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Sorry, Republicans: Seattle-bashing isn’t going to save your brand in Washington State

This past weekend in Leavenworth, the Dan Evans wing of Washington State’s Republican Party gathered at the Enzian Inn for its annual Cascade Conference.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s Joel Connelly attended the gathering of the self-professed Mainstream Republicans and reports that attendees “used humor and hard argument here over the weekend to gird for what their fundraising chair Jim Waldo predicted will be ‘our two toughest years.'”

Republicans won the 2016 federal elections and now control every branch of the federal government. Republicans in Washington State are grappling with the fallout of that, and understand that one consequence of Donald Trump’s rise could be severe damage to the Republican Party brand throughout the state.

In Leavenworth, Republicans signaled they’ll try to protect their hold on the state Senate not by advancing worthy ideas to improve Washington’s quality of life, but by bashing Seattle every chance they get — and trying to tie every Democratic candidate running outside of the state’s largest city to the specter of an income tax.

As Joel pointed out in his reporting, in the days when Dan Evans was governor of this state, such a strategy would have been unthinkable. Evans and other Republicans of his day were well liked in Seattle and King County; Evans served as a representative of the deep blue 43rd District prior to becoming Governor. Evans was a stalwart proponent of levying a state income tax and twice convinced the Legislature to approved a constitutional amendment to provide for one.

Nowadays, Evans has a dim view of Seattle politics, and of the Democratic Party.

“We are evolving into one very blue (Democratic) area around Seattle and the rest of the state is turning Republican,” the venerable Evans said in Leavenworth, according to Connelly’s report. He added: “They (Democrats) don’t care and look down on people who live in the rest of the state.”

I like and respect Dan Evans a great deal — he was arguably one of the best governors this state ever had, and I applaud his efforts to reform Washington State’s regressive tax code — but those statements are nonsense.

Washington’s political makeup is indeed evolving, but it’s much more complex than Evans makes it out to be. Greater Seattle isn’t the state’s only Democratic area. Similarly, rural communities aren’t the state’s only Republican area.

Democrats do very well in Washington’s 3rd Legislative District (Spokane), which is currently represented by Democrats Marcus Riccelli, Timm Ormsby, and Andy Billig. But apparently in Evans’ eyes, they don’t count.

Nor do Democratic legislators like Kevin Ranker, Kris Lytton, Steve Tharinger, Mike Chapman, Kevin Van De Wege, Brian Blake, Dean Takko, each of whom also represent a district that is hours away from Seattle.

Democrats would not be within striking distance of a Senate majority and would not have a House majority at all if they couldn’t compete outside of Seattle.

Evans’ claim that Democrats are uncaring and look down on people who live elsewhere in the state is also wrong.

I’m active in the Washington State Democratic Party, and the party cares deeply about every community in this state, whether it be urban, suburban, or rural.

It is precisely because of that concern that progressive Democratic Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is embarking on a Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, which was just announced today by DNR.

“The Department of Natural Resources has significant resources and capacity to aid in economic development around the state, especially in areas of Washington that have been traditionally natural resource-based economies,” the Commissioner said.

“This agency believes that social, environmental and economic investment, and stewardship are concepts that work in concert, not opposition. We can invest in clean jobs, restore habitats and create economic opportunity around the state at the same time. It takes perseverance, transparency and energy – all things that this agency and its employees are committed to.”

The Washington State Democratic Party feels the same way. The party refers repeatedly in its platform to the needs of rural communities, stating:

  • We are the stewards of the land and water that sustain us. We must preserve family farms, strengthen rural communities, ensure the availability of high-quality food, and maintain the viability of land and water.
  • We call for… strengthening the Washington State Growth Management Act and policies that preserve agricultural land and natural resources, along with robust rural infrastructure;
  • We call for… governments to invest in continued local access to needed transportation infrastructure, including rural road and highway maintenance and improvement, ensuring that consideration be given to those cities and counties outside of the I-5 and I-90 corridor.

The party aims to practice what it preaches. To that end, it has an active, vibrant Agriculture & Rural Issues Caucus organizing regular activities, and holds most of its business meetings in cities far from Seattle — many in rural Washington.

I can attest to that firsthand because I attend those meetings as a member of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC).

For example, just this past April, the WSDCC held its spring meeting in Walla Walla at the Marcus Whitman. Prior to that, the party held meetings in Yakima, Wenatchee, the Tri-Cities, Chelan, Ocean Shores, Ferndale, and Vancouver.

The most recent state convention (2016) was in Tacoma, and the one prior to that (2014) was in Spokane. The closest meetings to Seattle have been in Lynnwood and Olympia. Seattle itself has not hosted a state party meeting or convention since 2012, five years ago. That will change in September; it’s Seattle’s turn to host.

