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Candidate tries to diminish the party label

Democrat Greg Banks’ campaign signs with the “Republicans for” addendum are causing a stir in Island County politics. - Jim Larsen
Democrat Greg Banks’ campaign signs with the “Republicans for” addendum are causing a stir in Island County politics.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

The race for Island County Prosecutor just got more interesting, as campaigners for incumbent Greg Banks are seeking to steal some of challenger Kelly Barlean’s partisan thunder.

It reads like a script to the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone.” On the signpost up ahead: “Republicans for Greg Banks.” The campaign signs, which began popping up around Whidbey Island last week, should turn the heads of Democrats and Republicans alike.

No, Banks has not switched party affiliations, nor are his supporters trying to pull a fast one. Banks is still a Democrat. And Barlean is still a Republican.

So what’s the story? Freeland resident Brenda Bosman, a Republican who nonetheless is assisting with Banks’ election campaign, said the signs are intended to send a message.

“I just want Republicans out there to think twice before they vote the party line, and vote for the best man for the job,” Bosman said Wednesday.

Bosman said she hatched the idea for the signs while having a discussion with Banks about his campaign for prosecutor. The position of county prosecutor, she said, should not be dependent on party affiliation, which might cause some hard-liners simply to vote the party line. Rather, Bosman argued, the position should be decided on merit alone.

“What was frustrating to me was that I think he’s clearly the best choice for the job,” Bosman said of Banks, adding that she’s bothered by “the fact that somebody’s running against him who doesn’t have the experience, but may have the political support to win the job.”

Barlean, a two-term state legislator who decided not to seek re-election, opting instead to vie for Banks’ position, after an abbreviated run for Congress. Barlean rejected the suggestion that there’s a split in his party in Island County. He called the “Republicans for Banks” signs “just a campaign tactic” devised by Banks and his supporters.

“Sometimes you’ll create fake groups,” Barlean said Wednesday. “That’s just a tactic that some people think works.”

Barlean pointed out that when he was re-elected to the state House last year he carried Island County by 61 percent, “so I had some Democrats voting for me,” adding that he was the first Republican in a long time to carry the traditionally liberal-leaning city of Langley.

“I don’t really feel that I need to advertise ‘Democrats for Barlean’,” he said.

Barlean said the Republicans in the county are “rock solid,” and therefore Banks should be pursuing other avenues of support.“Instead of fishing for Republican support, Banks ought to be worrying about getting the endorsement of the law enforcement community,” he said. “Being an incumbent, you’d expect him to have that in his back pocket already.”

So far, the law enforcement community has not come out with endorsements, though Barlean said he is running largely due to his being contacted by law officials.

“One of the reasons why I’m running is that those groups got ahold of me and told me about some of those problems in the office,” Barlean said.

However, Banks said lots of people have been asking for the “Republicans for” stickers that plaster his campaign signs. “I think that just goes to the fact that it’s questionable if this should be a part of the office at all,” Banks said about party affiliations in the prosecutor’s office. “How much does this job matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican?” he wondered.

Banks said the signs are meant to make voters look at the qualities of the candidates rather than their respective parties. “This shouldn’t be a partisan race,” he said. “Let’s just look at who is the best candidate for this office.”

Barlean agreed that because prosecutors don’t set policy it’s not as helpful to voters to see an R or a D after a candidate’s name. However, he said, the idea of party affiliation in the current election race isn’t a big issue for him. “It’s not a burr under my saddle to change it,” he said. “It’s the least of my concerns right now.”

Bosman, though, said the advertising of party affiliation is an important part of the current campaign, if only because “both parties have a certain population in them that will only vote the party line.” She said supporters are hoping the signs cause folks in her party to look at each candidate before they “automatically vote for a Republican.”

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