All Politics is Local

When canvassing gets weird: Ridgefield edition

So this is the definition of awkward.

As I reported today, Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow is no longer running unopposed for his council Position 1 seat. Tim Wilson, a Battle Ground police sergeant, is mounting a write-in campaign to unseat the six-year council veteran. (In Ridgefield, the mayor is an appointed position among councilors.)

Wilson’s grassroots campaign is relying on plenty of door-to-door knock-and-talks. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has lent his support to the campaign by canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of Wilson, with whom he shares similar views on the Columbia River Crossing.

So far so good. But last Saturday, Benton’s canvassing led him straight to Onslow’s front door. This came only a few days after Benton, Commissioner Tom Mielke and state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, attended a Ridgefield City Council meeting to castigate Onslow for voting at a Sept. 26 C-Tran Board of Directors meeting to approve a funding agreement between TriMet and C-Tran for the extension of lightrail.

According to people who attended the Ridgefield City Council meeting, Benton laid into the mayor for voting the way he did. Sadly, an audio record of the meeting doesn’t exist. The recording equipment the city uses wasn’t working properly that night, Onslow said.

So imagine the mayor’s surprise when Benton arrived at his doorstep one Saturday to tell him to vote against himself — and right after giving Onslow a verbal lashing at a public meeting.

“I said, ‘Oh, hi, Don,’” Onslow recalled, in his characteristically understated way.

While some canvassers might have been deterred by accidentally (one presumes) knocking on the door of the person he or she is campaigning against, Benton stuck to the script.

Onslow explains: “He asked me if I was a registered voter.”

Onslow responded — not in exactly these words — that yes, he is indeed a registered voter, and he votes in every election. Benton asked why Onslow wasn’t out campaigning. Onslow explained he was on the way to his grandson’s soccer game.

There was another brief exchange — I imagine it being excruciatingly uncomfortable, like something Larry David would dream up — in which Benton asked why Onslow, in his capacity as an alternate on the C-Tran Board of Directors filling in for La Center Mayor Jim Irish, voted for the contract.

Onlsow explained that he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Benton.

And then Benton left.

Was the eye-to-eye meeting as awkward as I imagine it was?

Not necessarily for Onslow: “He was at my front door,” he demurred.

Tyler Graf

I started working for The Columbian in 2012 and currently cover Clark County. I'm a 2007 graduate of The University of Oregon. Contact me at tyler.graf@columbian.com

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