Cowlitz Holds GOP Elections; Grass Roots Prevail

Posted: December 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Last Saturday, the Cowlitz County Republican Party held their biennial organization meeting to elect officers for the executive board. As I reported in August, despite the headlines in the local paper loudly proclaiming a heavy Establishment victory, the elections for Precinct Committee Officers actually yielded a slight edge for the Cowlitz chapter of the PCO Liberty Alliance. The results set up an extremely tight race for leadership seats that had previously belonged by default to a few perpetual party leaders. Predictably, these leaders of the Cowlitz county party appealed to PCOs for votes based on their years of experience and expertise in the ways of politics, as well as their knowledge of all the important political players in the county. The PCO Liberty Alliance candidates, in turn, spoke about a return to the grass roots of the party, to listening and reaching out to the community, and to making leadership accountable again to the common voters.

As mentioned in the August post, among the signs that a change in leadership was needed was the case of one David Steenson, a Republican who, having made the decision to run against Democrat incumbent Dean Takko for LD 19 State Representative, had approached the Cowlitz party leaders for help. Apparently, the conservative Steenson found the reception by the moderate leadership somewhat less than welcoming, despite there being no other Republican in the race, and he ended up running as a Libertarian. As a third-party candidate, he lost to Takko by a wide margin.

The previous leadership had also made it a practice to pick favorites in contested races many months before the primary elections, rather than wait to see which candidates had the most support from the electorate. With these kinds of repeated attempts by the few to make decisions on behalf of the many, it seems small wonder that LD 19, which is about half in Cowlitz and the other half spread over four other counties, is currently entirely represented in the state legislature by Democrats.

In addition to instituting grass roots leadership, the Cowlitz PCOLA had also resolved to reform the party bylaws. As in Clark County two years ago, the changes include a requirement by all prospective voting members of the executive board to first face a vote of the PCOs. This change prevents the party chairman from appointing board members at will who could vote in favor of his or her agenda. The PCOs are also given the power to remove board members.

The PCOLA bylaws draft was circulated and meetings with PCOs, party leaders, and interested Republicans from all sides were called to go over them. As in Clark in 2012, the Cowlitz leaders were quick to respond and let everyone know that these meetings were not ‘official party business’. Unlike in Clark however, the existing leadership decided to mount their own ‘counter-reformation’ of the bylaws, and so last Saturday’s election included a choice between two new sets of party bylaws, both  differing significantly from those that had governed the party previously.

In the end, the PCOLA bylaws were adopted with a few slight alterations, and the PCOLA slate of leaders won control of the executive board after a painfully long and drawn-out meeting which lasted from 10 a.m. to after 5 p.m. Among the newly-elected officers is Chairman Arne Mortensen, who prevailed by a vote of 25 to 23. State Committeeman Rustin Jones, State Committeewoman Valerie Tinney, and Treasurer Michelle Jones prevailed by similarly close margins. Two holdovers from the old board that appeared on both slates and were elected unanimously were Vice-Chairman Bonnie Decius and Secretary Carol Bales. According to Scott Whittington, a leader in the PCOLA organization, “The Liberty Alliance reached out to the old board and asked the Vice Chair and Secretary if we could list them on our slate.  We think they do good work and we are willing to work with them.

The Directors for LDs 19 and 20 are yet to be voted on, but the plan to do so is in the works. Because of the complications arising from LDs 19 and 20 being in multiple counties, previous boards had not held elections for legislative district directors, so the plan to hold elections is also a reform of sorts.

I had a chance to chat with Chairman Mortensen for quite awhile this week, and came away from the conversation impressed both with his vast life experience, and his goals for the party. A retired software engineer, he now lives in Kelso. His early years were in Venezuela, followed by four years in the United States, two in Spain, and all but one year in California until his move to Kelso nine years ago. Spanish, his first language, is not forgotten, but has given way to English, his language of choice as an adult.   He believes that, “The Republican Party is the only hope we have to re-establish the principles of individual liberty. The central planning and top down mandates are killing our country. I do not want to be another Europe. The world needs America.” His goals include encouraging PCOs to take the initiative in the party beyond campaign functions, to give guidance to elected officials and monitor their votes, to increase the number of Republican candidates, and to replace Dean Takko and his LD 19 seatmate, Democrat Brian Blake. He is also interested in increasing the variety of fundraising and community outreach events.

Liberty-loving folks in Clark County can examine that agenda and see if there is anything they can affirm in it. As for this writer, I am excited to see what changes Mortensen and the new leadership in Cowlitz County enact in the next two years. Godspeed!

  1. Mary Nevius says:

    Great news ! Thanks for the update.

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