Want maximum “earned media” to boost your YouTube channel? Declare yourself a Republican, file for election as a precinct committee officer in a quiet rural county, then wait for a media outlet with an irresponsible headline writer. You’ll be internet famous in no time.
Especially if the headline is “Charlottesville Hate Marcher Elected by Republican Party,” according to the Daily Beast. Or Newsweek calls you a “Republican elected official” in a screaming web headline.
Except there was no election, and James Allsup’s connection to any party is only in his own mind. The “hate marcher” in question was ousted from his position with WSU College Republicans when his actions in Charlottesville made it clear he’s not a Republican. He is not on the Whitman County GOP membership list, and the state Public Disclosure Commission shows no contributions to any party, candidate or political committee in the last 10 years.
But for writers with an agenda, facts don’t get in the way of an opportunity to call Republicans racists, Nazis or white supremacists.
Allsup does have a certificate of election from the Whitman County auditor. Under Washington state law, when only one person files for the position of precinct committee officer, the “candidate is deemed elected and the auditor shall issue a certificate of election.”
Write-in campaigns are explicitly not allowed, even if the position is contested and appears on a ballot. And apparently those trumpeting the “election” of this knucklehead didn’t notice the August election is two months out. The student journalists at WSU’s Daily Evergreen had the most accurate headline, “Allsup certified for position in Whitman County Republican Party.”
Certification doesn’t make him a member. According to Grant Peterson, longtime Republican activist and former Spokane County commissioner, “If he believes in white supremacy, he cannot be counted as supporting the U.S. Constitution, the Washington constitution or the Republican platform. If he doesn’t support the goals of the party, his membership is at risk. If he’s not a member, he can’t serve as a PCO.”
The media has been masterfully played by a self-important punk. The Republicans will neutralize him before his term begins in December. You can bet that won’t make headlines.
PCOs are the board members of each county’s Republican and Democratic organizations and the least appreciated of elected offices. Unlike any other private organization in the state, the Revised Code of Washington spells out and manages the election process at no charge to the parties. Actual duties per statute are limited. The PCOs for the two major political parties must hold an organization meeting every two years in each county. Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, Greens and The Rent is Too Damn High parties are irrelevant by statute.
Elected PCOs form the organizing committee and elect a county chairman and vice chairman of opposite sexes, then organizational bylaws take over. Like all partisan races on a Washington ballot, PCO candidates indicate a party preference, but that doesn’t mean the party prefers them.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, has made it quite clear: “We condemn identity politics, and any form of racism, in the strongest possible manner. It is antithetical to our core values and stands counter to our goal of getting Washington back on the right track. We condemned this hateful ideology before, we condemn it today, and will continue to condemn it in the future.”
PCO races are rarely contested and often go empty. The county chairman then has the power to appoint PCOs to unfilled positions. PCOs may step up and get involved in voter education and get-out-the-vote campaigns, but those are organizational and not statutory duties. Some people are super volunteers; others have to be coaxed to at least show up at meetings and take a shift at the county fair booth.
In a rural county, the most contentious business all year might be selecting the theme for the annual dinner. The State of Washington doesn’t care who’s coming to dinner. The state’s interest is a consistent method across all counties for filling vacancies in partisan offices. It’s the PCOs who draw up the list of replacements for a departing or dearly departed office holder. Precincts may have fewer than a dozen registered voters in them or more than 1,000, making a mockery of the notion of consistency.
But in theory, PCOs still provide elected grassroots representation in the appointment process. Except when nobody ever voted for them.
Sue Lani Madsen is a Spokesman-Review columnist and former Republican Party precinct committee officer and party chairwoman in Lincoln County.