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.
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.