The Washington GOP: RIP?

A Republican commentator faces the facts about the 2008 election and the trending toward blue of the Evergreen State. But that all points toward a Republican comeback in 2010.
Dino Rossi. (Crosscut Flickr pool contributor <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcwestbrook/' target='_blank'>J.C. Westerbrook</a>).

Dino Rossi. (Crosscut Flickr pool contributor J.C. Westerbrook). None

Is the Republican Party withering away in Washington? Is it hovering near death, perhaps weighing the options now available after the passage of Initiative 1000?

As Ronald Reagan famously said, "facts are stubborn things." Here are some stubborn facts Republicans must face in 2008. Starting in 1996, the Evergreen State began trending blue, and hasn’t stopped for seven consecutive election cycles. Washington hasn’t been this Democratic since the blowout year of 1992 that sent Bill Clinton to the White House, Patty Murray to the US Senate, and Mike Lowry to the Governor’s Mansion, along with a huge Democratic majority in the Legislature.

The state is not only more Democratic; it is also more liberal. Take Initiative 1000, the ballot measure to allow physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. A virtually identical initiative appeared on the ballot in 1991. It lost by seven percentage points, but 17 years later it passed by 58-42 — a remarkable swing of 15 points. Or take the votes to raise taxes on November 4th. Here we are, surrounded by a cloudy economic forecast punctuated by dark headlines: a time when people postpone unnecessary expenses, including additional taxes. And yet people voted “yes” for a higher sales tax to build out light rail. “Yes” for higher property taxes to expand parks in Bellevue, Mercer Island, and Seattle. “Yes” for even higher property taxes in Seattle for Pike Place Market improvements.

In 2000, the Gore-Lieberman ticket defeated George Bush by 5.5 percent. Four years later, John Kerry beat Bush here by 7 percent. This year the Republicans nominated “the one Republican who could win Washington,” John McCain. He lost to Barack Obama by 17 points. In King County Obama crushed McCain by 41 points, 69-28.

Dino Rossi ran a better campaign than he did four years ago, when he ran seven points ahead of George Bush. This year he had more donors (56,000-plus) than any candidate for any office in state history and ran 11 points ahead of the national ticket. He finished six points behind Gov. Christine Gregoire.

So it’s perfectly understandable why some people are referring to the GOP in the past tense, especially when legislators in the edge cities surrounding Seattle (Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Newcastle, Renton, and of course, Mercer Island) are migrating toward the Democrats as well. But I nevertheless think that these Republican obits are premature. The Republicans are about to rebound and even they haven’t noticed it yet. Here is why.

True, voters emphatically rejected Big Government Republicanism, the early ineptitude in Iraq, and the economic chaos swirling around George Bush. Granted, voters are also more socially liberal in western Washington. But they also get impatient with irresponsible governance and they are likely going to see a lot of it soon.

In less than two months, Gov. Gregoire and a Legislature dominated by Democrats will be staring at a $3.5 billion hole (an amount equilavent to 10 percent of the existing general fund) as they prepare the next state budget. State Rep. Hans Dunshee, one of the Democrats' budget movers in the House, thinks it could well top $4 billion. They can close this deficit by cutting spending, but that’s a lot of spending to cut and it will antagonize the very groups that most strongly supported the Governor’s re-election. Or they could raise taxes, but Governor Gregoire repeatedly promised during and after the campaign that she wouldn’t do that.A fast-growing economy could generate some revenue to cover the bills, but the economy isn’t growing now, it’s shrinking.

If the Governor and Legislature don't trim enough and the revenue shortfalls continue, she’ll be forced to call a special session, or two, or three. That scenario is what doomed John Spellman, the last governor to face a deficit of this magnitude during the recession of '82. Battles over spending priorities and gored oxen can get particularly nasty when one party controls both the legislative and executive branches of government.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 8:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Carlson writes, "Take Initiative 1000, the ballot measure to allow physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. A virtually identical initiative appeared on the ballot in 1991. It lost by seven percentage points, but 17 years later it passed by 58-42 — a remarkable swing of 15 points." And later, "The biggest adversary facing the Democrats right now is arithmetic." Right John, our arithmetic is different than yours.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

an utterly mindless piece, carlson might as well be talking about two different brands of cola or a football rivalry. so conceivably the republican party might keep the democrats honest in this form of competition in a two party competiton. not that it wouldn't do seattle some good to have a mayor bloomberg.

here's nice statistic:

garfield county, montana, was won by bush with 83% and mcain won by the same #. however, obambi only lost montana by about 20,000 votes.

mikerol

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Notice something here...Carlson didn't even mention one thing that Republicans must do to regain any momentum in Washington State. This is typical...the Republicans have nothing at all to offer this State. Nothing. They're on the sidelines, moaning and complaining, but not involved in any way in the substantive issues in this State.

