After two lofty but unsuccessful bids for state and federal offices, prominent Washington Republican Loren Culp has landed a quieter post: leading Klickitat County’s jail.
Culp, who was last seen unsuccessfully bidding to win Washington’s 4th Congressional District seat, started his new gig on March 1. He will make $94,162 as the jail administrator, according to Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer.
The job will task Culp with overseeing Klickitat County’s 49-bed jail. The administrator ensures the safety and health of inmates and 14 corrections deputies staffed there. Besides lodging inmates, the jail transports detainees to and from the courthouse and to other jurisdictions.
“He’s going to be a valuable asset to our department,” Songer said.
The move pairs two controversial political figures in the small Columbia River Gorge community. Despite both making their names in small towns — Culp used to be the police chief of Republic, Washington, population 1,100 — they have made national headlines for being staunch opponents of what they call government overreach.
Both men are active in the constitutional sheriff movement. Supporters of the movement believe county sheriffs hold the highest authority in enforcing laws, even over state and federal governments.
At the height of the pandemic, Songer refused to enforce emergency lockdown orders mandated by Gov. Jay Inslee. He said he swore an oath to the “Supreme Judge of the Universe” and that he would arrest state workers who might try to levy fines against any businesses that stayed open.
That strain of politics led to Songer and Culp’s first meeting, the sheriff said.
Both men publicly refused to enforce a statewide gun safety law. In 2018, Washington voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that, among other things, enhanced background checks and raised the legal age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.
Their opposition won them attention from the Constitutional Sheriff and Police Chief’s Association. The organization invited both men to their annual event that year. They named Culp “Police Chief of the Decade” and Songer “Sheriff of the Year.”
In an interview Monday, Songer said that’s when they first got to know each other.
“I got to know Loren as a strong person who supports the Constitution,” Songer said. The 77-year-old won his third term as sheriff in November.
Culp’s hiring came at a time of some musical chairs within the department, Songer said. He promoted his previous jail administrator to undersheriff and reassigned Undersheriff Tim Nehr to detective at Nehr’s request.
A critic of Songer raised concerns about the hiring Monday. Lynn Mason, who helped organize a political action committee against Songer in the last election, said she doubted the hiring process looked very far for candidates.
“Really, all of the people he could find to fill that position, Loren Culp was the only one?” Mason said. “He has extremist views he’s going to bring to the county.”
According to Songer, it had been hard to find willing applicants to run the jail. He blamed it on long hours with no eligibility for overtime pay. In mid-February, he said, he called Culp.
“I said ‘I wonder what Loren is doing?’ and called him and visited with him, and offered him the job,” Songer said.
Culp did not respond to requests for comment.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Culp won the primary nomination and faced Inslee in the general. He received 1.7 million votes, the most ever by a GOP candidate for the office, according to The Seattle Times. But Inslee secured nearly 2.3 million votes.
Culp then targeted a seat in Congress. He ran to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse in Washington’s 4th Congressional District after the Republican representative voted to impeach former president Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Culp won the former president’s endorsement, as well, but ultimately failed to clear the August primaries.
When asked about Culp’s qualifications in the hiring process, Songer said the former police chief was “not only an honorable individual, he’s a religious individual and supports the Constitution for the citizens.”
“He fits everything I’m looking for,” Songer said.
Despite the fact Culp has run for higher office twice in the past four years — his gubernatorial and congressional losses were back-to-back — Songer said he isn’t worried that Culp will seek another job.
Songer said he wouldn’t forbid Culp from running for another office, so long as it doesn’t affect the jail administrative duties.
“But I don’t get any impressions he wants to run for office or anything. It’s more to build more points on his retirement,” Songer said.