A full-page advertisement in The Daily News on Tuesday featuring three Longview City Council candidates and urging citizens to repeal recent gun restrictions has prompted their opponents to say it’s a ploy to gain voters less than a week before the election.
However, a councilman who paid for the ad said the Secretary of State’s Office only validated the petition last week and they have to gather 300,000 signatures statewide before the end of the year.
In bold letters, the ad says “Repeal I-1639. Defend your gun rights.”
It asks voters to join 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman, Longview Mayor Don Jensen, and Longview City Councilmen Mike Wallin and Scott Vydra. Jensen, Wallin and Vydra face spirited challenges to re-election in Tuesday’s general election.
The City Council has no authority over statewide ballot measures, though it can endorse or publicly oppose them.
“I think that they are trying to rally conservative voters, and that’s a way to get them to vote (in the City Council election),” said John Melink, Wallin’s opponent.
Wallin, however, strongly disputed the idea that the ad was an election ploy. Gun rights advocates only have a short window of time to gather enough signatures to qualify for an initiative, he said.
The ad says they need to collect 300,000 signatures before Dec. 28.
“I don’t know how to respond to him for that,” Wallin said of Melink’s comments. “I would be interested in having a conversation with (Melink) about his ideas of electioneering.”
Four local businesses sponsored the ad, including Pets, Pawns & Imports, which Councilman Vydra owns.
Vydra said Wednesday that the ad was a business decision, not a political decision. He frequently hears from customers how frustrated they are with the additional background checks mandated by I-1639, he said.
He said he paid $375 for the ad, which cost $1,500 total.
Initiative 1639 changed how Washingtonians can purchase, transfer and store firearms. The initiative added new background checks, fees and training requirements, and potential legal liabilities for owners who don’t lock up their guns. Only 39% of Cowlitz County voters approved the measure, but it passed statewide with 59% of the vote.
Opponents, including some local law enforcement officials, argued that some of the measures are unconstitutional.
Despite a steep uphill battle, Vydra seemed confident the petition to repeal parts of I-1639 would be successful.
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“(I-1639) passed because it said it would fix the problems, but it created more problems and unfunded mandates,” he said Wednesday.
Hillary Strobel, who is running against Vydra, said the gun control debate is an “emotional issue” for a lot of voters.
Strobel said that while City Council members have little sway in statewide issues such as gun control, she doesn’t have a problem with them advocating on behalf of their constituents.
However, she has concerns about the timing of the ad.
“I think it would be really accurate to say an ad about this issue the week before the election really does play on people’s emotions and does not give enough time for an honest debate of the issue,” she said Wednesday.
When asked about her stance on the initiative, Strobel said there is “overwhelming support” across the country for additional background checks and she would want to honor that sentiment.
Vydra disagreed, saying he hears constituents “scream” about the new gun regulations daily. Claims that the timing of the ad is related to the election are “straw man arguments,” Vydra said.
Wallin was more forceful, calling his opponent, Melink, a “gun grabber.”
“We have a very clear distinction on gun rights. I support the Second Amendment. He expressed support for the previous law. He and others think it didn’t go far enough,” he said.
Melink confirmed that he believe I-1639 was a “proactive step” to address gun violence across the country.
“As a hunter and a gun owner, I support Second Amendment rights. However, I also believe that gun safety is paramount in this day and age,” Melink said.
He said he opposes attempts to repeal I-1639 but said he is not advocating for taking people’s guns away. Wallin is attempting to “sensationalize” the gun debate, he said.
Wallin said he will do everything he can to protect citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.
“(Melink) wants to make it about politics and the election,” he said. “There’s not a progressive or leftist way of filling potholes.”