Republicans in Washington are being swept up in the tides of fearful faction, notably in an attack from the way-out right against members of the party who used to win elections.
“I call on the ‘Mainstream Republicans’ to disband immediately or remove the name Republican from their name,” King County GOP chairman Joshua Freed posted on his website Sunday evening. Freed was a distant fourth-place finisher in last August’s gubernatorial primary and later ran as a write-in for lieutenant governor. “Remove the name Republican from your name or completely dissolve,” he told Mainstream Republicans of Washington, describing the group as “a very clear and embarrassing minority in the Republican Party.”
Mainstream Republicans were quick and vigorous in condemning the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection by Trump supporters, saying the assault should sadden all “responsible Republicans.”
The object of Freed’s wrath is a moderate GOP group that stages an annual Cascade Conference in Leavenworth. The gathering serves as a reminder of how Republicans were once competitive at the polls – we had polls then – and governed successfully. The most recent conference saw ex-Gov. Dan Evans lead a hike into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, which he helped create. Ex-Sen. Slade Gorton enjoyed correcting a journalist serving on a panel. Former U.S. Rep. Sid Morrison served up wine at the bar. The GOP’s Secretary of State dynasty was on display. Promising legislators such as newly named State Rep. Alex Ybarra displayed their wares.
The conference has heard from right-wing radio jock Jason Rantz but was also a forum for (now retired) State Sen. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla to lay out her case for abolishing the death penalty. It features elected officials and vigorous issue discussion, while the party’s Lincoln Day dinners often see statewide candidates serving as warmup acts for talk show hosts.
Of course, President Trump has never been popular with the Mainstream, or with Washington voters. Both Evans and Gorton said at the 2019 conference that they would not vote to reelect the 45th president. Trump lost the Evergreen State by a margin of 800,000 votes in November and took just 39 percent of the vote.
Along with other King County Republican leaders, Joshua Freed ought to show up at the Cascade Conference and learn how to win elections. The GOP has been hemorrhaging legislative seats in the state’s largest population center.
The party lost two 30th District state House of Representatives seats in 2016. A special State Senate election in the 45th District (Redmond-Kirkland) cost Republicans control of the Washington State Senate. Two GOP legislators in the 5th District (east King County) bit the dust in 2018. U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier used King County votes to become the first Democrat to represent the 8th Congressional District since it was created in 1982. If you want to visit a King County town represented in Olympia by a Republican, buckle your seat belt and head all the way up to Skykomish.
A former Bothell mayor, Freed sued Gov. Inslee last year over COVID-19 restrictions and was one of the Republicans who signed on to resist the school sex-education program passed by Democrats in the Legislature. The state’s voters affirmed sex ed in the November election.
The Republican right has helped turn Washington into a deep blue state. The GOP hasn’t elected a Governor since John Spellman in 1980, and last won a U.S. Senate race in 1994. The Evergreen State hasn’t been actively contested in a presidential race since 2000.
Actually, it’s the King County Republican Party that has a record of factionalism, far more than the Mainstream Republicans. In the 1960s and 1970s, the party was controlled by the hard right under Chairman Ken Rogstad and waged internal war against Gov. Evans and the moderately liberal state party. Its King County political boss, Prosecutor Charles Carroll, was unseated by reformer Chris Bayley amidst the tolerance policy scandal and gamblers’ payoffs to police.
In short, King County Republicans are in a deep hole. Freed has dug it deeper by attacking the most attractive and electable folks left in his party.