PORT TOWNSEND — A lot of people think you shouldn’t mix business and politics. Casey Carson isn’t one of them.

From the big blue Trump sign in the window of his Fat Smitty’s restaurant on Discovery Bay to walls lined with fliers for local Republican Party candidates and bumper sticker sayings like “DON’T STEAL: THE GOVERNMENT HATES COMPETITION” — you know exactly where he stands.

That doesn’t sit well with all his potential customers, many of them lefties from the Puget Sound region on their way to soak in the Olympic Peninsula’s natural wonders. Occasionally, one of them calls or stops by to let him know they won’t be eating there because of his politics.

Does that bother him, I asked as we chatted in the dining room after a recent lunch rush.

“It’s their right,” he said, without a hint of hard feelings.

It is still a free country, after all.

Not everyone lets their Trump aversion trump their desire for a Fat Smitty’s hamburger or cup of chowder. I’ve stopped in a few times in the last few months, always finding a mix of locals and tourists like me. They sneak glances or openly study the walls, which are like a political history: A Ross Perot button, a photo of President George W. Bush, another bumper sticker proclaiming “I miss Reagan” tacked underneath a hand-drawn image of the smiling former prez.


The satirical items poking fun at big-government liberals may be a bit harder to swallow, but they keep coming back to sit at the gold Formica counter worn through at regular intervals by countless forearms hoisting hamburgers. That makes Carson’s restaurant a rare political melting pot in these hyperpartisan days.

As candidates and political operatives start revving their engines for the midterm elections, I wonder how they plan to deal with folks like Carson, who voted for former President Donald Trump but don’t fit the stereotype of the unhinged, disgruntled voter.

Carson, a retired state trooper and Marine Corps veteran, says his décor isn’t about drawing a line, but about knowing what you stand for. And anyway, he didn’t start the theme, just continued it after buying the restaurant a dozen years ago from the real fat Smitty, Carl Schmidt, and his wife Miyo (“Mickey”).

The place is all the same, he says — the Marine Corps paraphernalia and poster of Robbie Knievel, son of Evel, jumping the Grand Canyon, the dollar bills thumb-tacked to the walls that accumulate for years before they’re collected and donated to charity.

“My sister, who paid for her college back in the ’80s working at this restaurant, when I didn’t even own it, can come here and still find the ketchup in the same spot,” he says.

The more we talked, the more Carson reminded me of the small-town Republicans I used to know in my years of newspapering in rural Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa. They weren’t wild-eyed radicals. Their ideas were so middle-of-the-road, they verged on boring: People should be free to make their own choices and deal with their own consequences, for the most part. Not every good idea needs (or ought) to become a law or a government program. As one older man once put it to me, “You can put all the laws on the books that you want, but that won’t make people act right.”


Maybe these sorts of ideas spring up naturally in rural places, where our interconnectedness is organic. When a farmer is injured during harvest season, no one tells the neighbors they have to pitch in to get that family’s crop in or funnels the relief effort through a government hotline. They just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Out here, about two hours from Seattle, at the northeast corner of Highway 101 between Blyn and Chimacum, one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always fit, exactly. A $14.49 minimum wage hits differently when your area’s median household income is half what it is in King County.

“You’ve got to understand,” Carson tells me. “I’m still amazed that people are paying a half-million dollars for a house.”

There aren’t a lot of opportunities for a conservative to express himself in Jefferson County, where Port Townsend progressives dominate the political conversation, or in other counties like it.

Like it or not, lots of people out here still feel that Trump listened. So who is going to listen to them this time?

“We can’t be fighting anymore,” said Carson. “We need to get back to business.” 

From his lips to the parties’ ears.