The clock is ticking on a federal lawsuit filed in Spokane by congressional hopeful Clint Didier against an opponent’s volunteer in Grant County, who leads the Washington State Potato Commission.
Didier’s lawsuit says Chris Voigt, executive director of the potato group headquartered in Moses Lake, used state-supported resources to push the candidacy of Dan Newhouse, a former director of the state’s Agriculture Department. Didier cites internal emails from the commission in his lawsuit alleging violation of federal and state election laws by Voigt, who also allegedly used a car tied to the commission to pick up and deliver yard signs for Newhouse’s campaign.
“I was wondering if anyone would be willing to place a Dan Newhouse sign on your property near a road,” said one email from Voigt’s commission email address, included in the legal filings and sent at 11:27 a.m. May 28. “Obviously the busier the road the better.”
In emails sent later in the summer, Voigt said he was aware the Didier campaign was questioning some of his campaign activities as a self-proclaimed organizer for Newhouse in Grant County. Didier’s campaign sent out news releases as early as July questioning Voigt’s involvement in Newhouse’s campaign and his alleged use of state resources.
The Potato Commission was created by an act of the Legislature in 1956. Its members are elected by growers who belong to the commission, and the group is authorized by the Legislature to collect fees from growers to further its goals.
In emails, Voigt defended his actions, saying campaign-related communications were sent using a privately contracted email service and that deductions were made from his paycheck for use of his work vehicle.
“His claims are outrageous and I’ve been assured are last minute attempts at mud-slinging,” Voigt wrote.
Didier and Newhouse are fighting for the open congressional seat representing the state’s 4th Congressional District, which represents Central Washington from the southern and northern state borders, including the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
Newhouse’s campaign also calls the lawsuit frivolous and politically motivated. In court, they’ve fought efforts by Didier to speed the hearing process.
Didier’s attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, was a regular on conservative talk shows shortly after the election of President Barack Obama. He filed lawsuits and petitions in multiple jurisdictions, including Washington State Supreme Court, alleging that Obama was not a natural-born U.S. citizen and failed to file for office under his true name, Barry Soetoro.
None of those legal actions was successful.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice said Wednesday it was important to hear the matter before Nov. 4, when ballots are due. Washington’s vote-by-mail system could render the issue meaningless even before Election Day, Rice said, setting an initial court hearing Oct. 29 in Spokane.
Didier spokesman Larry Stickney said Wednesday he was pleased the lawsuit would receive a hearing before the end of October.
“We think, essentially, that they cheated,” Stickney said.
But Newhouse spokesman Jim Keough called the lawsuit a political ploy.
“Our opponent is doing everything he can to distract people away from his personal, extreme views,” Keough said. “We believe the voters of the Fourth District are too smart to fall for this.”
Didier finished first among a dozen candidates in the August primary to replace outgoing Rep. Doc Hastings, who has endorsed Newhouse. Didier earned 32 percent of the vote; Newhouse finished with 26 percent. Both are running as Republicans.
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