The attempt by the Rossi campaign to blame the economic downturn solely on Gov. Gregoire was a disingenuous tactic given the Nationwide economic downturn that is happening on the watch of the Republican party, with their controlling the White House for the last 8 years and Congress for the past 12 of 14 years. And, Rossi? He's a lightweight who has done next to nothing in this State.

Hey, John...how about getting the Republican party to change something, anything, in order to become relevant? How about progressing? Or, that's right, you're conservatives! You don't change!

As it stands, there are no Republicans doing anything of note on the stage of public policy. Republicans don't share the values of the residents of Washington, and have done nothing to show that they even care about the values of the voters of this State.

Get in the game or go home.

Timothy

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Timothy ... I must differ with your statement that the Republicans have done nothing.
They have engineered the greatest raid on the U.S. Treasury in the history of the Republic.
A feat ... a coup and, a disaster to the citizens of the nation. Including wingnuts such as Carlson.

judyo

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

John Carlson has a couple of important things going for him with this article; history and the facts.

Ratcityreprobate, you are right that Democrat arithmetic is different. We only need look at the debacle of the 2004 election as the Democrat controlled election King County elections department just kept finding and counting ballots until Gregoire "won". This year the national media were using the mess in King County as a metaphor to describe the new mess with Democrat math in Minnesota.

And then we can look at Gregoire's budget math. Did the national economic downturn impact Washington? Sure it did. Was that as big a factor as in other parts of the country? No! Was the shortfall foreseeable? It was and the looming crisis was raised over and over by Republicans, the media and independent economists. That did not stop Gregoire from boosting spending by over $3 billion and paying off all of her union contributors with our money. See http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008013983_donations24m.html

Do Republicans have some regrouping to do? Sure; but Republicans will not succeed by becoming Democrat-lite. Carlson is right and his analysis is well thought out and spot on. The good news for Washington is that Republicans will be here to pick up the pieces in a couple of years.

WDM

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Not so fast folks.

The re-elected Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) effect begins: WA faces revenue drop, deficit now $4.6B Only the beginning folks, only the beginning.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

The best line in the whole article: "But they also get impatient with irresponsible governance and they are likely going to see a lot of it soon..."

It amazes me that Washington St has been controlled by the democrats at all levels of government for longer than I care to remember, yet uninformed constituents still blame all of the waste and ineffectiveness on Republicans. For the next four years we are all going to experience the danger of progressive socialism. All the Republicans have to do is move back to the right and the fundamentals of free-market capitalism, smaller government and a strong military will be the logical answer to clean up the mess our economy and homeland security will be in by then.

Vicki

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 11:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Notice that Mr. Carlson doesn't mention the two Republicans who won their state wide races - Sec. of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna. Both substantially increased their margin of victory compared to 2004. Both are clearly closer to the political mainstream and outside the loud mouth fringe of hard-core conservatives like Carlson and his claque who have dominated their party out of proportion to their numbers. Both challenged elements in their own party when it was clearly the right thing to do. So instead of expecting Democrats to crash and burn, perhaps Carlson should consider whether there is a lesson in the temperments, issue agendas, and approaches to governing of Republicans who actually win state-wide elections.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Vicki...I don't know who you're referring to, but I don't blame much on the State level on Republicans; because Republicans are nowhere to be found in this State, and with good reason. They don't share our values, haven't shown any ability to intelligently involve themselves in substantive issues, and are fighting battles that are largely manufactured.

To be clear, for most of the past few years, the State Government has been running a surplus, and the Gov. implemented a rainy-day fund. It has only been as a result of this National Economic downturn that has driven the State into a deficit. And, Washington State has been more resistant to the downturn than most other States.

One of the things Carlson seems to have missed about this election was that the voters decided it was time to invest in Infrastructure. Despite the inane ramblings of the Right in Washington, building a solid back-bone to our transit system is a much needed and very overdue addition to necessary infrastructure. Voters, even in the face of an economic downturn, recognized the importance of moving forward with much needed projects. Smart. And, they chose wisely.

As for I-1000...Carlson labels this "liberal." But, hasn't it been the mantra of the right to limit the scope and reach of Government? That's exactly what I-1000 did, and this reveals just how disingenuous the Right has become. The Party of less intrusive Government has become the Democratic party; to wit, the War in Iraq, the War on Drugs, The War on Homosexuals, the War on Women. In reality, the Right and the Republicans have become the party of traditional religion and do-nothing conservatism.

