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GOP endorses Oak Harbor mayor’s council choices
Though he’s not on the ballot, the November election appears to be shaping up as a referendum on Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley.
In a rare move, the Island County Republican Party weighed in on the nonpartisan races for Oak Harbor City Council seats, endorsing all the candidates considered by some to be supportive of the mayor and his policies.
Dudley and the majority of council members have been at odds over a range of issues, from the firing of administrative employees to gun rights to funding of Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
The mayor said he’s even ringing doorbells in support of his choice of candidates.
Aaron Simpson, chairman of the Island County Democrats, said the group doesn’t endorse candidates in nonpartisan races unless one candidate makes a request; in that event, all the candidates in a race are considered.
Simpson said he’s not aware of any City Council candidates who’ve asked for an endorsement from the Democrats.
Tim Geist, chairman of the Island County Republican Party, agrees that the party’s choice of candidates would swing the council in favor of the mayor if all of them win.
But, he added, the decision to endorse was based on the qualities of the candidates.
“The candidates were not chosen because of how they may vote on a specific issue, but what they have to offer,” he said.
The party endorsed newcomer Lucas Yonkman over incumbent Councilman Bob Severns, Sandi Peterson over Councilman Joel Servatius, and Councilman Jim Campbell over challenger Skip Pohtilla.
Geist said one of the voting party members made a motion to endorse candidate Michael Piccone over longtime Councilman Danny Paggao, but it failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority that’s required.
Geist said some Republicans were hesitant to endorse Piccone because they don’t know enough about the newcomer.
Severns said he is disappointed in the choice of endorsement.
“I don’t believe that they gave much credit to education and experience in their decision,” he said. “I have a college education in administrative management and I have over 40 years of successful business experience.”
Severns said his many Republican friends who are also disappointed in the decision.
He added that the city is in the midst of a couple of giant, complex projects, including the wastewater treatment plant, estimated to cost more than $90 million.
Servatius wasn’t able to return a call for comment on the endorsements, but he also enjoys Republican support. Linda Haddon, a former Republican candidate for state Senate, endorsed Servatius.
Geist conceded some residents are critical of the party for becoming involved in nonpartisan races.
“Our thought is, ‘Why does a party exist than to influence government to act in a manner conforming with our principles?’” he said.
In addition, he said, the party’s bylaws instructed him to call a meeting for possible endorsements after the primary election, but a certain period before the general election. The voting members are the elected precinct committee officers.
Geist said he wasn’t involved in the voting or motions, but just led the meeting. Under the bylaws, endorsements must receive two-thirds of the vote to pass.
According to Geist, a precinct committee officer made a motion that they should not endorse anyone in nonpartisan races, but that motion failed.
The officers weren’t critical of those candidates not endorsed and agree they are all “nice guys,” Geist said, adding they didn’t discuss any of the council controversies, such as the issue over guns in city parks or a unsuccessful proposal to ban the wearing of hats in council chambers.
Geist said the officers were impressed with Yonkman, a combat veteran wounded in Afghanistan.
“They appreciated the freshness of a young man who’s willing to offer himself up for public service,” he said. “He’s no longer able to serve his country in the military, but he’s willing to serve the city on the City Council.”
Precinct officers are very familiar with Peterson, who’s the vice chair of the Republican Party and active in the community, Geist said. Servatius, on the other hand, is a bit of “a question mark.”
Geist said the members appreciate Campbell, who often dissents from his fellow council members in favor of Dudley’s positions. Geist said Campbell is also recognized as being “the most accessible” of the council members and for his willingness to listen to the community.
Island County Republican Party precinct officers also endorsed Richard Bowen for Port of Coupeville commissioner.
Kathy Jones, “a citizen advocate,” gave a presentation about Whidbey General Hospital’s ballot measure, Geist said, but a motion to endorse the measure failed to garner the necessary votes.
Meanwhile, Dudley is actively campaigning for Yonkman, Peterson, Campbell and Piccone by speaking to citizens door-to-door. The mayor said he’s unapologetic about his criticism of the current majority of council members.
“I think the majority of citizens are questioning the priorities of the current City Council,” he said.