The state Democratic Party is looking into accusations that the chairman of the 15th District Democrats is withholding party elections details to prevent his opponents from voting for new leadership.
Local Democratic leaders accuse district chairman Donicio Marichalar of keeping secret the time and location of the Thursday reorganization meeting, where the legislative district’s party officers will hold their biennial elections.
“I don’t even know where he is right now,” district secretary Tom Peterson said Monday morning. “We’re trying to get (details) worked out.”
On Monday afternoon, Marichalar refuted the accusation, saying the details were agreed upon at the last committee meeting in November. That, however, conflicts with statements from party officials, including Peterson, who said the details of the meeting were unknown and that Marichalar had not been responsive to phone calls and emails.
“I think they’re just pulling your leg on that,” Marichalar said. “I’m easy to get a hold of.”
Marichalar has become a polarizing figure among local Democrats, notably for his involvement in an altercation with former legislative candidate Pablo Gonzalez in September. Both were charged with assault in the incident in Sunnyside Municipal Court, but both cases were dismissed.
In a telephone interview, State Democratic Party chairman Dwight Pelz said members of the 15th Legislative District committee also contacted him with their concerns.
“We require meetings be held in a timely fashion and people be given notice,” Pelz said. “If there isn’t adequate information, the state party could step in and challenge the results.”
Precinct committee officers must be informed eight days prior to a reorganization meeting of when and where it will take place, according to state Democratic Party bylaws. But the rules of the state party also grant so much autonomy to legislative district committees that it’s uncertain how the rule can be enforced.
Marichalar said the meeting will be held at El Valle restaurant on Yakima Valley Highway in Sunnyside at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Pelz, who previously admonished Marichalar to step down following his altercation with Gonzalez, said depending on what happens after the meeting, the state party may seek the advice of legal counsel on how to address the dysfunction in the district party. He said he hopes Marichalar doesn’t seek a second term as chairman.
“I don’t think he’s fit to be the party chair,” Pelz said. “I would be very worried he’s trying to manipulate the rules.”
Marichalar, however, said he would likely run again.
“Dwight has no authority over the 15th Legislative District,” he said.
The committee’s voting members are made up of only nine elected precinct committee officers, but the state party requires a good faith effort to inform all members of the time and location of a meeting.
Yakima County Democrats chairwoman Mary Stephenson said Marichalar also didn’t respond to her inquiries after precinct committee officers brought their concerns to her. One of those officers, Tony Sandoval, said Marichalar was intent on a second term as chairman.
“I think he’s trying to pull a fast one,” Sandoval said. “I’m personally protesting the meeting already.”
Sandoval said the meeting should be rescheduled and that proper notice be given to committee members. Marichalar said the meeting will take place as scheduled.
“If there was any miscommunication it has to fall on me,” Marichalar said. “I’m 100 percent confident that it was scheduled in outstanding order.”