Until the Right addresses their amazing lack of relevancy in this State, they'll remain exactly where they are. And, despite the rantings of the Right in every election, Washington State is still a pretty great place to live, with amazing growth opportunities all around us. I'm betting on this State. Many people are betting on this State. If you want to keep selling the idea that all has gone to hell in Washington, don't be surprised that you remain in the peanut gallery.

Timothy

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

The reason that there was a surplus and the reason that there was even a rainy day fund was leadership from Dino Rossi and pressure from the Republicans to be fiscally prudent. That evaporated when the D's got total control and Gregoire started spending like a drunken sailor.

I love the extended "War-on" rhetoric. If Republicans or independents or heaven forbid, a centrist Democrat, disagrees with any of your social positions it's a war. How sophomoric.

WDM

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

"I would expect the Democrats to still be the majority party after 2010. But they won’t be the dominant party. And state politics in 2012 will be wild and wide open. Just watch."

As long as the "GOP Party" party (THAT was rich!!!) is ruled by the ghost of Bruce Craswell they will be irrelevant.

Rujax

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

If the GOP channeled all of their funds into genetic research to clone Ronald Reagan, I think the chances for a GOP revival would be better than exist with present strategy. Something transformative needs to take place and I think this past election cycle may be catalytic if the party can shake the blues. It will take three things that the Republicans fail at both locally and nationally: communication, communication and communication. Skilled communicators organize and win elections by winning the battle of ideas first, and talk radio only serves as an intermediary, not as a replacement, for making the case for how Republican values and plans would make the state and the nation a better place.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

WMD, you keep saying that the 2004 election was stolen in the mistaken belief that eventually it will become true. An Eastern Washington Republican judge ruled that there was no truth to it. Of course you already know that. You might actually have some facts on your side, but if you keep repeating lies like that nobody will pay any attention to you.

DavidT

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 3:24 p.m. Inappropriate

It's amazing how many people here are talking glibly about how unpopular Republicans are in Washington, when what they really mean is that Republicans are unpopular in the Seattle metropolitan area. Outside of that area, it's Imperial Seattle that's unpopular for most in the state. That vanity of those asserting that Seattle==Washington is astounding.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

As long as the Republican party continues to let itself be dominated by right-wing, fundamentalist demagogues, it's doomed. I was a Rockefeller Republican in California for as long as I could stand it, but it became clear that my former party had no use for social liberals, no matter how fiscally conservative we might be. I wasn't the only liberal Republican pushed out with no place to go.

If you register as "decline to state" in California, in order to choose your primary ballot on election day, as I have, you can only get ballots for the Democrats or Independent Party. You can't vote as a Republican, per party rules. If you're not fully devoted to the cause, they don't want you. So much for the "big tent."

I pine for the days of progressive Republicans like Roosevelt and La Follette -- that's the party I wanted to belong to, the one that put conservation before conservatism.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Republicans will never be viable in Washington until a few things happen:

1. They give their sanctimonious Southern-style religiosity in favor of good old Western populism. Washingtonians are not religious, and those that are religious do not wear in on their sleeves, and the minute you inject religion into politics here it is the kiss of death.

2. They field candidates who truly believe in equal rights for racial minorities and gay people and who have taken enough Spanish in college not to be afraid when they hear it being spoken.

3. They field candidates who might personally abhor abortion but who are credible in saying they would never take any political action to impose that belief on others. See No. 1 above.

4. They field candidates who are not threatened by science and have rational solutions to global warming, energy, etc.

5. They field candidates who are not overtly bitter or hostile toward Seattle and King County. 3 million people+ live in the metropolitan Seattle area. You cannot alienate this population and win state elections.

I know lots of Washingtonians who would welcome a more dynamic two-party system here, but the state GOP just does not get that you can be a true conservative and bide by rules 1-5 above. Until they do get that, the party will wallow in stagnation indefinitely.

smacgry

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

WDM You can't add and subtract either: "It lost by seven percentage points, but 17 years later it passed by 58-42 — a remarkable swing of 15 points."

7+(58-42)= 15 in Carlson, WDM and Republican arithmetic.

7+(58-42)= 23 in Everybody else's arithmetic.

