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GOP "mainstream" leaders seek to energize new generation to recreate past successes

The grand old men of Washington State's Grand Old Party, who brought about the closest thing to a Republican Golden Era in their state back in the '60s, are seeking to help attract and energize a new generation of young people to what they tout as the GOP "mainstream."

 

Their vehicle for renewal is Action for Washington, created in 1968 by Sam Reed and Chris Bayley, then a couple of young newcomers to the Republican political scene, and recreated several years ago by Reed, who retired this year after three terms as Secretary of State.

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

The organization had its first fund-raising breakfast last week in Bellevue and a group of those young people who have been attracted as "mainstream" (meaning politically moderate) messengers for the future was in evidence, along with Reed, Action for Washington President Alex Hays and Republican party icons Dan Evans and Slade Gorton.

 

All are aware that the image being created by Republicans nationally on a number of social issues is making it a more daunting task to create a Republican revival in states like Washington, which has grown increasingly "blue" in the past couple of decades.

 

That's particularly felt by Republican moderates coming off a gubernatorial election in which the positions of the party nationally may have been the biggest contributor to the defeat of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

 

"Clearly what is happening nationally is hurting us," Reed conceded. "But the Northwest, both Washington and Oregon, has traditionally been a place where a different breed of Republicans has operated. And we need to renew that image, and begin to find a way to have an impact nationally."

 

The graduates of the Action for Washington program are seen as a starting point. The young men and women, many recruited from college campuses, are enrolled in a leadership conference that provides weekly exposure for three to four months of discussion in areas like public policy, public relations and other issues that Hays sees leading them, once they're "alumni," to "vitalize the center-right" with their future involvements.

 

In a sense, the past-and-present leaders envisioning renewal may hope there's a flip side to George Santayana's oft quoted (usually inaccurately) admonition about "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The reverse would be that those who remember the past may be able to help repeat it.

 

In fact, the events that unfolded in the decade of the '60s that Reed, Evans and Gorton helped bring about may offer lessons for today, and tomorrow. Those include pushback by Republican moderates against the party's more high-visibility conservative wing, legislative coalitions that both Reed and Hays refer to as the ultimate example of political bipartisanship, and possible looming rifts among Democrats, potentially reminiscent of the divisions of the late '60s and early '70s.

 

All of those were part of the historical background for what happened in Washington in the '60s that believers in a renewed GOP mainstream would like to recreate.

 

It was in 1963, when an over-reach by Seattle-area Democrats on the issue of public vs. private power drove angry conservative Spokane Democrats who were believers in protecting Spokane-based and investor-owned Washington Water Power Co. into a coalition with Republicans.

 

The result was Spokane Democratic Rep. Bill (Big Daddy) Day became speaker and Republican Dan Evans became majority leader, setting the stage for his victory a year later in the gubernatorial race in which he ousted Al Rosellini. Young Seattle city councilman A. Ludlow Kramer, a Republican, rode along to victory in the race for Secretary of State, both bucking a Democratic landslide nationally.

 

It was their victory, and the emergence of young newcomers like Reed, then fresh out of graduate school at WSU where he was president of the campus young republicans, and Bayley, just back from Harvard and destined to be King County prosecutor, that helped push back the growing role of conservatives in Washington State. In those days, the conservative wing of the party, which helped propel Sen. Barry Goldwater to the GOP presidential nomination, was under the banner of the John Birch Society.

 

Meanwhile, Democrats were being torn by internal struggle over the Vietnam War, with the party's liberal wing in this state so angered that they actively sought to defeat Henry M. Jackson, one of the nation's most powerful and respected Democrats and an avowed Hawk, in the 1970 election.

 

Part of what helped moderate Republicans to electoral success in the '60s and early '70s, and would be their hope for the future, was what Hays chuckles in referring to as "Washington's rich tradition of ticket splitting," the key to Evans' and Kramer's victories despite the Democratic sweep nationally. That was also true in '68 when Gorton was elected state attorney general and in a series of elections in which Republicans claimed the majority in the state House of Representatives, without the need for a coalition.

 

Hays, 43, notes that in his "younger years," before he became active in the state Republican organization and with Mainstream Republicans of Washington and president of Action for Washington, he "helped a few of my conservative Democrat friends in their campaigns."

 

Reed laments that Mainstream Republicans get far less visibility for their stands on issues, such as in favor of Gay rights, pro-choice and pro- immigration reform, than the views of party conservatives, including the Tea Party types.

 

Reed is particularly proud of recalling that it was while helping guide the original Action for Washington as executive director of the governor's Urban Affairs Council, that he recruited Art Fletcher, a black self-help advocate and member of the Pasco City Council, to be the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.

 

Although Fletcher lost to incumbent John Cherberg, he was the first and so far only African-American to be the nominee of either party for a major statewide office.

