Islanders balk at Lincoln Day Dinner off-island
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
February 9, 2012 · Updated 11:14 AM
The Lincoln Day Dinner has long been an important tradition for the Island County Republican Party. It’s a time when candidates make announcements, money is raised for campaigns and people get a chance to mingle.
This year it will be a much different event, which has some members of the party upset and skeptical. The April 14 dinner is being held at the Comcast Arena in Everett and the keynote speaker will be John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. There will even be a professional comedian.
The cost is $100 a person or $55 for active-duty military members. A special VIP reception with Bolton costs an extra $85.
“Contrary to the stereotype about Republicans, the truth is a lot of us can’t afford that,” said Oak Harbor resident Robyn Kolaitis, the past president of the Republican Women’s Club of North Whidbey.
Kolaitis said she always enjoyed the camaraderie of the traditional dinner.
“It was an island-wide event. A lot of us only saw each other at the dinner. It was a time to relax and spend time with each other,” she said. “Now we’re being forced off the island with a lot of people we don’t know.”
The deviation from the tradition site at Useless Bay Golf and Country Club also spurred a lively discussion on the political website, www.islandpolitics.org.
Brett Wilhelm, chairman of the Island County Republican Party, said he’s sympathetic of the concerns about the dinner event being taken outside of the county. The reason, he said, is that there simply isn’t a venue on Whidbey or Camano Island large enough to accommodate the expected turnout.
Wilhelm said 700 or more guests are expected at the dinner and they won’t all be members of the Island County Republican Party.
“I think we’re going to get people from as far north as Whatcom County and as far south as Seattle and beyond,” he said.
Apart from Bolton and comedian Argus Hamilton, a number of dignitaries, including state Attorney General Rob McKenna, a candidate for governor, will attend the event.
Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell, a Republican running for county commissioner, said he’s going to the dinner and he’s impressed with the the keynote speaker. Yet he also liked the traditional Lincoln Day Dinner and wishes the Bolton speech had been a separate event.
As a candidate who will rely on donations, Campbell is also concerned about whether the event will really be a fundraiser. After all, it’s undoubtedly expensive to hire Bolton and rent the arena in Everett.
“I’m being selfish here. I would like the party to give me a lot of money for my campaign,” he joked.
Wilhelm, however, is confident that the dinner will be a moneymaker because of the expected turnout. He said the dinner will completely be run by the Island County Republican Party, which is flying Bolton in for the event.
For more information about the dinner or to register, go to the Island County Republican Party’s website at www.islandcountygop.com.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.