Turnout for Lewis County Republican Precinct Committee Officer Candidates Likely Record-Breaking

38 Races: Inner-Party Turmoil Listed as Motivation for Filing by Some Ahead of Party Vote to Recall Current Chairman Brandon Svenson


Being a precinct committee officer (PCO) isn’t usually considered glamorous work.

But this year, for Lewis County Republicans, the elected position must be looking pretty attractive: 115 people have filed for the position in the Republican Party. On the Lewis County Democrats side, just 14 people filed.

Ahead of a July vote by the county Republican Party’s PCOs on whether or not to remove current Lewis County Republican Chairman Brandon Svenson, some candidates for the position have cited the party’s increasing polarization as the reason behind so many people trying to fill the seats.

A volunteer position that appears in both the Democratic and Republican parties, PCOs are responsible for electing party leadership, identifying folks who should run in their precinct and playing an ambassador role between the party and their neighborhood.

They also have a role in appointing county commissioners and state legislators who retire or die before the end of their term, as was the case last September for former Lewis County commissioner Gary Stamper.

In the 2018 primary election, four voter precincts in Lewis County had more than one person turn out for their neighborhood’s PCO. Three of those four were races for a Democratic PCO position.

In 2020, the next election when PCOs were voted on, there were again just four races for the position.

For this year’s August primary, there are 38 contested Republican PCO races. And nine of them come from precincts where three people are running for the position.

According to Terry Jouper, Lewis County Auditor's Office elections supervisor, it’s probably the biggest turnout for the position of all time.

“It’s definitely far more than we’re used to having,” Jouper said, adding he has only been in his current role since 2018, but compared to the years he’s seen, “it’s not even close.”

PCOs are only voted on by constituents in their respective precincts during the primary election. Those in contested races take office in December, while those who went unopposed are considered elected. In the typically-rare instance of three candidates turning out for the job, the top vote getter out of the primary will earn the role.

The Chronicle reached out to over 50 people who have filed for Republican PCO seats to ask why they were running and why they thought so many others were, too.

Responses from candidates included a desire to fulfill civic duty, frustration with current policies and the economy and inner-party turmoil.

Franklin Taylor, vice president of CT Publishing, which owns The Chronicle, is one of many in the 38 races, facing Karen Laufenberg in the race for a Republican PCO position in Chehalis #5 precinct.

Svenson could not be reached for comment.


After party leadership last month wrote a letter calling for the resignation of Svenson, who is also the mayor of Winlock, some of the PCO candidates told The Chronicle they were hoping to see a change in the party’s “decorum” or “behavior.”

The letter said Svenson’s conduct was “childish” and “unacceptable,” and was released following an instance at one party meeting where he crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at Centralia Police Department Detective Sergeant Tracy Murphy, who is running for sheriff. While Svenson did that, he was wearing a shirt for the campaign to re-elect current Sheriff Rob Snaza.

“I have witnessed the deterioration in the conduct of the meetings since the last few months,” said Dave Germain, who is running for PCO in Drews Prairie.

Germain said he was appointed to the Drews Prairie PCO position over the last year, but recently discovered his appointment — and that of others who were appointed to the positions in the same time frame — had not actually been voted on by the board and approved correctly.

Now, he is running for the seat officially, and found out there are two others running for the same position.

He said he had never seen the other two candidates at party meetings.

“I asked around why those two people had filed for my position and I was told it was at the behest of Chairman Svenson. He is trying to stack the deck with his sycophants so the executive board will not have the PCO votes to rein him in. His behavior is out of control and it is politics at its worst,” Germain said in an email to The Chronicle.

The notion that Svenson or folks who supported the current chairman had recruited candidates was echoed in some other responses from PCO hopefuls as well. Svenson is a member of the Lewis County Young Republicans, a group that organized a county party dinner earlier this year hosting speakers who claimed nationwide election fraud.

Arny Davis, who has been a PCO in Adna for many years, said he “had it on good authority” that Rachel Anderson, leader of the Lewis County Young Republicans, recruited Adna Store owner Jim Smith to run against him.

