Waters, 63, is a retired auto mechanic who lives just outside Vancouver in the heavily Democratic 49th legislative district. He says being a political conservative in his neighborhood is an uphill battle.
“Our message is not well received a lot of times, but it’s still out there.”
From a national to local view
Waters first started blogging shortly after the 2004 presidential election, focusing on national issues. But three years ago, Waters got to thinking how few bloggers there were talking about local politics from a Republican perspective. Soon thereafter, “Clark County Conservative” was born.
“There’s all kinds of national blogs, probably millions of them,” he said. “It dawned on me I’m not paying attention to what’s happening right here in Clark County.”
Vancouver is not Portland
In terms of subject matter, if it involves raising taxes or issues of personal freedom, Waters likely has an opinion on it. He finds it ironic that local officials are so quick to commit tax money to expensive projects like the $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing / Light Rail project (he calls it “loot rail”), a $23 million baseball stadium for the single-A Yakima Bears, and a $78 million Bus Rapid Transit line on Fourth Plain Blvd. when the City of Vancouver can’t fully staff its police or fire departments without the help of federal grants.
The way he sees it, Vancouver is just “kowtowing” to Portland’s tax-happy approach to city planning.
“We’re not Portland. We’re Vancouver, Washington,” Waters said. “We’re a separate community. If you like Portland and want to go there, cross the river. It’s right there. You can come back here if you want, but don’t tell us we have to live like they do.”
On the radio
Waters’ blog eventually caught the attention of conservative Portland radio host Victoria Taft, whose show runs weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on KPAM 860 AM. For more than a year, Waters has called in each Wednesday to give an update on southwest Washington politics.
“She’s very interested in what goes on the north side of the river,” Waters said. “I really enjoy calling in and trying to get my notes together and seeing what she wants to talk about, bringing her up-to-date on what we are doing.”
Memories of Vietnam
Although Waters has lived in Clark County for more than 20 years, he grew up in southern Florida during the turbulence of the civil rights movement and the early years of the Vietnam War. Waters moved out on his own when he was 19 and was holding down a decent job when he received his draft notice in 1969.
He immediately enlisted in the Army, hoping to pick his assignment and avoid ending up as general infantry in Vietnam. However, he landed in Vietnam anyway, working as a helicopter mechanic with C Troop 7/17th Air Cavalry.
“I beat everybody from my basic training unit to Vietnam by three weeks,” Waters said.
In addition to repairing helicopters, Waters’ unit retrieved helicopters that had either been shot down or had experienced mechanical trouble in the field. He usually went unarmed, accompanied by other soldiers and gun ships overhead.
“If you’re out there rigging the helicopter, you don’t have room to carry your M16,” he said. “It gets in the way.”
No love for a soldier
Waters felt the sting of anti-war sentiment back home during his first trip to Florida on leave. During a commercial plane flight out of Seattle, Waters enjoyed a friendly conversation with a young woman and her daughter, who were sitting next to him. The woman had no idea Waters was a soldier until, at the end of the flight, he put on his military jacket. Then the venom came out.
“She grabbed her daughter and jerked her away and said, ‘Get away from that killer!’” said Waters. “This was after we had spent almost two hours having a good chat, friendly. And pretty much the whole plane went silent.”
Waters ended up serving two tours in Vietnam, rotating out when he was 22. He got married while on leave and was first stationed in Germany for three years, and then Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Waters enjoyed Army life and expected to serve a full 20 years, but when President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, Waters decided it was time to leave.
“To me, that was a kick in the rear end,” Waters said. “I said, ‘They don’t need me in here.’”
Waters left the service in 1977 and moved with his family to Portland, Ore. that same year. The family came to Clark County in 1978, but Waters moved back to Florida following a divorce. He returned to Clark County to stay in 1988.
Waters spent 20 years as a mechanic, but lost his job in 2009 when the Vancouver Dodge dealership he worked for closed as result of the federal bail out of Chrysler and General Motors. With more than 700 dealerships nationwide facing similar fates, Waters had few job options as a factory-certified mechanic.
“I finally went on Social Security and retired,” Waters said.
Waters has since remarried and now focuses his time on his blog and remains busy with local veteran organizations, including the Community Military Appreciation Committee (CMAC), which organizes Memorial Day services in Clark County.
Waters believes it’s essential for civilians to realize the freedoms they have because of the sacrifice of veterans. This year, on the day before Veterans Day, Waters and several other vets visited with school children at Woodland Primary School in Woodland. The goodwill helped to soothe old wounds.
“They’re learning that they owe their freedoms to every veteran,” said Waters. “All throughout the history of our country, if it wasn’t for us veterans, you wouldn’t have the freedoms you’ve got. The Constitution is written on a piece of paper. Veterans are what support it and keep it alive, not politicians.”
Video directed, shot and edited by Scott Thompson.
Read more at lewwaters.wordpress.com.