A new grassroots political group is forming to fight big money in local politics and the constant stream of negativity that's directed at Bainbridge Island City Hall.
The group, made up of mostly longtime islanders, is calling its new nonprofit Quality Bainbridge.
Gloria Sayler, vice president of the group, said the effort was originally envisioned as a nonprofit entity. Its members are filing paperwork this week with the state, however, to become a political action committee.
The change was prompted by the recent political efforts of email activist Gary Tripp, who launched a political action committee called Common Sense Bainbridge last month to support his slate of three candidates for the city council.
Tripp has since raised $21,050 for his political group.
"I feel strongly that elections shouldn't be bought," Sayler said.
"And most people on Bainbridge Island also feel that elections shouldn't be bought."
Quality Bainbridge will be an advocate for "good, smart, local government."
The group was formed with the idea it would follow a model similar to the League of Women Voters, where the nonprofit would educate voters in the weeks and days before the next election. The group started a Facebook page and website in September.
Things started to shift, however, after Tripp — an incessant critic of Bainbridge Island City Hall — formed his political action committee, or PAC, in the run-up to the November General Election.
"In the past couple of weeks we’ve become alarmed at what appears to be an unprecedented attempt by a PAC to buy the election and control the city council for years,” said John Ellis, president of Quality Bainbridge.
Ellis noted that Tripp's group, and one of his candidates, had already raised a record amount of money for their campaigns.
Both Ellis and Sayler said that sort of big-money campaigning runs counter to the character of Bainbridge Island.
“That PAC money is far more than most candidates on our island have historically spent on their entire campaign. And one member of their slate has, in addition, already exceeded the most money ever assembled for a council election, reporting nearly $23,000 to date," Ellis said.
"That PAC and its slate are substituting big-money PAC politics — close to $50,000 for the PAC and its three-person slate — for the small-town, person-to-person campaigns we’ve appreciated on Bainbridge Island in the past,” he said.
Quality Bainbridge announced Wednesday it will support Wayne Roth, Val Tollefson and Roger Townsend in the races for Bainbridge Island City Council.
Tripp's group is supporting the trio's opponents; Richard "Dick" Haugan, Cheryl McComb and Arlene Buetow.
Ellis also pointed out that Glenn Avery, chairman of the 36th Legislative District Republicans in King County, is also named as an officer with Tripp's Common Sense Bainbridge.
“A big-money PAC with an off-island officer is a threat to the local values and culture that makes our island so special," Ellis said. "On the one hand, we have three extraordinarily well-qualified candidates who embrace island values. On the other side, is a PAC that is threatening to make Bainbridge as polarized as the other Washington - where extremists have shut down our government and its services to people and businesses who depend on it.”
Sayler, the vice president of Quality Bainbridge, said the group decided to endorse Roth, Tollefson and Townsend after a questionnaire was sent to all six candidates on Sept. 21.
Answers to the questions — which included topics such as economic growth, top priorities, the city's comprehensive plan and core city services — were due Oct. 1.
Sayler said Roth, Tollefson and Townsend responded to the questionnaire, while Haugan, McComb and Buetow did not.
“Quality Bainbridge is today enthusiastically endorsing Wayne Roth, Val Tollefson and Roger Townsend for city council," Sayler said. "We’ve had an independent look at the candidates, and we found that each of those three have great qualifications and embrace the values that so many islanders share. And, frankly, we’re concerned about a big money PAC that is collecting unprecedented amounts of money to push their slate.”
According to its website, Quality Bainbridge supports "effective city government rooted in local control that is aligned with our common island values."
"We are here to support the government of Bainbridge Island, both elected and staff in their efforts to ensure we are living in the best environment in the world and give them protection from those who would only focus on no."
Other members of the Quality Bainbridge Steering Committee are Kathy Dunn, a retired kindergarten teacher; Maradel Gale, a retired professor from the University of Oregon and the organizer of Bainbridge Beach Naturalists; Juliet LeDorze, a businesswoman and community volunteer; former councilman Barry Peters; and Randal Samstag, a former member of the city's Utility Advisory Committee.