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April 24, 2012 at 4:40 PM

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King County GOP leader boots caucus outside after Ron Paul backers take over

Over the weekend, Republicans in the 37th Legislative District gathered to choose delegates to the state GOP convention.

The caucus started out Saturday morning inside Dimmitt Middle School. But it didn't end inside the building.

After supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul elected one of their own to chair of the meeting, the gathering was booted to an outside basketball court by King County Republican Party Chairman Lori Sotelo.

The move came after attendees irritated Sotelo by rejecting her choice to run the caucus - former King County Councilman David Irons.

Instead, the group voted for Tamara Smilanich, a Paul supporter.

That prompted Sotelo to declare the meeting was no longer a Republican Party event - but a Ron Paul campaign event.

Sotelo says she asked the group to continue its meeting outside because the King County Republican Party -- not the Paul campaign -- had paid for the facility and for the insurance. She added that Smilanich stopped her from addressing the group.

"I said, 'I am going to have to step away from responsibility and have to ask you to take your caucus elsewhere,' " Sotelo said in an interview.

Sotelo called Smilanich a Paul campaign "operative" who did not have the experience to run the caucus. She said there was no reason for the Paul supporters to "take over" the meeting -- they had numbers and were going to elect their favored delegates no matter who chaired the caucus.

"There is no other campaign that feels the need to poke the party in the eye like the Ron Paul campaign," said Sotelo. "For heaven's sake stop hitting us with a firehose."

But Smilanich said she saw nothing wrong with what happened at the caucus.

"There was a vote and the vote went to elect [the chairman] who the body wanted. Everything was legitimate," Smilanich said.

Even though the GOP had reserved the room until 2 p.m., the meeting was pushed outside to the basketball court at about 12:30 p.m. The caucus finished its business outside in the sun, and elected 11 Ron Paul supporters to the state convention, which begins May 31 in Tacoma.

Despite asserting the caucus had ceased to be a Republican Party function once Smilanich was elected chair, Sotelo said she had no plans to challenge the legitimacy of those delegates.

One caucus attendee, Michael Brubaker, was so upset by Sotelo's actions he's suing her in small claims court. That's because each caucus-goer paid $10 to participate - money Sotelo said was to help pay for the party's expenses for using the school. But Sotelo refused to refund the money after the group was moved outside.

"She shouldn't have taken our money and kicked us out," Brubaker said.

The dust-up is the latest in a series of disputes between Paul supporters and local GOP officials.

Paul's supporters have repeatedly accused GOP leaders of conspiring against his campaign.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, have been irritated at what they see as rude, disruptive and paranoid behavior by the Paul supporters.

They're also concerned that many Paul supporters have refused to say they'll back the Republican Party's presidential nominee, now all but certain to be Mitt Romney.

Indeed, Smilanich said she would have considered backing Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who recently suspended his presidential campaign.

But, she said, "I don't care for Mitt Romney."

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