Longview City Council elections this year slipped further into partisan divides and personal attacks than in recent years, reflecting polarized national politics.
The level of personal attacks across social media and other platforms was unprecedented, and it could potentially discourage future candidates, community leaders said in the wake of Tuesday’s general election.
“Never in my career as a politician have I seen such nastiness,” Longview Mayor Don Jensen said Friday. “We always try to get along and keep it to the (city issues), and all of a sudden this seemed to just go totally sideways.”
Three seats on the council were up for grabs this year, with two incumbents, Chet Makinster and Steve Moon, seeking re-election. They each drew challengers, Dianne Quast and Amber Rosewood, respectively. MaryAlice Wallis and Megan Richie ran to fill Mary Jane Melink’s open seat. Makinster, Moon and Wallis all won lopsided victories.
Throughout the campaigns, negative posts and comments swirled on social media. In the last few weeks before the election, some online news sources displayed an offensive ad, of unknown origin, featuring Makinster and President Trump in a bedroom scene.
The week before the election, a mailer went out attacking Quast, Rosewood and Richie with their pictures and details of their “activist agenda.” The mailer said it was paid for by Homework for Voters and Tim Sutinen. Sutinen could not be reached for comment Friday.
“We are going to lose credible candidates who may be afraid to step up and run for something because they are afraid they will be torn apart by local community members,” Rosewood said.
The candidates themselves said they were proud of the way they conducted their campaigns.
Wallis said she privately disagreed with the mudslinging, including the mailer that went out about her opponent, but she chose early on not to get involved in negative tactics. She said Richie’s campaign asked her to publicly discourage personal attacks, but Wallis said she preferred to stay out of the debate altogether.
“To denounce something is to announce something,” Wallis said. “You are making a statement by default.”
Quast said she was disappointed that no one on the council publicly condemned personal attacks. Several sitting council members supported Wallis and Makinster.
“That’s more disappointing to me than losing,” she said. “The lack of outrage and that whole kind of bullying attitude that seems to be gaining more and more volume. … They talk about quality of place; that’s going to damage the quality of place for lots of folks.”
When asked why he didn’t make a public statement about his personal reaction, Jensen said that as mayor he tries avoid taking a stance on campaign issues.
“If I get involved with it then … it’s the City of Longview saying I support this or I support that,” he said.
He acknowledged, though, that if he were a citizen watching this recent election, it would deter him from running for a public position.
“I think the times they are changing,” he said. “I prefer a straightforward campaign. You say what you think is best and how you think things should be run. … I’m not sure how bad you beat up on somebody has anything to do with how you’re going to run the city.”
Wallis said that while elections can become dirty, they don’t have to.
“I think people are passionate about what they believe and sometimes they are so passionate that they cross lines that they even feel they shouldn’t,” she said. “When everything is all done, we have to work together. It doesn’t make sense to me to be divisive because someone is going to be the winner and someone is not.”
Richie said that she faced “cyberbullying” from online commenters attacking her and her family. Some posts were filled with expletives and included disparaging personal comments about Richie.
Nevertheless, Richie said she was pleased with the debate of ideas that occurred between Wallis and herself.
“MaryAlice and I were very vocal about our ideas and how different we were,” Richie said. “It was exciting to see those conversations fleshed out.”
Wallis said that she now views Richie as a friend.
Richie added that the negativity has not deterred her from staying involved with the city.
“I’m cheering MaryAlice on as a woman’s voice on the council because none of the other women made it,” she said. “We need to lift her up and encourage her to be the best she can be. And I’m sure she will.”
Former Longview mayor and current Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said the large spread in Tuesday’s races imply that the negativity likely had a limited impact on the results.
“Those who have the most positive campaigns are the ones that strike a chord with people,” he said. “Jobs, parks, quality of life. That’s what people want out of their local government. Most people don’t really like the negative stuff.”
He added that he heard from Longview citizens who were disappointed to receive the Sutinen-sponsored postcard about Quast, Richie and Rosewood.
Jensen said that while he disagreed with the nature of the election, he is pleased with the results.
“The election is over (and) we’ve got good people,” he said. “I see great things for the city for the next year.”