How Washington State Republicans Drove Their Party into a Ditch


As Donald Trump cuts a path through Republican primaries, we should take a moment to ponder how the wider electorate reacts to “the Donald.”

The Republican Party in Washington state has been decimated during Trump’s reign atop the party. Only two Democratic state legislators have lost seats since the 2016 election, while the Dems have come to dominate suburban areas that used to be the backbone of Republican strength in the state.

I spent an afternoon two years ago with state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox at his Pierce County farm. Wilcox had been on the road recruiting legislative candidates, with particular attention to eight Democrat-held seats. He had a first rate slate of challengers, not a crank among them.

All of them lost. In fact, the Dems gained a seat in each chamber. The House gain was registered in the 10th District, centered on Island County, where I used to vote. The winning candidate, Rep. Clyde Shavers, was exposed to have puffed up his resume and fudged residence in the district. The Everett Herald revoked its endorsement.

The Democrats didn’t win due to the overwhelming popularity of Gov. Jay Inslee. Indeed, the Big Guy is appeared decidedly shopworn and locked into a climate agenda while shortchanging other issues and depressed corners of the state.

Next, the Republicans shelled out $20 million to mount a challenge to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. They filled TV screens with spots blaming her for every calamity save for wheat rust. The outcome: Murray won a sixth term with more than 56 percent of the vote. Nationally, Democrats maintained control of the U.S. Senate and gained a seat. Not a single Democratic incumbent lost his or her reelection bid.

Democrats had a 6-4 split in the state’s U.S. House delegation at onset of the age of Trump. It’s now 8-2. The 8th District was captured (and held) by Dr. Kim Schrier when seven-term Congressman Dave Reichert chose not to run. The exurbs of King County have switched sides, both in who they send to Olympia and to Washington, D.C.

The 3rd District was flipped dramatically in 2022. The Trump forces set out to purge six-term GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler who had voted for the post-January 6 impeachment and blown the whistle on Trump’s disgraceful inaction during the insurrection. JHB was defeated in the primary by MAGA-embracing Joe Kent, opening the way for election of Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, a moderate Democrat. Numerous longtime Herrera Beutler supporters backed MGP, who has teamed with Republicans in legislative proposals.  A Republican-leaning district, won by Trump, flipped. Nationwide, predictions of Democratic House losses proved wildly exaggerated.

Frankly, I found it hard to believe predictions of Democratic success, even when the excellent Northwest Progressive Institute polls showed Murray up big, along with rising hostility to Joe Kent in Southwest Washington. Republican pollsters Trafalgar and Moore Information, were showing GOP Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley gaining on Murray.

The Democratic trend began less than a year into Trump’s term, when Democrats flipped the state Senate in a special election in the 45th District (Redmond-Kirkland). They’ve also gained the Secretary of State office, a statewide position held by a Republican ever since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

We now have a MAGA man, state Rep. Jim Walsh, as Republican state chairman. Walsh was (and is) much in evidence at Joe Kent campaign events. While Trump backers dominate the state party, however, the two viable statewide GOP candidates both detest the man: Reichert is running for governor while Herrera Beutler seeks a comeback in the contest for state Land Commissioner.

The Trump movement, by turning off voters, has helped clear a path for enactment of a progressive agenda in this corner of America’s left coast. We are taxing polluters and have enacted a modest capital gains tax which is rinse-the-rich rather than soak-the-rich.  Walsh is championing initiatives to repeal both measures. It’s reminiscent of long-ago when Boeing boss Bill Allen thought voters would go for a right-to-work measure.

Sen. Maria Cantwell appears headed for a fifth term, touting all the dollars accruing from the Biden Administration infrastructure legislation and her own bill to restore microchip production in America. Sen. Murray is now president pro tem of the Senate and chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Assuming Cantwell is reelected, Cantwell and Murray are on a path to serve together for 28 years. That would be exactly the tenure of the legendary “gold dust twins,” Sens. Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. I’d love to have the opportunity to vote for a plausible Republican but however awful the Democrat is, the Republican is always worse.

    Take Reichert for example: he rode to fame on the strength of failing to catch the Green River Killer for 20 years. He took credit for the DNA analysis done by cold case detectives that implicated the suspect Reichert dismissed.

    He then spent years as a party toady in Congress. He was on video explaining to GOP party members not to worry, he was not a moderate or bipartisan. He was a true fanatic. It’s just that he “had approval” to vote with Democrats for votes that didn’t change outcomes to game his bipartisan ratings and con moderates in his district. So both a flunky and a fraud. He had that video scrubbed.

