Walser’s offense changes the race

Not long ago you could find Democratic leaders salivating at their chances of dislodging Arlington Republican Sen. Val Stevens from office despite the predominant GOP bent of her district.

With Fred Walser, they had the prototype of a candidate Washington voters seem innately drawn to: a retired cop with a social conscience, a person rooted in a community with a voice for its causes, in this instance fixing U.S. 2.

Being a Democrat in what may be a bluer than normal year further stoked their excitement.

Excitement is turning to concern as they must now disentangle Walser’s campaign from his conviction, an order as tall as the 6-foot, 8-inch candidate himself.

They understand how in politics, the cover-up, not the crime, can inflict the most damage. With Walser, the cover-up in his duty as Sultan police chief was his crime.

The critical events in the chronology occurred in 2006 starting with a March 9 meeting of Walser and Snohomish County Sheriff’s detective Stephen Clinko.

Clinko gave Walser documents from the Washington State Patrol showing how his administrative secretary Carole Pepperell had used a police computer to find information on Gayle Harvie, a neighbor with whom she had a protracted quarrel.

Clinko left Walser to question and, if necessary punish, Pepperell. Walser spoke with her, she denied wrongdoing and the matter must have seemed over to him.

Two months later, in response to a public records request from Harvie, Sultan city attorney Cheryl Beyer came to Walser. She asked him for whatever documents he had on the possible improper use of police computers to check out Harvie.

Walser told her there were no records fitting that description. He didn’t tell her that he had met with Clinko nor mention the report he received from the detective.

Ten days ago, more than two years and 1,000 pages of investigation later, Walser sat in a courtroom in Bellingham entering a guilty plea to the charge of providing false information to a public official.

Walser called it “the worst day of my life.” Yet he maintains he broke no laws.

“I have never, ever lied to anybody,” he said. “All I did was put a sheriff’s report in a file and forgot about it.

“This is a clerical foul-up. Does that make me an undesirable candidate? People will have to judge for themselves,” he said.

Republicans think this could be the deciding issue in the race. On Friday, they started raising it and jabbing him in a 30-second video posted online.

That’s only the start. Walser will be defending his integrity right up to Election Day.

“Count on that,” said state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser. “This man abused one public office, and that’s important information for people to be aware of when they consider if he should be elected to another public office.”

Look who’s salivating now.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. He can be heard at 8 a.m. Mondays on “The Morning Show,” on KSER (90.7 FM). Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfieldheraldnet.com.

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