Republican leader calls it quits

Posted on Wednesday 17 March 2004

Sequim Gazette

A rift in the local Republican Party leadership led to the resignation of chairman Dick Smithton after he unsuccessfully attempted to oust vice chairman Sue Forde.

Smithton - who led the party since August, after former chair Ginger Alexander resigned for health reasons - stepped down from his leadership role March 16, the day after an evening meeting of party precinct leaders, and sent a letter stating his reasons for leaving to many in the party. County party treasurer Robbie Varney and secretary Karline Roseveare also stepped down the same day as Smithton.
"I'm disgusted," Smithton said, adding that he was fed up with the insular direction the party continues to take and that he was disappointed in their attitude.
"I, in good conscience, cannot work with Sue Forde," Smithton stated in his letter of resignation.
He argued at the meeting that Forde's public stance that the state constitution is invalid in a lawsuit with a collection agency seeking debt owed to the Peninsula Daily News tarnished the party's reputation.
Furthermore, he noted that in legal documents filed earlier this month Forde and her husband Bob denied they reside in Clallam County, which Smithton said would make her ineligible to hold office with the county party.
Forde said mid-afternoon March 16 that she was unaware of Smithton's resignation and so could not comment upon it. She stated that party rules require all statements about party business to go through a spokesperson so she couldn't comment. Earlier that morning she referred questions about the meeting to Smithton citing party rules that designated him as the sole spokesperson.
"I am a resident of Clallam County," Forde said. She explained that to argue otherwise was to take legal arguments out of context.
The Fordes settled their dispute with the Daily News March 15, several hours before the party meeting. (See related story page A-5.)
However, instead of focusing on Smithton's concerns about Forde and her effect on party credibility, the precinct officers voted to table his motion and instead chastised him for speaking with reporters in recent months, Smithton said.
"It boiled down to most people didn't want to make a decision and some are upset with me for my open door policy and for talking to the press," he said.
Smithton said he had been trying to open the party up to greater participation by including more county residents. He pointed to the party's Lincoln Dinner last month as a successful example of that policy.
He said discussions after the November election revolved around the theme of attracting new members, which Smithton said he sought to do by having open party meetings, guest speakers, holding meetings in various locations throughout the county and improving relationships with the press.
"I think (Smithton) provided strong leadership for the party," said commissioner Mike Chapman. "I'm saddened that he feels that he had to (resign)."
Chapman, R-Port Angeles, said that although he is saddened by Smithton's decision, he understands the reasons behind it. He noted that some in the party were irritated by the former chairman's attempts to be more forthcoming with the press, something he said he fully endorses. He added that he asked Smithton to be his campaign manager for the upcoming election and is honored the former party chair is considering the offer.
Chapman said that he is merely an elected official and not a precinct leader within the party so he has no say in the way the party governs itself.
Smithton referred to Chapman in his letter noting that some in the party want to throw him out because he didn't support Forde in her campaign or because they don't think he's conservative enough. Forde supporter Lois Krafsky-Perry, who is also secretary of the Republican Women of Clallam County, said "no comment," when asked about Smithton's attempt to oust Forde.
"That's funny that you know what went on last night," Krafsky-Perry said. "Where'd you get your information?"
Smithton said the party faction loyal to Forde is so embittered by past grievances that they want to batten down the hatches instead of moving forward.
"We lost four of the last five county elections, maybe we should do things differently," he said the day after the party meeting. "I play to win; last night they played for a tie."
He later noted that Jefferson County, despite its strong Democratic population, elected three Republican commissioners even though the area is served by the same daily newspaper that circulates in Clallam County.
"It's not the press," Smithton said of the party's inability to consistently win elections. "Maybe we need to do something differently."
--by Leif Nesheim
Gazette staff writer
Published 3.17.04



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