County Republicans choose their favorites

If delegates in the Island County Republican Party had their way, Mark Brown would be the next sheriff, Don Mason would be the assessor and Steve Selby would be the prosecutor.

The three men were the top vote-getters among delegates after delivering spirited speeches at the county’s Republican convention at the Oak Harbor Christian School Saturday. Five other candidates received enough votes to continue with the party’s support, while controversial sheriff candidate Jay Wallace only received one of the 55 votes.

A new Republican party rule and recent events colluded to make an unusually dramatic convention for this year’s election cycle.

“I have to be honest with you. It’s been a little rough since I got fired,” Selby told the audience.

Selby was fired from his job as chief deputy prosecutor by Democratic Prosecutor Greg Banks last week, shortly after Selby announced he was seeking Banks’ job. Nevertheless, he joked about his situation, displaying a cardboard sign that Sheriff Mike Hawley gave him to hold up on a street corner. “Attorney needs work. Will prosecute for food,” it read.

For the first time this year, delegates at county conventions in Washington state are voting to qualify candidates as Republicans. A non-incumbent candidate must receive 25 percent of the votes from convention delegates to get the blessing of the party.

“We’re not saying who’s qualified for a particular office, we’re saying, ‘yes, these are bona-fide Republicans,’” Andy Valrosa, chairman in the county party, said in an interview.

Valrosa said the qualification process is a party rule and may not prevent someone from running as a Republican without approval from the delegates. But it would be tough to run without party support.

While the general election isn’t until November, the vote at the convention may be meaningful as a straw poll of the candidates’ support in their own party, especially for the sheriff candidates. Without a Democrat challenger, the next sheriff may be picked by Republican voters in the September primary.

Seven candidates for county offices gave speeches and asked the delegates for their support. All but Wallace, a recently fired deputy, got enough votes to qualify.

Wallace wouldn’t comment on his plans, though last week he vowed to stay in the race even if he has to run as a political independent.

In his speech, Wallace defended himself against accusations by Sheriff Hawley that he shirked his duty in response to a 911 call and later lied about it.

“There has been a lot of smoke and mirrors,” he said, adding that he will be vindicated when all the facts are known.

In all, 55 of the 56 delegates voted; a candidate needed 14 votes to qualify. Retired state trooper Mark Brown got 20 votes; Chief William “De” Dennis, the administrator of the county jail, received 19 votes; Coupeville Marshal Lenny Marlborough received 15 votes.

The two candidates for assessor also spoke. Don Mason, clerk of the Board of Equalization, received 39 votes from the delegates; Dan Jones, the commercial appraiser and levy analyst in the assessor’s office, got just 16 votes.

Brown gave an intense speech highlighting his plans and policies. His priorities include open communication with the public, working cooperatively with other agencies, keeping an eye on sex offenders, enforcing traffic laws and educating children early on about the “horror of drug use.”

“My two passions are education and law enforcement,” he said.

Dennis discussed the importance of preventing the abuse of elderly people, perhaps noting that most of the delegates are senior citizens.

“It’s absolutely atrocious what human beings can do to human beings,” he said.

Dennis described his three-pronged approach to battling drug problems, as well as the burgeoning mental health crisis in the state. Noting that his stance may not be popular with some Republicans, he also said he strongly supports programs to rehabilitate offenders.

Marlborough described leadership style as innovative, beginning with developing the first canine team in the county when he worked for Oak Harbor Police.

As the Coupeville marshal, he modernized the office, which is the smallest agency in the state to be accredited. He described how he works with the community to prevent crime. When his deputies bust a teen drinking party, they bring the parents to the site so they can see first-hand what the kids were up to.

“We want the parents to see. We want the parents to get involved,” he said.

“We do more than just solve crimes. We prevent crimes,” he added.

Only a few Democrats run

On April 8, the Island County Democratic Party held a more sedate convention on South Whidbey. Central Committee Chairperson Grethe Cammermeyer explained that Democrats don’t have a rule in which delegates have to vote to qualify candidates.

Also, the Democrats don’t have as many candidates as the Republicans do; no local position has more than one Democratic candidate, at least not yet. Yet Cammermeyer said she’s not concerned about that. She, like many others, feels that county offices should not be partisan. In other words, the sheriff or prosecutor should not have to run as a Republican or Democrat.

“It’s not issue drive. It’s task driven,” she said of county offices.

Besides incumbents, Democratic candidates include Camano Island resident John Dean, who’s running for commissioner against Bill Byrd; South Whidbey resident Dave Mattens, a candidate for assessor; and Skagit County resident Tim Knue, who hasn’t yet decided which state legislator to take on.

Cammermeyer added that the party has no plans to run a Democratic candidate for sheriff.

“We don’t need to run a candidate just to run a candidate,” she said.

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