There’s an exaggerated narrative of a statewide election candidate that’s been circulating, and we regret to say we bought into it.
Our Sept. 22 endorsement in the race for Washington public lands commissioner cited a flawed reason for not supporting Republican Steve McLaughlin: his alleged sympathy for the armed occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. (That paragraph in the endorsement is now gone.)
McLaughlin made clear in an interview this week, as he has in other venues and on Facebook at the time of the occupation in January, that he didn’t support it, and thinks the occupiers should face trial for not obeying “the rule of law.”
McLaughlin does have ties to property-rights and constitutionalist organizations. He leads Liberty Watch of Washington State, a group whose mission is to “monitor the activities of elected and public officials” to ensure they’re abiding by the federal and state constitutions.
Last year, as a member of the Coalition of Western States (COWS), he joined in calling for the release of a pair of Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had been sent to federal prison on an arson conviction for burning grazing lands.
But while McLaughlin feels the Hammonds were treated unjustly, he says he and his Liberty Watch group never supported the extreme response carried out by Ammon Bundy and the other Malheur occupiers.
“We pulled back from that because it wasn’t our fight,” the former Navy commander said in a phone interview Thursday.
COWS, by contrast, has loudly advocated for Bundy and his group, describing them as “political prisoners” and demanding their immediate release and pardon.
McLaughlin says he doesn’t agree with that position and is no longer affiliated with COWS.
So where does that leave our election endorsement?
We still prefer Democrat Hilary Franz to lead the state’s management of timber trust lands and other natural resources for the next four years. From forests to shorelines, she has a holistic viewpoint informed by her background at multiple levels of government and in leading a wise land-use advocacy group.
But McLaughlin should be credited for disavowing the extremism that took place at Malheur. And we’re disappointed that the incomplete picture we gave in our endorsement has been used as election fodder. We have asked the Franz campaign to stop using it in their materials.