Jim Walsh speaks on the floor of the Washington State House of Representatives
Jim Walsh speaks on the floor of the Washington State House of Representatives (House Republican Caucus Photo)

Ultra MAGA Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Walsh has just been cho­sen as the new Chair of the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty, accord­ing to reporters present at the site of the par­ty cen­tral com­mit­tee’s sum­mer meet­ing, where a vote was just held to pick a suc­ces­sor to out­go­ing Chair Caleb Heimlich.

Walsh report­ed­ly had the votes locked up for the job and was wide­ly antic­i­pat­ed to win it. He is a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Wash­ing­ton’s 19th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, which used to be one of only a few rur­al dis­tricts that sent Democ­rats to the state­house before Repub­li­cans flipped it over the course of sev­er­al elec­tion cycles.

Wal­sh’s ear­ly years in the Leg­is­la­ture were rocky. He made a bad impres­sion with Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can col­leagues alike and had to be rep­ri­mand­ed for breach­es of deco­rum on the House floor. NPI alum Caitlin Har­ring­ton was one of the few who wrote about Wal­sh’s con­duct; here’s an excerpt from the report she filed for The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate back in March of 2019:

Walsh’s col­leagues have come to expect bom­bast from him when he speaks from the floor. But on sev­er­al recent occa­sions, includ­ing last Fri­day, his angry tirades have become more than a nui­sance. They have brought the House’s work to a halt.

Walsh’s repeat­ed inabil­i­ty to com­ply with the House’s rules has left Speak­er Pro Tem John Lovick (who shares pre­sid­ing duties in the cham­ber with fel­low Speak­er Pro Tem Tina Orwall) with no choice but to gav­el him out of order and then to call the House into recess when Walsh would not stop yelling over the gavel.

House Repub­li­can lead­er­ship sub­se­quent­ly sat down with Walsh and empha­sized the impor­tance of fol­low­ing the rules and respect­ing the deco­rum of the House, and he has since out­ward­ly dis­played less anger when giv­ing speech­es. How­ev­er, he has con­tin­ued to exhib­it extreme­ly poor judg­ment at times, such as when he decid­ed to wear a yel­low Star of David to protest pub­lic health poli­cies:

Walsh had the star — an infa­mous sym­bol Nazis forced Jews to wear dur­ing the Holo­caust — affixed to his shirt dur­ing a speech to a con­ser­v­a­tive group at a church in Lacey, Thurston Coun­ty, on Sat­ur­day. He said it was meant to make a point about vac­cine man­dates that he opposes.

“It’s an echo from his­to­ry,” Walsh wrote on a Face­book page about the sym­bol. “In the cur­rent con­text, we’re all Jews.”

His com­par­i­son of a pub­lic health vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign with the Nazi geno­cide that killed 6 mil­lion Jews dur­ing World War II attract­ed nation­al atten­tion and criticism.

The Anti-Defama­tion League’s Pacif­ic North­west chap­ter called Walsh’s com­par­isons “a gross mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of his­to­ry to advance an igno­rant polit­i­cal point of ‘free­dom.’ It is deeply offen­sive and dis­counts the painful his­to­ry of mar­gin­al­ized communities.”

Wal­sh’s ini­tial response to these crit­i­cisms was dis­mis­sive and defen­sive, but he sub­se­quent­ly back­tracked and went on Jason Rantz’s right wing talk show to apol­o­gize, know­ing he’d be treat­ed sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly there.

“This ges­ture went too far,” Walsh admit­ted, telling Rantz: “It was inap­pro­pri­ate and offen­sive. I’m ter­ri­bly sor­ry that it hap­pened and that I was a part of it.”

Walsh has a keen inter­est in data and strat­e­gy and is inter­est­ed in learn­ing from how the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­sis­tent­ly orga­nizes win­ning cam­paigns. Since Walsh was first elect­ed, the Repub­li­can Par­ty has tak­en sev­er­al con­sec­u­tive baths in statewide, fed­er­al, and leg­isla­tive elections.

Dur­ing that stretch of time, the par­ty has lost a total of two statewide posi­tions, two U.S. House seats, and a net of eight state House seats and five state Sen­ate seats. There have also been loss­es for Repub­li­cans at the local lev­el — for instance, Democ­rats flipped the Pierce Coun­ty Coun­cil and increased their major­i­ty on the King Coun­ty Coun­cil to sev­en out of nine seats.

Walsh feels that under his lead­er­ship, Repub­li­cans can end this los­ing streak in 2024. “We can win. We will win. We will improve the lives of peo­ple in this state,” he said dur­ing a speech wit­nessed by The Stan­dard­’s Jer­ry Corn­field

In a nod to the real­i­ty that the Repub­li­can brand is tox­ic in Wash­ing­ton State, Walsh has vowed to un-nation­al­ize the 2024 elec­tions for impor­tant offices like gov­er­nor, though he has not pre­sent­ed any plan for cre­at­ing a dis­tinct Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty brand that is any dif­fer­ent from the cult-like iden­ti­ty the nation­al par­ty has enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly cre­at­ed for itself.

Walsh seems to think that if the par­ty just offers a more pol­ished pitch, it can win over vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton. But there is no rea­son to believe that’s going to work.

When NPI does research polling, we often ask vot­ers if there’s any­thing Repub­li­cans could do to earn their votes, and Wash­ing­ton vot­ers con­sis­tent­ly tell us that the par­ty would have to fun­da­men­tal­ly trans­form itself before they would ever con­sid­er vot­ing for any of its can­di­dates. That means it would have to do more than aban­don Trump: the par­ty would have to renounce its extreme beliefs, includ­ing its posi­tions on issues like gun safe­ty, repro­duc­tive rights, and taxation.

That kind of trans­for­ma­tion is def­i­nite­ly not going to hap­pen under Walsh, who is very extreme and sur­round­ed by peo­ple who feel sim­i­lar­ly. Walsh is notably con­sid­ered a dear friend by the likes of for­mer ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman.

If any­thing, by choos­ing him as its next Chair, the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty has just recom­mit­ted itself to the extrem­ist tra­jec­to­ry that it’s been on.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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