Guests came early and waited for the man of the hour, but the similarities between Monday night’s Lewis County Republicans meeting and a surprise party ended there.
Folks gathered outside the Chehalis Eagles Hall in Chehalis, starting before 5 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. special meeting, which was called by four members of the executive board with the intent to vote on a recall of party Chairman Brandon Svenson.
But Svenson, who is also the mayor of Winlock, was instead presiding over a regularly-scheduled Winlock City Council meeting. The Republicans meeting in Chehalis started about a half hour after the Winlock meeting. Svenson told The Chronicle he has never missed a meeting of the party before, but “This one was important for me to be (in attendance) at the city level” because of an executive session.
The vote was called due to alleged violations of certain bylaws, “among other transgressions,” according to a letter signed by all executive board members besides the vice-chair and chair himself.
Before issuing the call for a recall vote, those same members and a few others sent a letter to Svenson asking for his resignation, citing poor behavior including in one meeting where he wore a Sheriff Rob Snaza campaign T-shirt and threw a wad of paper at another candidate for sheriff, Tracy Murphy.
In a letter obtained by The Chronicle from July 1 addressed to Svenson, five reasons are listed behind the call for his resignation and subsequent potential recall vote. Svenson told The Chronicle this week that letter was not sent to him, so a reporter went over parts of the five sections during an interview.
Some of the five are sectioned out with the highlights of Svenson’s responses and other information obtained by The Chronicle about the incidents. His responses ranged from taking offense at accusations he said were false to offering regret for some of the behaviors listed.
First, the letter discusses “obvious and unprofessional treatment of a Republican candidate.” Svenson said this was in reference to Murphy.
The letter stated there is no role for a party leader to “pick sides,” before detailed some of his behavior at that meeting and then went on to say he “further alienated Republican candidates for office at the Egg Day Parade in Winlock, refusing to allow them the ability to affix their signs to a float which appeared under the banner of the Lewis County Republican Party.”
When asked about this, Svenson said in hindsight, he would not have done the same thing with the piece of paper. He said he “did not throw” the paper, but that he tossed it in a way he said was meant to resemble throwing a wad of paper “in the trash.”
He did not say his actions were wrong, but that he felt he was standing up for the people of Lewis County by showing them that Murphy had been supported by Lewis County Democrats and other organizations on what Svenson called “the left.”
Regarding the parade float, after word about this incident, The Chronicle reached out to all Lewis County Republican candidates for county Commission District 3 and sheriff. Whether their signs were affixed to the float or not, all commissioner candidates said they had no knowledge of what happened.
Harry Bhagwandin, a commissioner candidate, said in his response that the local political culture has become “so toxic these last few years that the Apple Harvest Festival has announced this year they will not allow candidates participants in the parade and is considering not even allowing political vendor booths at the festival.”
He added that if he had been asked, he “gladly” would have provided campaign materials to the float organizers.
Snaza, who is running for reelection, told The Chronicle that the Republicans who organized the float did reach out to him in advance asking for campaign signs.
“Our campaign never received such notice,” said Lindsey Murphy, Tracy Murphy’s daughter and campaign runner, before saying that at the time of the parade, a campaign team member provided signs to the Lewis County Republicans but they were not used.
Svenson said he was not involved in the planning or execution of the float.
Second, the letter cites Svenson “disparaging” Republican elected officials. The first example claimed Svenson publicly castigated Lewis County Commissioners in July of 2021. Svenson said in response that he worked on Commissioner Lindsey Pollock’s campaign and assured voters she was going to be a strong Republican. However, it was his opinion now that she was not following through with Republican values.
In the incident last year, Svenson held a sign to commissioners reading “RINO” in reference to a term meaning “Republican in name only.”
The next example states that in September of 2021, Svenson used Facebook to ridicule and attack local elected Republicans.
“I did make another comment on Facebook directed at Representative Peter Abbarno, Chad Taylor and Richard DeBolt and I have apologized for that comment to everybody involved. And I do really regret that one. That one right there is regrettable, I should not have done that,” Svenson said in response.
