GOP journal: Report from a county convention

Fair-weather Republicans drifted off as the day unfolded, and rules are rules: Without a quorum, King County's party didn't finish the business at hand.
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Fair-weather Republicans drifted off as the day unfolded, and rules are rules: Without a quorum, King County's party didn't finish the business at hand.

The sunniest day of 2008 to date was a curse, not a blessing, for the 2008 King County Republican Convention earlier this month, on April 12. Held in Auburn at Green River Community College on the first decent day of weather seen by Puget Sound residents since before the memory of man, 954 credentialed delegates - just over 20 percent of the total eligible to attend (keep this in mind because it becomes critical later on) - gathered to elect representatives to several statewide Republican Party committees and approve a 2008 King County GOP platform.

It's best to get this bad news out of the way: The good weather resulted in people drifting off, and characteristic GOP reverence for the rules meant an early adjournment when a quorum evaporated. A lot of business was unfinished, including refinement of the King County version of the GOP platform.

But it was otherwise an upbeat day. The assembled mass was a composite of the middle class, mostly folks who pay the public's bills rather than run up the public tab - there wasn't a public employee or entitlement advocate in the bunch. You saw small business owners, retirees, hard working types, recent military veterans – in other words, a typical Republican gathering.

Shawn Burpee, a 30-year-old construction worker and delegate from Enumclaw, described himself as a conservative strong on the Second Amendment and self reliance. Sporting piercings and the longest hair of the day, this longtime activist, who cut his teeth supporting Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 run for the White House and former U.S. Rep. Randy Tate's re-election efforts, looked like he would be more at home at a Capitol Hill dance club than a GOP convention. Asked to distinguish between the two parties, he said, "Republican ideology is based upon logic, while Democratic Party ideology is based upon emotions."

Manning a table for delegates from Seattle's 43rd Legislative District - the most Democratic district in King County, if not the state - was Jim Nobles, the last Republican elected to anything in Seattle, albeit in a non-partisan capacity (Seattle Monorail Project board). His socially moderate, fiscally conservative opposition to over-regulation and over-taxation and support of smaller government and greater personal responsibility drew him to get involved in politics

Working the crowd was King County Council member Kathy Lambert, perhaps the hardest-working elected official in the region. As always, she could be found conferring with local activists on her latest ideas for governmental reform at the county level - ideas to improve efficiency, reduce unnecessary overlap between King County and the City of Seattle, and minimize political infighting. Unincorporated areas of King County are Republican strongholds, and she is looked to as an advocate for those citizens who often are ignored by Seattle-centric county government.

One of the most optimistic people at the event was Steve Beren. He is running what most would consider a hopeless campaign for Congress in the 7th District against incumbent Democrat Jim McDermott, who has been in his safe seat so long he's established squatter's rights. Beren, an operations director for an Internet marketing company and a former Democrat, has no illusions of success – no house-hunting trips to D.C. are on his calendar. But he is convinced - you could see it in his eyes - that just as he is a former Democrat, so too Seattle will one day be formerly Democratic. Beren's job is to plant seeds for the harvest and serve to turn out votes for Dino Rossi's race for governor.

But he looked lonely schlepping campaign material from his car all by himself.

And it wouldn't be a GOP gathering without the presence of initiative guru Tim Eyman. Immensely popular with grassroots Republicans, Eyman was there promoting his latest statewide measure, Initiative 985, which would open up carpool lanes, synchronize traffic lights, and dedicate red-light-camera money (a cash cow that causes salivation in the mouths of many in local government) to traffic relief.

Per Eyman, his proposal is ripped from the pages of a report produced by State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office on ways to reform the Department of Transportation and reduce traffic congestion. Interestingly, Eyman was scheduled to appear at the King County Democratic convention, to be held in West Seattle the following day. In post-conventions e-mail to supporters, Eyman noted that the reception he received there was just as warm and enthusiastic as the one he received from Republicans. Not surprising. Given the way his measures pass, he must be generating more support from Democrats than they are willing to acknowledge.

King County GOP Chair Lori Sotelo formally gaveled the proceedings to order, followed by King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. No question of whether to put it to a vote of the assembly, as did a certain Democratic legislative district caucus, which shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassing the speaker of the state House of Representatives and further annoying Jim Nobles and his 40 delegates from that same district. Instead, GOP county convention delegates enthusiastically recited the pledge - with special emphasis on the phrase, "under God!"

Permanent convention officers were then elected, with former state Sen. and former candidate for state Supreme Court Steve Johnson getting the nod to chair the proceedings.

As the credentials report was being tabulated, delegates were regaled with speeches from elected officials: Attorney General Rob McKenna (major statewide reductions in meth labs, ID theft, and sex offender threats to children and protections against governmental abuse of the condemnation process); Secretary of State Sam Reed (purging voter registration rolls of felons and the deceased and aggressive efforts against voter-registration activist organization ACORN for submitting fraudulent voter registrations); King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg (50 percent reduction in car thefts); and 8th District U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (expansion of free trade, support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Terry Rossi also spoke on behalf of her husband, Dino, who most in attendance addressed as Gov. Rossi.