Fortunately John Carlson lost to Gary Locke 58% to 40% in 2000 and the State was saved once again.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 5:40 p.m. Inappropriate


ah yes, gotta love those spend, spend, spend democrats . its gonna be fun to see what they come up with next to satiate the never ending demands of their big union, its all about me, let government be my surrogate parent voters.

personal responsibility is what 'lost' in the last state governor election.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 8:31 p.m. Inappropriate

John Carlson-Crosscut's Bill Kristol. And we all know what a great deal Kristol has been for the NY Times.

Posted Wed, Nov 19, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Geeez, no wonder Crosscut can't turn a profit.

Posted Thu, Nov 20, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Only 34% of Americans in a Nov. 13-16 Gallup Poll say they have a favorable view of the party, down from 40% in mid-October. The 61% now holding an unfavorable view of the GOP is the highest Gallup has recorded for that party since the measure was established in 1992.

More than half of Americans, 55%, currently hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party and only 39% an unfavorable view.

Gallup asked Republicans, "Over the next few years, would you like to see the Republican Party and its candidates move in a more conservative direction, a less conservative direction, or stay about the same?" Nearly six in 10 (59%) want the party to move even further to the right, while 28% prefer to see the party stay right where it is. Only 12% of Republicans want to see their party become more moderate.

Sounds like a recipe for success, nationally and in Washington state-doesn't it?

Posted Thu, Nov 20, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I asked a lot of Obama voters why they voted for the dude. I never received a reasoned, articulate answer that I could use to guide my vote one way or another. They were running on feelings. Likewise, Dino presented a good value proposition for the voters against a candidate where, one could argue, has done an ineffective (at best) job running this state. Yet she wins. Why? Can't pin it on Obama's coat tails, since Rossi proportionally received more votes than Gregoire did when this state went for Kerry last time. It has to be a perception piece. In order to be effective, conservative ideas have to FEEL comfortable to the voters. Until that happens, the suburban voters (the only ones really in play on a given election) aren't going to vote G.O.P. - especially with a hostile local media.

wireless

Posted Thu, Nov 20, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I-1000, which doesn't allow physician-assisted suicide, but merely allows physicians to write lethal prescriptions, which the terminally ill people who request them must be able to take themselves, is neither a conservative nor a liberal issue, but a libertarian one. It had a number of Republican supporters, a number of Democratic opponents. To be fair, yes, no Republican district organization supported the measure, while a number of local Democratic organizations did (though not the state party — only the Libertarians endorsed it on a state level). But to characterize it as a liberal measure is inaccurate.

Posted Thu, Nov 20, 4:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I get that Carlson is an optimist and all, but I can't help mentioning that nearly every piece I've read outlining the Republican Party's road back to relevance in Washington state (including the Chris Vance pieces on Crosscut) listed electing Dino Rossi as a necessary first step. The few Republican legislative victories that Sound Politics seems to find so significant took place in districts that were leaning Republican (i.e. districts they were supposed to win). I agree with John that the pendulum will swing back and that the economy will provide many challenges for Gregoire and the Democrats, but there's little reason to buy John's chirpy closing statement that the Rs will be totally back by 2012. It all just seems like wishful thinking to me.

J.R.

Posted Fri, Nov 21, 11:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I feel that I have to remind folks that Gregoire won in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Skagit, Whatcom, Thurston, Jefferson, Pacific and Gray's Harbor counties. So what if she lost by almost 30 points in Ferry County, that's only 800 votes. Demographics appears to favor a moderate Democrat over a more extreme Republican. And let's not forget that Spokane county only went for Rossi by about 8,203 votes out of 216000. Even where one can't claim a 'hostile local media', Rossi still underperformed.

Posted Sat, Nov 22, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

As usual, an insightful analysis John. It is a math issue. The party in power usually loses seats in the off year when they are in the white house and the economy and consequently the budget would work against incumbents.
Those are very big factors.

I've always thought the two biggest factors in elections are the national political scene and the quality of your candiates. If Obama makse progress on the economy and the recovery begins in Mid 09, things could work out ok for Ds. And at least in the State Senate, we have some pretty good candidates in our swing districts.

Posted Sat, Nov 22, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The problems for the WA GOP are far worse. In WA, the GOP just has no bench. They have no Dan Evans moderates or even Slade Gortons (conservative in ideology, but moderate in temperament) to draw from. Dave Reichert is about the best they have going. It's too bad that the good moderates have been run out by the Ellen Craswell-style fundamentalists. Indeed, the WA GOP's only hope is a massive failure by Dems at all levels of government or a severe economic depression. It's kind of like saying that liberals are rooting for failure in Iraq. Conservatives' only hope is economic calamity in America.

Adam Vogt

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