It is precisely because the Washington State Democratic Party cares about communities like Ferndale, Walla Walla, and Vancouver that it chooses to hold business meetings in those places. Commiteemembers from the greater Seattle area are quite used to having to travel to get to state party meetings.

Having the meetings around the state means there are opportunities for party leaders to learn about the needs of rural communities.

I remember when we were in Chelan, there was an opportunity to tour one of the local orchards. In Ferndale, we got to meet people from the local tribes. In Vancouver, we demonstrated in support of a new bridge for I-5.

And while we were in Walla Walla, I went across the Oregon border to observe a town hall that Senator Ron Wyden was holding in Milton-Freewater.

What I learned from going to that town hall is that people in rural Northwest communities have the same concerns as people in urban or suburban communities. They’re trying to figure out how to pay the bills and take care of their families.

Many rural Northwesterners are incredibly upset with Donald Trump and the actions taken by his regime since January. There’s a deep desire for an investigation into the Russian Federation’s involvement in our 2016 presidential election, and deep disgust with Republican plans to do away with the Patient Protection Act, round up immigrants who are contributing to our society, and enact tax cuts for the wealthy.

Dan Evans and the Mainstream Republicans recognize that Trump is akin to an anvil tied around their collective heels. Local Republicans want to escape his shadow and toxic politics, and know that if they don’t, they’re likely to lose.

“It has never been more important to establish a Washington brand of Republicanism,” Republican Senator Hans Zeiger told attendees of the Cascade Conference, as related by Connelly’s report.

It seems the plan for establishing that brand is to sow seeds of division among Washingtonians (fitting, considering that’s a tactic Trump used in his campaign) and stoke as much anti-Seattle sentiment as they can whip up.

Democrats already have a darned good bogeyman in Donald Trump, and Republicans are clearly envious. They want bogeymen of their own.

In the words of Slade Gorton, as reported by Connelly: “There is a whole cultural dimension that is more important than economic.”

Joel’s reporting strengthens my view that the Washington State Republican Party — including the Mainstream Republicans — care more about clinging to what they have than solving any of the state’s pressing problems.

Washington’s public schools are significantly underfunded. NPI research has found that strong majorities of Washington voters believe new revenue is needed to ensure our children receive the amply-funded education the Constitution requires they get.

The Senate Republicans have proposed a budget that increases the property taxes of most Washingtonians while leaving less money overall for our schools. Their proposal has been widely panned, but they’ve stubbornly refused to open their minds to any of the revenue ideas Democrats have come up with.

For instance, Republicans have flatly rejected levying a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which 65% of polled Washington voters say they support.

I searched the agenda of the Mainstream Republicans’ Cascade Conference for the words “education” and “schools”. There were no matches. Now, I imagine the topic must have come up, but it’s significant it wasn’t the theme of any planned sessions. And it’s not mentioned in Joel’s recap of the conference.

It seems that our resolving our school funding crisis simply isn’t something that the Mainstream Republicans regard to be a top priority.

There were sessions on conservation, immigration, homelessness, and other worthy issues. Some of these sessions appeared nostalgically themed.

But considering that the Mainstream Republicans say their desire is to build a brand independent of the national Republican Party — where are their ideas for funding our schools? That is the most important state-level issue there is.

At the end of this month, state government will have to shut down if we don’t have a budget. And if that budget doesn’t meaningfully bolster school funding, an impatient Supreme Court just might strike it down.

We are hurtling towards that moment, and yet Senate Republicans refuse to negotiate with House Democrats, to the exasperation of Governor Jay Inslee.

It’s very evident that Republicans are eager to figure out a way to win and don’t want to throw in the towel just because the national environment is bad and getting worse. But they have not presented a credible plan for how they’d govern.

When Dan Evans was Governor, Washington’s tax code was regressive and a hindrance to the health of our public services. It remains so today. How would Republicans fix that? What are their ideas? I don’t see any, and I don’t hear any.

All I see and hear coming out of this Cascade Conference are grand old party elders like Dan Evans and Slade Gorton reminiscing about bygone days and suggesting that Seattle-bashing will help get today’s Republican candidates like Jinyoung Lee Englund elected in places like the 45th despite the specter of Trump.

Sorry, Washington Republicans. That’s not going to work. Running against Seattle isn’t going to save your brand. You can try it, but if you do, it’ll only prove that you have more similarities with Donald Trump than differences.

One Comment

  1. Rosemary Siipola
    Posted June 5th, 2017 at 8:59 PM | Permalink

    Keep me posted. Please consider a trip to Kalama. We are doing great things down here.