 

Both Hays and Reed view the coalition that came about in the State Senate this year when two Democrats, including one-timeRepublican Rodney Toms, driven from the party by battles with conservatives, joined with Republicans to create a majority as "the ultimate example of bipartisan cooperation."

 

Reed notes that "it's interesting that in both 1963 and this year that a lot of people were skeptical that the coalitions would hold together, but they proved they could work together when the pressure was on."

 

As to seeing another divisive battle among factions in the Democratic party, Reed and Hays think the growing budgetary impact of public pensions and retirement practices will eventually be seen as a challenge to key liberal causes such as environmental inititives and programs for children and the poor.

 

"There's no way to maintain support for all the Democratic interest groups with current budget realities, and that will begin to create real divisions in the ranks," said Reed.

 

How well the old guard's experience with the past helps them recreate something similar for the future will be evidenced as 2014 political campaigns in this state take shape.

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While Dems have had lock on governor's office, GOP has longer hold on Sec. of State

The GOP lament in Washington State about the fact it's been 32 years since a Republican was elected governor pales somewhat compared to how long Democrats in the state have watched a string of Republicans hold the post of secretary of state.

 

For Rob McKenna, the two-term state attorney general who is the Republican nominee in the governor's race, the long Democratic tenure in the governor's mansion, longest rule in the nation by either party, has provided the opportunity to tell voters "we haven't refreshed this place in a generation." 

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

But in the race for secretary of state, the post from which Sam Reed is retiring after three terms, Democrats will be seeking to reverse their almost half-century absence from the office that oversees state and local elections, corporate and non-profit filings and records and is supervisor of the State Archives.

 

A Republican has held the post since A. Ludlow Kramer, a young Seattle city councilman, ousted incumbent Victor A. Meyers in 1964. So it's been 52 years since Meyer's 1960 victory as the last Democrat elected to the position. The secretary of state is second, behind the lieutenant governor, in the line of succession to the office of governor.

 

It was in 1964 that Dan Evans defeated Democratic incumbent Albert D. Rosellini, who was seeking a third term. The two Seattle Republicans, Evans and Kramer, thus both beat incumbent Democrats despite the fact that Lyndon Johnson carried the state overwhelmingly in the presidential vote, suggesting that Washington voters can sometimes make independent judgements about state and national races.

 

Washington's history with secretaries of state is in marked contrast to the background of the office in Oregon, where it has long been viewed as a stepping stone to the governor's office.

 

In Washington State, it's been the office of attorney general that has been seen as the stepping stone, with the last three, including outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire and now-GOP candidate McKenna, looking to occupy the governor's mansion.

 

Two of Oregon's best-known and respected political figures made stops at the secretary of state post en route to larger roles. Mark Hatfield was elected to the position in 1956 and two years later won the governor's race while Tom McCall was elected in 1964 and two years later won the first of his two terms as governor. Hatfield went on to the U.S. Senate, where he served for 30 years and was even briefly considered for the vice presidential spot with Richard Nixon in 1968.

 

If the Democrats in Washington think they've been shut out of the secretary of state post for a long time, consider that Barbara Roberts, in 1991, became not only the first woman to hold the position in Oregon but also the first Democrat elected to the post in more than 100 years.

 

Six of the last eight Oregon secretaries of state ran for governor, with Hatfield, McCall and Roberts being elected and three others losing in the general election.

 

I asked Reed why he thought the Washington secretary of state position hadn't also produced gubernatorial aspirants.

 

He admitted that he had been urged to run for governor in 2004 as the GOP sought a candidate to oppose then-Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire in seeking the position being vacated by Gary Locke, who decided against seeking a third term. State Sen. Dino Rossi eventually was the GOP candidate, losing by a handful of votes.

 

"I thought seriously about it but decided that I enjoyed the responsibilities of secretary of state, so I passed," he said. "It was a matter of thinking, 'why let the ego trip of running for governor interfere with doing what you like to do.'"

 

So he ran and was re-elected twice more to the office he had actually prepped for over a period of decades, working first with Kramer in the late '60s and with Bruce Chapman, who held the office in the late '70s. Then he spent 20 years as Thurston County auditor, a local-level version of the responsibilities handled by the secretary of state at the state level. He was elected to the county post in1980 and re-elected four times.

 

And Ralph Munro, Reed's predecessor who served five terms as secretary of state, said having worked in the governor's office for a number of years under Evans left him with "no desire to be governor."

 

He admitted to me that he had been lobbied to run but that "I never saw the office as a stepping stone. I really enjoyed being secretary of state."

 

Republican candidate Kim Wyman, who followed Reed into the Thurston County auditor's office in 2000, faces former state Sen. Kathleen Drew, a Democrat to see who replaces Reed. Thus no matter which one wins next month, the next secretary of state will be a woman.

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