Davis said Smith was likely to win, given that the Adna community knows and likes him.

“It doesn’t break my heart to no longer be a PCO,” Davis said.

He said he thought similar actions were taking place in precincts across the county by folks he called “regime right-wing Republicans, some would call them ‘Trumpists,’ who lack leadership and decorum skillsets, as evidenced by the Tracy Murphy debacle.”

Likewise, State Committeeman Ron Averill said, “Brandon Svenson and the young Republicans went out — they think the current PCOs are dinosaurs and need to be replaced — so they concentrated on older PCOs and found someone to replace them.”

Kevin Carns, who is filed for the Chehalis #3 precinct, said: “I have some concerns about the direction of the local party and the only way to really know what is going on is to participate in the process.”

Some responses along the same lines more directly outlined what they felt were fractures between “extreme” right and “moderate” right wings, as Napavine PCO candidate Duane Crouse put it.

Crouse said he felt the county as a whole was fortunate to have representatives such as state Rep. Peter Abbarno, who he called “rational” and “effective.” However, in county party leadership, Crouse said he thought that kind of voice was missing.

“Getting more people involved in the party will inevitably help bring new ideas on how the party as a whole can better serve the citizens of Lewis County,” he said, adding later: “My district PCO position is currently vacant. Now, there are two candidates running to fill that vacancy. Whether it be myself or my opponent that gets elected to fill this PCO position, the end result is that my district will now have a voice, where there was no voice previously.”


On the other hand, not all PCO candidates were motivated by inner-party tensions.

Several spoke about the party’s current momentum and felt the reason so many people were getting involved was because of good recruiting, general feelings of wanting to fulfill civic duty or frustration with current state and federal policies.

Mike Peterson, PCO of Evaline West, said he was running “for re-election because I believe that the excitement and energy is amazing but must be guarded to retain the party’s core principles, keep its direction sound and its leadership effective for years to come.”

Jami Lund, the current Skookumchuck PCO who is running again, said he thought inflation and worries about the economy were likely motivating many people to be excited about the party.

Lund also said it was probably a natural reaction to file for PCO  following a presidential election, saying people who were upset with the current administration likely wanted to try taking an active role in politics.

Other party officials had similar beliefs.

“As for the reason we had so many people sign up for PCO, I would imagine that this is a sign of deep concern for the future of our state and our country,” said State Committeewoman Ruth Peterson. “With inflation at a high and consumer optimism at a low, there are many people who want to work for candidates that would help make changes.”

Eileen Owens, the Emery PCO who has been serving in the role for 50 years, said she originally got involved because it was the kind of grassroots politics that she felt made a real difference.

“Being a Precinct Committee Officer is a great way to get to know the candidates and also your neighbors,” Owens said.

Similarly, Ethel PCO Jeanne Hall, who is the party treasurer, said she was “just doing her civic duty,” by re-filing.

Vader PCO candidate Theresa Inez Porter said she was encouraged to run for the seat and was walked through the filing process by someone on Facebook. She couldn’t remember the person’s name.

Inez Porter said she was extremely worried about the country and said she thought it was headed toward communism.

“I think everybody feels that way,” she said. “I think that’s why so many more people are getting involved.”

Precincts with two candidates running for Republican PCO: Adna, Berwick, Cinebar, Claquato, Crego East, Curtis, Emery, Ethel, Evaline West, Ferrier, Klickitat, Lincoln Creek, Prescott, Randle East, Salkum, Salmon Creek, Salzer, Sears, Skookumchuck, Stearns Creek, Union, Centralia #2, Centralia #8, Centralia #11, Centralia #12, Chehalis #1, Chehalis #5, Napavine #1 and Vader.

Precincts with three candidates running for Republican PCO: Drews Prairie, Crego West, Newaukum, Parcuvia, Centralia #4, Chehalis #6, Fords Prairie, Forest and Cowlitz.