he said. “I will gladly put my record up against (Ley’s).”

The candidates will face off in the Aug. 6 primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election in November.