KVI-AM talk show host John Carlson offered some moving remarks about the late former state Sen. Ellen Craswell. He followed them by encouraging Democrats to continue beating each other up at the presidential level, bringing the crowd to cheers by asking, "Who do you think the troops want picking up the phone at 3 a.m.?" – a clear reference to recent campaign ads by Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The answer was obvious and unanimous.

He then drew stark contrasts between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Clinton and the Republican soon-to-be-official nominee, Sen. John McCain, noting especially that McCain, in 25 years in the U.S. Senate, has never earmarked an appropriation.

Other speakers included Fawn and Jim Spady of Dick's Drive In Restaurant fame (a deluxe, two fries, and a vanilla shake!), who promoted their Countywide Community Forums as a venue where Republicans need to have their voices heard, and Kathy Lambert, who reminded the crowd that they were "the salt of the earth."

Particularly moving, though, was an address by Bob Williams, head of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, who articulated better than anyone that day why freedom matters - that Republicans should believe in and act on the principles that historically carried them to national success: a constitutionally limited government; equality of opportunity, not equality of results; removing barriers to success, not erecting them; fidelity to God, family, duty, and country; that ours must be a government of ordinary citizens, not "elites."

He also outlined a 2008 agenda for Washington that could have - should have? - served as an excellent GOP platform: Again, constitutionally limited government; open and accountable government; integrity in the election process; restrain government spending within constitutionally mandated limits; property rights and limits on property taxes; parental control over education of children; common sense transportation solutions; marked-based health care reforms; and protection of the First Amendment speech rights of workers from forced political contributions.

After what seemed like an interminable period of time, a credentials report was ratified. Of the more than 4,200 authorized delegates and all the available alternates, the final delegate count reached 954. But not for long - as temperatures increased, and the sun rose higher in the sky, delegates began drifting away in dribs and drabs, which was an ominous portent.

While it wouldn't be a convention without a floor fight or eight over something, a sense quickly developed that the ones being waged were different than in the past. Rather than the usual suspects, what appeared to be delegates clinging to the hope of the presidential candidacy of Texas Rep. Ron Paul waged rear-guard floor fights over ratification of convention rules and elections to statewide GOP committees, losing each fight. Not identifying themselves as such, several of these bomb-throwing backbenchers were later pegged as Paul people.

Convention Chair Johnson struggled to maintain control of the crowd. His reticence to strike his gavel more forcefully and demand order whetted the appetites of the more unruly elements.

Perhaps as much frustrated by these antics as by the lure of a day not requiring tire chains, people continued to exit, now in numbers not to be ignored.

Then the whole deal collapsed.

Just as the remaining delegates prepared to debate the proposed KCGOP 2008 Platform, a delegate raised a point of order asking whether those still in attendance constituted a quorum sufficient to continue to conduct business. Former King County Council member Steve Hammond, the convention parliamentarian, furiously consulted the just-adopted convention rules and Roberts' Rules of Order for an answer.

After some wrangling, accompanied by further out-of-doors, out-the-door defections, Chairman Johnson ruled that a head count was necessary determine whether a quorum still existed. The count was then taken, and it didn't. Convention rules defined a quorum as a minimum of 20 percent of those authorized to attend. Since the credentials report showed more than 4,200 authorized, that meant anything less than 856 (the actual number of authorized was 4,278) delegates failed the quorum test.

For the first and only time that day, the room went dead quiet.

What now? Remaining delegates wanted to debate the platform - discuss ideas and public policy - which was the primary reason many of them came in the first place. But how? Legally, business had to cease. According to convention rules, absent a quorum, the proposed platform, instead of being a starting point for debate, ended up becoming the official platform. On to the state convention it will go, warts and all.

Having no alternative, Johnson adjourned the event, leaving many still in attendance unsatisfied and feeling rooked. But the fault was not his; following the rules distinguishes Republicans from Democrats - according to Republicans.

The fault, it would seem, lies in the sunshine soldiers and summer patriots who believed their election as delegate didn't mandate them holding down the fort of their responsibility to the very end of the day. A sad commentary during an especially crucial election year, and something that ought to be a matter of serious concern at KCGOP headquarters in Bellevue.

As people streamed out of the building, convention parliamentarian Steve Hammond termed the event a success because, for the most part, it was "upbeat and had a good tone."

Reached by phone later in the day, he qualified his remarks somewhat by acknowledging that it was unfortunate so many left. He attributed it more to the lure of sun and warm temperatures than to anything else. Still, that left half the business of the convention undone and a lot of those who stayed the course scratching their heads.

Here's hoping the state convention in Spokane at the end of May fares better, and it should. Held over three days and attended by seasoned party regulars who campaigned for election as delegates, they can be expected to man their posts until the final gavel. After all, at $25 for a box lunch, they're going to want to make every second count.


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