  2. I’m tired of the status quo, rich folks acting like conservatives. We need actual successful, moral, and responsible leadership in the WAGOP. Instead we have nepotism, lawyers, nazis (Matt Shae), scandals (josh freed), and shame.

    Inslee beat us so many times he got bored and moved on.

  3. Think about what this is about. It’s insane, really. Why would someone even be a Democrat or Republican? Is there some kind of P chromosome that creates two distinctly different kinds of people, who all find their like in one or the other party?

    May the Republican party’s self-immolation serve as an incentive to rethink this absurd proposition. As the state becomes more of a one party scene, that isn’t the problem we’re supposed to think it is. The current party system is unnatural and counterproductive. The problem with a one party state, is really just same problem as with two parties: the way those parties are structured. Democrats are OK, it’s the district offices that have to go, and of course the Republicans are crippled by the same disease. Find a way to stamp out party headquarters, and Democratic electeds will go back to looking for a somewhat moderate, responsible approach to government policy unencumbered by that divisive unnatural partisan influence.

    • If you think the Democratic Party is monolithic, you haven’t been paying attention. Not-a-Democrat Bernie Sanders was allowed to run for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and it deeply divided the Party. For nearly 9 years now, the Berniecrats, now calling themselves “Progressives”, have taken over many party offices (Democratic Party State Chair Shasti Conrad is one of them), and, weirdly, control the local party operations in much of rural Washington, where their positions are far, far to the Left of the people who live there, strengthening the Republicans in those areas. Many of those “Progressive” Democrats won elections to the Legislature, where they are trying to force their positions through Committees, though not always successfully (see Manka Dhingra and Tarra Simmons’ annual efforts to let First Degree murderers go free in as little as 10 years).

      We recently witnessed some return to sanity, at least in Seattle, where, with but one exception, moderate Democrats beat Far-Left candidates for five City Council seats, and then six City Councilmembers appointed the one who narrowly lost to the vacancy created when Far-Left Teresa Mosqueda won a seat on the County Council (which is now moving farther to the Left).

      It must be pointed out that in parts of Eastern and Central Washington, there are many sensible and pragmatic Republicans showing governing chops, and, perhaps, biding their time to run for statewide or Congressional offices when Trump won’t be on the ballot.

  4. One reason for the decline of the GOP is that the follow-on generation after Dan Evans tended to break in, coordinate with others, and then leave. Bruce Chapman and John Miller both ended up in D.C.; Chris Bayley, having become King County Prosecutor, left to work in business. A related problem: Dan Evans proved to be a very hard act to follow, and his progressive wing of the party, having hitched a wagon to Nelson Rockefeller, was overwhelmed by the Reagan wing. It’s mostly the Joel Pritchard proteges who had a lasting impact.

    • Completely agree. It’s truly tragic that a publication that has been so supportive of the Arts would publish something created not by an artist, but by a keyboard jockey. Even worse when that keyboard jockey covers the arts. Dude, commission an artist, for crying out loud.

  5. Considering the restrants — copyright, permission needed etc. — the editors like Doug do a remarkable job of finding art for our articles. I, for one, am always surprised and grateful. Are you an art-lover, Feisty?

    • I am a lover of real art. I do not consider Ai images “art”, but that’s another column to be explored. Real artists and photographers (and musicians, poets, and writers), amateur and professional, are being displaced by keyboard jockeys whose skill is in generating the right phrases, rather than learning composition, light, color (or its absence), negative space, and so on. I’m certain a case can be justified that Ai is art, and hope that Doug will do that in the future.

      • What is art, even? Take packaging, let’s see, here’s a sack of peanuts roasted in their shells. Its decoration is a photo that wraps around a good deal of the package, likely touched up a bit; lettering, etc. I expect whoever was responsible for that, was an artist in the sense of having been educated in composition, color, and around the office they call it “art”, but if an AI did it, it would be the same “art”.

        Back in the day when Seattle had a material Post Intelligencer newspaper, I used to look forward to possibly finding a photo therein from Mike Urban, nearly always something to take in even if it was just basketball or something. That’s real art, I suppose, but as has been pointed out above, it’s art from a professional who was paid for his efforts (I hope.) Meanwhile if they needed something at the top of an editorial or something, they kind of did what it took to come up with something, and it wasnt’t what I’d call real art. In the AI future, I guess we will be relieved of these labors.

    • Hello Post Alley,
      Would you consider showcasing emerging artists, with a little biography about the artist and her/his/their work, so new artists could get the exposure?
      Just a thought…asking for work from artists in local colleges just might get a big response and a thank you.

  6. I Iike the artwork. I see the Saturday Night Live Church Lady, Ellen Craswell, driving the party into the ditch in 1996. It’s still in the ditch.


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