PORT ANGELES — State legislative candidate George Vrable called the League of Women Voters a socialist organization and said he would not attend a league-sponsored voter forum any more than he would attend a far-right-wing group’s forum Tuesday.
He made the comments during a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday morning — but had softened his position by Tuesday afternoon.
Vrable — a Port Ludlow Republican running for a 24th District House of Representatives position against Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat — defended his decision not to attend league voter forums at the PABA breakfast meeting-forum.
But he said in a later interview after talking with Deborah Martin, Clallam County League of Women Voters president, that he may be willing to attend a league forum before the Nov. 8 general election.
Ballots for the Nov. 8 general election will be mailed to voters in 34 days, on Oct. 19.
Vrable and his opponent, who is a Clallam County commissioner, also disagreed on the Legislature’s role in getting the state Department of Natural Resources to maximize the generation of revenue from state trust lands managed by the agency.
But the candidates’ discussion kept returning — largely through Chapman’s efforts — to the lack of voter forums in a race that includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County.
The two-year Position 1 seat is held by Democrat Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, who is running for the 24th District state Senate seat being vacated by Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam.
Two PABA forums have been held on the Position 1 race, and a third has been in Sequim, with no forums in Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties, Chapman said.
Vrable, a retired battalion chief for the Navy Region Northwest Fire Department, has refused to attend forums sponsored by the league.
At the June 21 PABA forum, he labeled the organization hostile and left-wing, expanding on that theme Tuesday by calling it a socialist group.
The league, which bills itself as nonpartisan, is “incrementally [taking] steps toward socialism, and I don’t think socialism is good for the people,” Vrable said.
“They are a far-left, socialist organization,” he added, drawing a comparison with far-right groups but saying the league’s individual members are “very humane.”
Vrable said he would not attend a forum if invited by a far-right, white racist organization.
Asked if he was making “an equivalency” between the league and far-right groups, Vrable replied yes.
Chapman responded that his wife, Bobbi, is a supporter of the county League of Women voters.
“She is not a fascist,” Chapman said.
“I am willing to attend any forum and willing to knock on doors around the district,” Chapman added.
Vrable told the group he was a Democrat for most of his life and that politically, he is “pretty much middle-of-the-road.”
He insisted in a later interview that the equivalency he was talking about was between far-left and far-right groups in general.
“The point I was trying to make is not to say that they are the same as a right-wing fascist group, that’s not what I was saying,” Vrable said.
“The point I was making was that if you say we should go anywhere [to a forum], well, that must include [far-right groups], too,” Vrable said.
Martin was not available for comment Tuesday.
Penny Van Vleet, past president of the Clallam County League of Women Voters and on the league’s state board, said in a later interview that the league does not support or oppose political candidates or parties.
She said the league does sometimes take stands on issues such as voter initiatives after lengthy study and obtaining a consensus of members.
Phil Kitchel, a former Clallam County commissioner and a former consultant for the county Trust Lands Advisory Committee, sought the candidates’ opinions on their role as legislators in DNR land management.
Chapman lamented fielding the same questions at the June 21 PABA forum and said DNR timber-harvest management wasn’t a topic that concerned voters he’s talked with in Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties.
Harry Bell, head of the PABA’s government affairs committee and the retired director of environmental affairs for the timber company Green Crow Corp., said the Legislature oversees the management of trust-land-generated revenue.
“When you say you will not weigh in, you are sidestepping your responsibility,” Bell told Chapman.
“I disagree with your analysis,” Chapman responded.
“That’s the law, Mike,” retorted Kitchel.
Chapman touted his endorsement by the Washington Forest Protection Association, a trade association of forest landowners.
“I must not be too out there if the Washington Forest Protection Association is supporting my campaign,” he said.
“This is a narrow issue for this group,” Chapman said of the PABA.
He said his role as a legislator would be to support DNR’s elected lands commissioner and the agency’s Board of Natural Resources.
Vrable said he would push DNR to conduct the maximum sustainable harvest, citing the Legislature’s “oversight.”
Chapman and Vrable also differed on gun-access-related ballot Initiative 1491.
It would allow police, family and household members to obtain temporary protection orders preventing access to firearms by individuals who exhibit “mental illness, violent or other behavior indicating they may harm themselves or others,” according to the ballot title.
Chapman said he supports the measure.
A law enacting it died in the Legislature, like eight other measures on the Nov. 8 ballot that he said suffered the same fate: The Legislature would not act.
“Is that a system that’s working?” Chapman said.
“The Legislature should take up and look at bipartisan solutions, working together to craft legislation that works for all of us.”
Vrable said he is opposed to I-1491, saying the reason was “obvious.”
“Anybody can call and make an accusation that you are threatening or violent or threaten them,” Vrable said in a later interview.
“I believe in our Second Amendment.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].