KLAMATH FALLS — Residents upset by the political maneuvering of Sen. Doug Whitsett and Rep. Gail Whitsett will be meeting in Klamath Falls today to discuss candidate alternatives for the 2016 election.
Organized by Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom, the meeting will gauge interest in supporting an independent or write-in candidate to oppose current Republican candidates Dennis Linthicum and Werner Reschke.
Linthicum and Reschke filed just minutes before the March 8 deadline for the May 17 primary. Linthicum, a former Klamath County commissioner, filed for senator and Reschke, a businessman and member of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, filed for representative.
Though the Whitsetts filed for re-election last October, they announced their withdrawal March 9 — the day after the filing deadline — citing “fatigue” after recent legislative sessions. Critics believe this series of events was meant to keep others from participating in the election.
Kellstrom said it was “politics at its ugliest and most egregious” and said such tactics are why elected officials have a bad reputation. “This is why citizens don’t trust the government,” he said.
Newspapers in the Whitsetts’ districts have written editorials chastising them for the move; which is not illegal but viewed as unethical.
Kellstrom said after the Whitsetts’ withdrawal, he contacted a handful of individuals to discuss options. That handful then reached out to others worried about the election.
“It’s really been a wildfire of people contacting other people,” Kellstrom said. “I understand lots of people have concerns.”
Kellstrom said those attending the forum will discuss three main issues: whether to field a candidate; the potential formation of a political action committee; and who the candidates might be.
A write-in candidate could be put forward and would not appear on the May or November ballots, but voters would still have the option to support them in the election.
Candidates unaffiliated with a political party are also able to register for the Nov. 8 election starting in June, but must have been formally registered as an unaffiliated voter by last month and must gather enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.
At least one unaffiliated candidate, Jonah Hakanson, has announced his intention to file in June. Hakanson is challenging Reschke for state representative.
Kellstrom said he is open to all options, including no opposition to the current candidates. He said today’s meeting is meant to see what people think about such ideas before moving forward.
“I’m certainly not going to take ownership of this thing. I just happen to be on the spear point,” he said. “Whatever the community wants to do is fine by me.”
And the Whitsetts, Linthicum and Reschke are not without support among local voters.
In a poll posted Sunday on www.heraldandnews.com, 57.5 percent of those surveyed as of Monday favored the Whitsetts’ actions as strategic but legal, while 40 percent disproved because it blocked other Republican candidates from participating.