Challengers say they’re about more than gun rights in Battle Ground race

The race had already gotten testy ahead of last week’s primary election

BATTLE GROUND — On Mon., May 6 a packed house at the Battle Ground City Council meeting shared their thoughts on the decision to issue a statement about Initiative 1639, instead of adopting a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary City resolution, which would have been legally binding.

Challengers say they’re about more than gun rights in Battle Ground race
Four candidates remain in two Battle Ground City Council races.

“When the orders come down and your officers and citizens are dying, remember that you had the chance to stop it,” said Josh VanGelder. “You’re literally bringing a war to the door of your constituents, and the blood will be on your hands.”

VanGelder is now a finalist to take on incumbent City Council member Philip Johnson, making good on his promise at that meeting and earlier to seek to unseat any council member who didn’t support a resolution.

The other is Shauna Walters, a medical assistant and former combat medic for the U.S. Army, and a member of the North County Sons and Daughters of Liberty, a gun-rights group that recently pushed successfully to get the town of Yacolt to adopt a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolution. Walters will face Neil Butler, a retail manager and Scoutmaster who served on Battle Ground’s Parks Advisory Board several years ago.

Walters pulled in nearly half the vote during the August primary, with Butler at 33 percent. Candy Bonneville grabbed 17 percent to finish third.

VanGelder, a political newcomer, pulled in a respectable 35 percent, with Johnson at 45 percent. Katrina Negrov, another political newcomer who ran a rather quiet campaign, finished with 19.31 percent.

“I’m very pleased that the people have the confidence in me to at least push me into the top two, if you will,” said Johnson, while admitting that the race will likely be more competitive than he would like in November.

In the weeks before the primary election, things heated up as Johnson filed a campaign financing complaint against Walters, alleging that she had taken donations beyond the maximum amount allowed. Walters responded, admitting she had neglected to set limits on her fundraising website, but had corrected the mistake and refunded anyone who had donated more than allowed. 

Battle Ground Mayor Mike Dalesandro also waded into the debate, posting a video on his personal Facebook page alleging Walters and VanGelder were part of a “Portland-style street brawl political takeover” led by “outside groups” such as Patriot Prayer and the North County Sons and Daughters of Liberty.

“The mayor has decided that he speaks for everyone in the city, claiming that the city doesn’t like what we do,” said VanGelder in an emailed statement to “The irony being that he and Johnson are from out of state. I have lived within 10 miles of Battle Ground since I was born. I’ve grown up around and in Battle Ground. So before he starts throwing those accusations, he should do his research.”

Walters said she feels like the critical comments by Mayor Dalesandro and the complaint from Johnson may have actually helped her in the primary, though she declined to comment on the specifics of their allegations.

“People do not want that type of dirty politics infecting their city,” Walters wrote. “I pledged from the beginning of the race to run a clean race without attacks on my opponents and I intend to keep my pledge.”

For his part, Johnson has no qualms in saying what he thinks about Patriot Prayer or the group’s leader, Joey Gibson.

“I think he’s trying to Antelope, Oregon us,” Johnson says, referring to the infamous Rajneeshees, a cult that built a city in the wilderness outside of the tiny Central Oregon town, eventually taking over the City Council there.

“On a seven-person Council, you get two this year and two 2 years from now, you own the council,” Johnson says, adding he believes Gibson is more involved in the race than he lets on. “I believe that he’s pretty much the campaign manager for these two.”

Johnson drew the ire of the gun rights crowd when he said he wouldn’t support “voter nullification” by taking on I-1639 at the city level. The U.S. Army veteran argued that, although Battle Ground voters didn’t approve the initiative, it passed statewide.

“(Senator) Patty Murray lost in Battle Ground when she ran the last time, but she’s still the U.S. Senator,” says Johnson, “and … Governor Inslee lost in Battle Ground, but he’s still the governor.”

Other issues at play

With the primary behind them, the candidates are generally promising to try and focus on issues outside of gun control, though that’s likely to remain a central issue in the campaign.

“It all begins mostly with the letter P,” he says, “and that’s potholes, police, public safety, because the city has absolutely nothing to do with 1639.” 

VanGelder seems to disagree, stating that elected officials have a duty to uphold the constitution..

“I am passionate about the constitution and government serving the people,” says VanGelder. 

“Beyond that, the government has no place.”

While gun rights may have propelled Walters into the race, she says attending numerous city meetings has led her to a much better understanding of the numerous other issues facing the city. She says voters she’s spoken with list things like sewer and water rates, traffic, and public safety as their top concerns.

“Public safety should be our number one priority,” says Walters, noting that the city’s police department currently has three open positions.

Butler likewise notes that Battle Ground faces serious questions when it comes to water and sewer services, needed street and traffic improvements, and managing growth while maintaining the city’s rural feel.

“Infrastructure is key,” says Butler, adding that he has no ulterior motives in running for elected office. “City government has a specific role in administering to the needs of its citizens. I am committed to that proper function of a city councilor.”

Johnson says he has a small hope that the general election race can focus on issues that Battle Ground City Council actually has the ability to tackle.

“It’s going to be a campaign on issues, I hope,” he says, “not some abstract issues. But I guess that’s yet to be seen.”

Keep watching for more coverage of the general election races, leading up to the election on Nov. 5.

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