By Sharyn L. Decker
While John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and was Lewis County’s front runner following the February state primary vote and caucuses, he was not the overwhelming choice among those attending the Republican’s county convention on Saturday in Chehalis.
Delegates selected at the February caucuses met Saturday to choose delegates to the upcoming state Republican convention, which will be held in Spokane at the end of May.
Seven rows of benches in the former courtroom of the Lewis County Courthouse were packed with party faithful and new faces.
In a meeting that was expected to last only three hours, procedures that included repeated voting on potential delegates continued until mid-afternoon, paring the roomful of citizens down to 21 delegates.
Much of the morning was spent with Republicans divided up into the three county commissioner districts in which they live. Each would get seven delegates to send to the state convention.
Standing up for Ron Paul
State Rep. Richard DeBolt opened the morning with a call to fellow party members to work hard for governor candidate Dino Rossi.
Incumbent state Sen. Dan Swecker and his challenger Neal Kirby briefly spoke, as did others who are running for office. But the business of the day was about the presidential election.
Gary Dibble of Onalaska addressed the crowd about his support for Ron Paul, the Texas congressman.
“I’ve heard it said that John McCain is destined to be our nominee so we should all line up behind him,” Dibble said. “That might be valid to say in November, but not now.”
Paul stands for conservative Republican principles, like fiscal responsibility, right to life and defense of the second amendment, he said.
Now is the time for the conservative base of the party to stand up for its beliefs, to influence the eventual Republican nominee for president, he said.
“The only way is for Ron Paul to show up at the national convention with strong support,” Dibble said.
Mark Anders, chair of Lewis County Republican’s central committee, admitted McCain was not his first choice, but said unfortunately Paul falls short.
Anders spoke to the room about supporting McCain.
His daughter and son-in-law have described to him what they’ve seen in Iraq, he said.
“To hear them talk about the kind of people we’re dealing with,” Anders said, “These are bad, bad people.”
McCain is the candidate with the right position on the war, he said.
“We have to have a president that will stand up and protect this nation,” he said.
Republicans in Washington state will choose their nominee based 49 percent on delegates from the caucus system and the rest from the February primary ballot.
In Lewis County, McCain led in Feb. 19 primary, but tied Ron Paul in the Feb. 9 caucuses, with each receiving 45 delegates. Mike Huckabee, who has since dropped out of the presidential race, had 37 delegates.
Longtime Republican Activist: ‘It’s a Mess’
On the ground floor of the county administrative building, those citizens who are part of Lewis County Commissioner Richard Graham’s district two gathered for the repeated votes to see who would move to the state convention.
The delegates are not pledged, but they told who they supported.
Robert Pratt, 27, Napavine, stood on the steps of the historic courthouse while another round of counting votes took place just inside the doors.
The former Army medic and paratrooper is supporting Paul because of his stands on limited government, individual freedoms and opposition to the war.
“I would argue that true conservatives are not very enthusiastic about the war in Iraq,” he said. “Most military people have supported Ron Paul or Barack Obama. I think that says something.”
Inside, Commissioner Graham and Winlock Mayor Cy Meyers sat on a bench.
Graham has been to many county conventions, but never one like this, he said. The “Ron Paul people” took over the Whatcom County convention as well, Graham said.
“Chaos,” Meyers said. “I mean, John McCain’s already got it.”
The Winlock mayor, active in the county and state Republican party, said he knows well those who have worked actively on local campaigns over the years.
“I don’t see more than probably a half dozen of them,” he said. “It’s a mess. It’s a mess.”
Olga Miller, who lives between Winlock and Napavine, is the party’s state committee woman from Lewis County. She took a seat on the same bench and had to raise her voice to be heard above the din.
“This is representative democracy in action,” Miller said.
Penny Mauel of Chehalis gave what she called a little lecture when they first assembled.
“I said, I welcome you, but it’d be nice to see you in the trenches,” Mauel said.
Coming out of the Woodwork
On a bench across the hall, Marcia Bretz of Winlock waited with other delegates supporting Paul. She put it this way: “Ron Paul supporters have come out, they’re people who normally don’t get involved,” she said. “And they’re just blown away.”
Paul is always for a balanced budget, and he offers hope, she said.
Richard LaFosse, an insurance adjustor who specializes in catastrophes, lives in Chehalis. He helped count the votes.
The mainstream news media marginalized Paul, he said. He continues to stand for Paul, regardless of if Paul can be the eventual nominee, he said.
“It’s actually not just a matter of picking who, it’s picking the platform, what we are going to stand for,” he said.
Jeff Cummins, 50, said there were only five people from his precinct at the Lutheran Church on Jackson Highway during the February caucuses. They included himself, his wife and their 18-year-old son, he said.
“We’re home schoolers,” he said. “It was a practical lesson in civics.”
He and his son Steven became delegates for Paul.
Paul supporters are coming out of the woodwork, the elder Cummins said, grinning slyly.
Napavine Republican Bob Wheeler chimed in, “One of the problems is, they don’t show up and be active in the party after the election.”
“What do you mean, ‘active’?” Cummins said.
After the Cummins walked away, Wheeler offered his thoughts on Paul supporters: “They’re not Republicans, they’re Libertarians.”
McCain Organizer Hoped for Easier Day
Circulating among the three sets of potential delegates, was Brent Boger, former Clark County Republican chair, who is the third congressional district’s McCain organizer.
“I thought it was gonna be easier than this,” he said.
It took until 2 p.m. to conclude the convention.
District one, the region represented by Commissioner Ron Averill and covering the greater Centralia area, selected three people who support McCain and four who support Ron Paul.
District two, represented by Commissioner Graham and encompassing Chehalis and west through the Chehalis River valley, chose four for McCain and three for Paul.
Commissioner Lee Grose’s district three, which stretches from Toledo to Packwood, went six for McCain and one for Paul.
Three so-called superdelegates, all for McCain, bring the total to 24.
The platform was adopted by a majority vote, without discussion.
Anders told the audience that all input was considered, but a broad platform is necessary for the candidates who must campaign.
“Frankly, if you don’t get elected, it doesn’t matter,” Anders said. “It’s all about getting elected.”
Sharyn L. Decker covers law enforcement, local fire departments and the courts for The Chronicle. She may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephoning 807-8235.