Chuck Haunreiter died this week, leaving a void on this Opinion page and on the airwaves of local talk radio that will likely never be filled, for better or worse.
King Chuck, as he proclaimed himself, was loud, combative, aggressive and occasionally crude. He was always right in his own eyes, and he was never afraid of a fight when it came to debating politics.
Proudly standing on the left side of the political aisle, Haunreiter has for decades thrown punches both ways, whether he was decrying the predominantly conservative state of the Lewis County electorate or bashing the perceived lack of action on the part of the Lewis County Democrats.
Aside from his interactions with local media, he once debated a mannequin while pursuing a seat on the Lewis County commission (his opponent wouldn’t debate him) and was in 2016 locked out of Lewis County Democrats meetings due to the frequent disruptions he created.
If there was a town hall or forum, you could bet with certainty Haunreiter — dressed in his signature bib overalls and a headband that always failed to fully restrain his wild white mane — would darken the door.
Simply put, he was an original, a man who was so confident in his own beliefs that he on most occasions couldn’t fathom why someone wouldn’t share them.
Though he was certainly no fan of mine in life, I can honestly say that I will miss his contributions, even if I almost never agreed with them.
Haunreiter had a special relationship with Chronicle editors over the years. By “special,” I mean he really didn’t care for us.
“King Chuck was not the easiest on editors at The Chronicle throughout the years,” noted Chronicle President and Publisher Michael Wagar, who previously served as editor. “One time I was traveling in China and he wrote to me to say I should just stay there as I would make the perfect editor for a totalitarian government. He made me laugh out loud more than once. He also made me cringe on a regular basis as he took his potshots at local conservatives and liberals alike.”
When I became editor in late 2013, Haunreiter was one of my first visitors. By then, his disdain for The Chronicle’s conservative-leaning editorial board had long been well known. I fully expected to be berated after we exchanged a few tense emails that resulted in an invitation to the newsroom.
Instead of the apparently angry and confrontational tone of the written correspondence though, Haunreiter was downright friendly.
Rather than yelling at me and accusing me of being the leader of a far-right rag with dubious intentions, he greeted me with a smile and a handshake. I gave him a tour of the newsroom before we sat down for a chat about his most recent complaint.
“Maybe you won’t be like the rest of these jokers,” he said while departing after a 30-minute conversation that remained civil.
About a week later, things were back to normal. He sent me a long and combative email detailing his disappointment with some editorial decision and threatened to place my name on the sign that sat on the back of his truck along Market Street in Chehalis.
That space was most often reserved for Chehalis attorney John Panesko, the former host of KELA’S “Let’s Talk About It” morning radio show who became the object of almost obsessive scorn from Haunreiter.
Years later, after dozens of nearly identical letters critical of Panesko had been published, I told Haunreiter I wouldn’t allow anymore on the subject.
That, of course, set him off.
On Christmas Eve 2016, I found myself involved in yet another back-and-forth email exchange with The King. When it became clear we, yet again, would not find common ground, I asked him why he was spending the holiday attacking me rather than celebrating.
“I’m the most feared man in Lewis County by both Democrats and Republicans!” he responded.
I don’t think he truly was, nor do I think such a standing was his goal.
I believe Chuck was a passionate guy who sincerely believed his voice was being quieted as he conducted himself as a liberal activist in a conservative stronghold.
Without him, Lewis County will be a lot less interesting.
“Yes, Chuck could be annoying,” Wagar said. “But he cared and took an active role in his community. He was also clever and his letters were must reads. He had a keen sense of humor that some appreciated, some abhorred, but all read his writings. May he rest in peace.”
Eric Schwartz is the director of digital operations for The Chronicle. He can be reached at email@example.com.