News that Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, could emcee a fundraiser for the Clark County Republican Party has re-exposed a rift in the party, even as details of the event have been thrown into doubt.
But his face and references to him disappeared by late Monday, as first reported by The Columbian newspaper.
Whether that means he’s still involved in the event is unclear, a week after the news emerged. Party leaders met privately Wednesday night, but details of the meeting haven’t been made available. Repeated calls to party leaders by OPB have gone unanswered.
Shea was accused in December of using his position as a lawmaker to further the agenda of right-wing extremist groups. The state House of Representatives issued a 108-page report by an investigator that alleged, among other things, he helped plan the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
State Republican leaders subsequently expelled Shea from the caucus.
Shea has denied the allegations in interviews. He has not been charged with a crime.
Still, county Republican chair Earl Bowerman said Shea’s “noteworthy” reputation made him a top attraction for the fundraiser.
“When you’re putting together an event, you want to have people that are well known,” Bowerman said. “So who is probably the most talked-about political personality in the state of Washington right now? Matt Shea.”
OPB has reached out to several Southwest Washington Republicans, including current and past members of the party, to seek comment on Shea’s participation. Many did not respond.
Those who did speak said the invitation is just the latest in a series of alienating moves by party leadership.
“It’s got to make you wonder: Are these decisions appealing the party to a wide base?” said John Blom, a Republican and a Clark County councilor. “Or are they just increasingly appealing to a narrow, far-right portion of the Republican party?”
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Last August, Bowerman survived a recall attempt from a group that alleged he mishandled party funds while it worked to pay off a $37,372.50 penalty for improperly reporting campaign contributions and expenditures.
Two months later, Bowerman and other party leaders promoted Dan Clark to oversee a party committee. Clark had been convicted of sneaking into the bedroom of a 15-year-old girl when he was 43.
Clark resigned, but several Republican elected officials signed a letter condemning Bowerman and other party leaders.
“When given additional information, including police reports and court documents, the Chair of the Party Earl Bowerman declined to take any action toward removing this individual,” the letter said.
“We recognize that the individual in question ultimately, under pressure, resigned his position as the chair of the committee, yet we are deeply disappointed by the appalling lack of judgment provided by many of those in leadership of our party.”
The letter’s signatories included Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins; county councilors Blom and Julie Olson; state Sens. Lynda Wilson, Anne Rivers and Paul Harris; and state Reps. Brandon Vick, Larry Hoff and Chris Corry.
Enlisting Shea as emcee fit the pattern Bowerman has established as party leader, Blom said.
“I think it’s just them not thinking about the broader perspective,” he said. Blom said he hasn’t been affiliated with the party since last fall.
Through a spokesman, Sens. Rivers and Wilson declined to comment. But the spokesperson added the sentiments of the letter remained relevant.
“I suppose the bottom line is that Sen. Rivers and Sen. Wilson are just as disassociated with the Clark County GOP now as they were as of approximately four months ago,” spokesperson Eric Campbell said.
Dan Barnes, a party officer who ran for a seat on the Port of Vancouver commission last fall, said Shea’s politics differ from his — but he wasn’t surprised at the invitation.
“The way it stands now, they are so interested in what I believe is violent Republicanism,” Barnes said. He called for more moderate Republican policies. “I do believe that more people share my view, but are intimidated from expressing it.”