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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Republican convention settles Grant County GOP’s leadership crisis, recognizes new chairman

Andrew Koeppen, who claims to be the chairman of the Grant County GOP, speaks at the Grant County Lincoln Day Dinner in Moses Lake on Feb. 24, 2024.  (James Hanlon/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIE)

Andrew Koeppen, who for six months has claimed to be the new chairman of the Grant County GOP, was seated with his slate of delegates at the Washington Republican convention in Spokane this weekend. But David Hunt says he is still the real chairman.

The majority of the state’s 1,800 Republican delegates accepted the slate recommended by the party’s credentials committee during the opening session on Friday.

Grant County’s two factions held competing county conventions in March, where they approved separate slates of delegates.

The credentials committee, which has a representative from each county, a week prior to the convention voted to approve Koeppen’s delegates and elevate him to the chair. Only five committee members voted against this, committee chair Diane Tebelius said.

One of them was Phil Wilson, a credentials committee member from Mason County who during the general session Friday moved to throw out Koeppen’s delegates and accept Hunt’s instead.

Wilson said that a subcommittee of three members tasked with reviewing the case only talked to Koeppen’s faction. He said that when Koeppen’s convention was held on March 9, it was illegitimate because at the time Rep. Jim Walsh, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, still recognized Hunt as the chair.

Walsh had said that until one side could prove its legitimacy, the party would continue to recognize Hunt as chairman.

Koeppen claims he replaced David Hunt by a majority vote of precinct committee officers at a meeting in October after he said Hunt improperly adjourned the meeting and left with his supporters.

Both sides have held numerous votes since then claiming to reaffirm support from a majority of precinct committee officers.

Most recently, a meeting presided over by representatives from the state party on April 4 elected Koeppen.

Patricia Schlack, another member of the credentials committee from Kitsap County, said that when she asked Hunt why he didn’t organize a county caucus in January, he said it wasn’t his responsibility.

“I think at that point he gave up his position as chair because it was his responsibility,” she said.

Hunt previously told The Spokesman-Review that he didn’t organize a caucus because he didn’t want the dispute to interfere with county business and that he would recognize the electors selected by Koeppen’s caucus.

After a brief debate, Walsh called for a verbal vote on Wilson’s motion, which a majority of nays from the crowd rejected. The body went on to approve the rest of the state’s delegates for the convention.

A revote over pizza

The state Republican party’s legal counsel, Rob Maguire, reviewed the case and, like the state leadership, was unable to discern definitively who is the legitimate chairman, because previous votes relied on precinct committee officers voting by proxy without clear authority to do so.

Hunt has also appointed vacant officer seats with people loyal to him.

Maguire recommended in a report that the county hold a new organizational meeting to elect a chairman only with elected officers and no appointed ones. He urged the county to resolve the issue to avoid “an inefficient and embarrassing credentialing fight at the State Convention.”

Walsh concurred with Maguire’s recommendation, but said in an email to the county’s precinct committee officers that it is up to them to resolve the issue, and the state party cannot decide it for them. He said that 13 elected PCOs agreed to holding a meeting April 4.

“In my opinion,” Walsh wrote, “it’s important that you limit participation in the Special Meeting to elected PCOs because, in the past, Grant County GOP factions have tried to use appointed PCOs and proxies in messy ways that only added confusion to the County Party’s troubles.”

At Walsh’s recommendation, Paul Hess, chair of the state party’s rules committee. and Marlene Pfieffer, the state’s national committeewoman, presided over the meeting at a pizza restaurant in Ephrata, the county seat.

David Hunt arrived with supporters to protest.

In a recording of the incident, Hunt shouted that Pfeifer and Hess did not have authority to run the meeting because only he as chair could call one.

Hunt also said that appointed precinct committee officers should be allowed to vote.

According to Hunt, there are 44 PCOs. According to Hess, only 24 of them were elected.

Hunt and his officers refused to sign in or vote.

Koeppen said Hunt was disrupting the meeting and acting belligerent, so he called the Ephrata police.

Officers said it was not their job to interpret bylaws, but to respond to whomever called the meeting to allow them to conduct it peacefully.

“The meeting is closed,” Hunt declared before leaving. “You are not following Grant County bylaws.”

Officers remained on scene for the rest of the four-hour meeting, Koeppen said.

He said the remaining elected PCOs voted unanimously for him.

Koeppen was officially recognized and seated at the convention’s welcome reception on Thursday night. He said Hunt attempted to enter the convention this weekend, but did not have credentials.

Koeppen added that Hunt has not responded to demands to turn over the county party’s accounts and documents, and that he will be pursuing legal action to obtain them.

As of Monday, Hunt is still listed as the chairman on the state party’s website. Koeppen said that he was told it would be updated early this week.

The state party did not respond to requests for comment or clarification.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.