Franklin GOP Defies COVID Rules to Meet Eyman and Governor Candidates in 'Farm Hall'

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A few hundred people filled an empty potato cellar in Eltopia earlier this week to hear from four Republican gubernatorial candidates.

The "farm hall" was organized by Clint Didier, chairman of Franklin County Republican Party's executive committee and a Franklin County commissioner.

The event was billed as a precinct committee officer meeting.

It was not publicized on the party's website, but Didier and candidates Tim Eyman and Joshua Freed all mentioned it on their Facebook pages.

Didier, a critic and political adversary of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, called the Democrat a dictator in his Facebook post.

"These men believe in rugged individualism, self-reliance and personal responsibility!" said Didier, talking about the four candidates in attendance. "In other words freedom."

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Eyman and Freed were joined by Phil Fortunato and Dr. Raul Garcia at the town hall, which was attended by 200 to 300 people.

Any type of gathering outside of a person's own immediate household is prohibited under Inslee's stay-home order, which was put in place in late March to suppress the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

It is only as counties move forward under Inslee's "Safe Start" process that gatherings of five people, then 50, then more than 50 are allowed.

That is all dependent on COVID activity, and Franklin County has remained a hot spot with 800 cases and 17 residents who have died.

However, Didier has been a vocal opponent of the emergency order that brought most construction, retail and restaurant business to a standstill.

Agriculture was deemed critical and remained active, but many farmers have found themselves with crops that have nowhere to go because of a drop in demand in the food distribution line.

Federal lawsuit

Didier, a farmer, joined with Eyman and several others in filing a federal lawsuit last month against Inslee. The civil action challenges the constitutionality of the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order during the pandemic.

He also twice has tried to completely reopen Franklin County in defiance of that order. The most recent attempt came Tuesday morning at the weekly county commission meeting, hours before the Republican Party meeting in his cellar.

This time, fellow Commissioner Brad Peck did not go along with Didier's motion, saying he wasn't going to mislead people or give them false hope because the board members do not get to "choose what laws to follow."

Instead, Franklin County discussed applying to the state for permission to move from Phase 1 to a modified Phase 1.5. A modified phase allows some more business activities with restrictions, such as limiting the percentage of building occupancy at a given time.

Benton County is seeking a move to Phase 2.

After Tuesday night's town hall, Eyman of Mukilteo thanked "superstar conservative" Didier and LaWanda Hatch, the Franklin County Republican Party's state committeewoman.

All three are plaintiffs in the federal suit against Inslee over his stay-home order.

"So good to be among so many friends who have helped our 17 statewide initiatives qualify and succeed," wrote Eyman, who also posted several pictures on Facebook.

The anti-tax activist said he met a longtime supporter and gave him a huge hug during the event.

"I asked everyone there -- you've been voting for my ideas for 22 years -- I'm asking you to vote for my ideas one more time by voting for me as governor," he added.

Freed did a Facebook Live before the event showing rows of parked cars and talking about people filling up the barn.

"Tonight I'm here in a debate. I'm going to be here with three of my competitors on the Republican side. This is the top. We have the elite folks down here ready to debate the issues that are before us," said Freed, a former Bothell mayor.

"We are looking forward to addressing the crowd that is here with, of course, issues facing the whole state. But there are issues that are local that I look forward to discussing with the folks that are showing up tonight."