The next example listed claims Svenson had “evident approval of the heckling” at a Republican town hall of Senator John Braun and Representatives Peter Abbarno and Ed Orcutt. Svenson said in response that he was not in attendance at that town hall, did not send anyone there, and has no issue with folks exercising their freedom of speech at such events.
Lastly, the letter lists Svenson negatively describing Orcutt on Facebook, stating he needed a “wellness check.”
Svenson responded by saying this was in reference to the fact that Orcutt had not attended a Lewis County Republicans meeting at the time of his post, and that his post was meant to encourage him to get more involved.
“Should I have made it in that forum the way I did? No, I should not have. Should I have said, ‘Hey, Ed, where you at, man? Can we get you to this meeting?’ That’s how I should have handled it. Absolutely,” Svenson said.
Third, the letter states unnecessary friction between Svenson and the executive committee. While this topic may only be relevant to those deeply invested in the inner workings of the Lewis County Republicans, Svenson still wanted to reply by saying that in general, the disagreements between he and the board were often related to deeply-rooted division in the party preceding him.
“It’s politics, right?” he said.
He also said that as chairman, he has increased attendance at Lewis County Republican meetings greatly and encouraged a record turnout of precinct committee officers (PCOs). He called the PCOs the legislative branch of the party while the board was the executive branch, and felt he gave more of a voice to the former than the party had allowed for previously.
The final two sections of the letter detail “coarse” behavior that have reflected poorly on the party as a whole, including in meetings and in public forums.
In meetings, according to the letter, Svenson said to an audience member “shut up, nobody cares what you think.”
Svenson in response said, “I actually take offense to that one. And if you look how I handle things in the City of Winlock, I always let my counsel speak. I go as far as to make sure that there's always extra discussion on things. I believe in that.”
He also called the questions about his behavior during meetings a “witch hunt” by two party members who were attempting to “manipulate” things and stir the pot.
“I think folks kind of think of me as some sort of as I'm trying to be painted into this far-right, crazy extremist corner. And that's not at all what's going on here. It's just not. And I think largely I'm misunderstood, to be perfectly honest with you,” Svenson said in closing.
Without the man in question, the party had little business to attend to. Its bylaws state that if a recall is suggested for the party chair, they will have the opportunity to respond. So, the board scheduled another meeting for a recall vote to be held on Aug. 1 at the same place and time.
If Svenson does not attend that meeting, according to the party’s bylaws, he will have waived his opportunity to defend himself and the vote will proceed.
Despite no action taking place, the air on Monday night was thick with hostility. Comments during discussion were variations of three major themes: those who felt the board was wrong to call for a recall, those who felt Svenson’s actions did not warrant a recall but that he did need better training as a chairman and lastly, those who felt his behavior was unacceptable and a recall was necessary.
Before the beginning of the meeting, there was debate among PCOs on whether or not to let members of the public into the building. If the recall vote was held, only PCOs would be permitted to vote on it. Morton PCO Roger Morningstar, who is also the town’s police chief, argued members of the public should be allowed in, while others, including PCO Dave Germain, were against that idea, citing recent hostility in other public meetings.
Germain said that at many recent meetings, people in the back have stood up simply to shout “Liar!” periodically. He told Morningstar the meeting was being held in Chehalis — rather than in Winlock, where most of the meetings are held — because Svenson “hired the (Winlock police) chief. That chief’s going to do whatever Brandon wants, and if those people disrupt the meeting, I think somebody’s gotta stand up and say, ‘here’s the door.’”
As they went back and forth on the issue, folks waiting outside were there in support of Svenson, they said as a group. One of those supporters was 3rd Congressional District candidate Joe Kent, who said he was there, “supporting his supporters.”
Candy Warren, who is running for PCO in the Emery district, called it unfair that those folks had to wait outside in the heat, especially given that many were senior citizens and children, “because they were engaged in partisan games inside.”
Eventually, spectators were allowed inside, but were not allowed to join in on discussion at the meeting.
After the meeting, a reporter was delivered a letter from one PCO that stated intention to have a vote to recall state committeewoman Ruth Peterson and the rest of the executive board. Transgressions listed included a failure to attend the party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, a major yearly fundraiser, “promoting division in the party” and for publicly apologizing to Murphy without the “consent of the executive board or central committee.”