Sunday, November 17, 2013

Local Republicans shoot themselves in the foot... again

I’ve written many times over the years in the Business Journal that it’s my belief there isn’t a way for the Kitsap County Republican Party to shoot itself in the foot that it hasn’t thought of, but that I have great confidence in its ability to invent new ones. And once again, they haven’t let me down. The most recent blunder came when the party mailed out a campaign piece in South Kitsap endorsing Democrats over its own Republican incumbents in the recent election. Yes, you read that correctly. 

You have to feel sorry for local party chair Chris Tibbs, who is being undermined by his own people — people’s whose personal agenda is more important than the good of the party, or in this case, the good of Port Orchard.

The first time I met Tibbs, he was running for county commissioner in Central Kitsap, and like many of the Republicans recruited to run for office here, I found him to be uninformed about basic issues any candidate seeking the commissioner’s seat should have known. Afterwards, the Republican Party elected him chair, and as I’ve gotten to know him, have come to realize he’s really not a bad guy at all. He also keenly understands what must happen for the party to succeed in drawing electable candidates into its fold — the main thing it’s failed miserably at for almost two decades under its former ultra conservative leadership. 

Tibbs understands the infighting between the conservative and moderate factions in the party has to stop or it will just be business as usual — no one running for anything who is close enough to the center to actually win a local election in a decidedly liberal county, and a party that’s been marginalized into near obscurity by its own actions. Tibbs has made it his goal to turn that around and is building on a number of small successes. However, situations like what happened in South Kitsap negate any progress he makes.

Although the election has been decided, there's an ongoing battle in Port Orchard for the hearts and minds of voters. There were two issues combined on the ballot — Proposition 1 — the change from a second-class city to a code city, and changing from the strong mayor form of government to a council/city manager form — plus four City Council seats up for grabs.

As Mayor, I brought both these issues forward, separately, in 2010. The Council passed the code city change — it doesn’t require a vote of the people — but later rescinded it, caving in to political pressure brought about by a bogus petition worded to scare low-information voters into signing, and would have cost the city about $30,000 to have on the ballot. That petition was engineered by one of the very same people behind the Republican mailer endorsing Democrats — Gil Michael, who is also referred to by many as Mayor Tim Matthes’ puppetmaster.

A second-class city must have a planning commission of three to 12 members. A code city must have a planning agency — which can be a planning department, a person, staff or body, rather than a planning commission. The Port Orchard Planning Commission is Michael’s base of power. Had Proposition 1 passed, his power base would have dissolved — which in my opinion would be a good thing for Port Orchard.

It’s no secret in Port Orchard that Michael would like to control City Hall — and to some extent already does. He hand-picks slates of candidates he can control every election. His choices this time — whose names appeared on that mailer — were Eric Gonnason and Bek Ashby. Fred Chang, who was unopposed, was already aligned with Michael and the mayor.

Since Michael is the Republican PCO for that area — and Chang the Democratic PCO for the same area — am I the only one who finds it unusual that incumbent Republican Jerry Childs was not endorsed, but his challenger, Gonnason, a newcomer surrounded by residence issues, was?

A source of the Business Journal met with Gonnason and confronted him with proof about his lack of residence, and some other issues before the election, Gonnason openly admitted he had been personally recruited by Matthes during a meeting in the Mayor's office to challenge Childs, and that Matthes made a call from the Mayor's office phone at City Hall to Michael, to introduce him. He further said the plan was for Gonnason to challenge Childs, Jeff Braden to challenge Rob Putuansuu, Ashby to win the open seat vacated by longtime council member Carloyn Powers, and for Chang to run unopposed. Combined with the mayor he already controls, Michael would own the four votes needed to control City Hall with an iron fist.

Somewhere they got their wires crossed because Gonnason and Braden both filed against Childs. Braden dropped out, but too late to avoid the city paying for a runoff election. The end result is that Michael now controls Ashby and Chang — and to some extent Putuansuu, who fears Michael because the plan was to run an opponent against him.

Oh yeah, Michael also opposed Proposition 1, for which the flyer recommended a “No” vote on as well. Since that would also eliminate his puppet mayor along with the Planning Commission, I can’t say I’m surprised. This is clearly a case of Michael's personal agenda trumping what’s best for not only the city, but the local Republican Party as well. Meanwhile, Chris Tibbs is one of the most frustrated people I know. Personally I think it’s time for state party chair Susan Hutchinson to step in and clean up this mess. The question is, will she?