Monday, July 22, 2024
Point of View

GOP nearly blows up convention in attempt to save face for Reichert

Convention floor on Friday after the uproar.
Convention floor on Friday after the uproar.
Dan Wheat

SPOKANE — Washington State Republican Party leaders say they want party unity, but they torpedoed unity, at least for a bit, all for the sake of attempted control. 

When it became evident at their April 18-20 party convention in Spokane, that the more than 1,800 delegates overwhelmingly favored Semi Bird over Dave Reichert for governor, leaders announced there would be no endorsement for governor. They had suddenly decided that Bird, a former Richland School Board member, had not been forthcoming in their candidate-vetting process.

Bird used his father’s credit history to get a bank credit line of $1,800 some 31 years ago in 1993. He was convicted of a federal misdemeanor of bank larceny.

Party Vice Chairwoman Lisa Evans, giving a convention committee report on Friday, April 19, said Bird had not been forthcoming about the matter during candidate vetting. She made a motion for the convention to not endorse any candidate for governor. 

Deafening shouts of “b… s…!’ erupted from hundreds of outraged Bird supporters who had suspected some trick might be coming to deny their candidate their endorsement. 

Delegates were incensed at party leaders for attempting to scuttle the process to save Reichert the embarrassment of not being endorsed.

Delegates had come to the convention, some from hundreds of miles and at some expense, and were in no mood to be short-circuited from what they had been told would be an endorsement convention. 

“They say they want the grass roots until we show up and then they don’t,” said one delegate from Bird’s home Benton County. 

Another said it was an amazing “miscalculation” that risked blowing up the convention and ending it in complete disarray. Some said it was incredibly stupid, at best, or possibly a deliberate sabotage.

Through a tense and heated hour or so an overwhelming majority of delegates amended Evans’ motion, forcing the gubernatorial endorsement process to resume the next day.

Former Congressman Reichert, who did not attend the convention, issued the following statement: 

“In the past 24 hours, it has become clear that some in the Washington State Republican Party are in such disarray that they’re considering making no endorsement for governor. This, after they continually changed rules, broke rules, and twisted the process to accomplish their desired outcome.

I’m not here to fix the party but to fix our broken state. Given these deceptive and dishonest events, I’m withdrawing my name for consideration for the gubernatorial endorsement through this convention process. I am still seeking the endorsement of Republicans statewide and reconfirm my intention to fight for the state as a Republican all the way to November. My focus continues to be on fixing what’s broken and doing what’s right. That begins by defeating Bob Ferguson.”

That statement doesn’t fit what happened at the convention. 

Party leaders attempted to give Reichert cover and it didn’t work. Delegates restored the endorsement process. Based on his statement, Reichert should have been happy with that but he wasn’t because he knew he was going to lose. It seems party leaders and Reichert were the ones being deceptive. 

That aside, Reichert apparently must be the first politician since George Wahington to have never told a lie since he made it through the party’s strict candidate-vetting process.

That afternoon, delegates split into congressional district caucuses where 4th District incumbent Dan Newhouse, who also did not come to the convention, was rejected by 171 delegates (69%) who endorsed Prosser businessman Jerrod Sessler. He had been endorsed just days earlier by former President Donald Trump. Newhouse, one of 10 Republican members of Congress who voted for the second phony impeachment of Trump, received 27 votes (11%). A third contestant, Jacek Kobiesa, received 50 (20%).

The 5th District caucus endorsed Ferry County Commissioner and former Trump administration official Brian Dansel in an eight-way race to succeed 20-year incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers. 

During candidate speeches for other offices, former 3rd District Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, running for lands commissioner was booed and some delegates stood and turned their backs to her. Like Newhouse, she voted to impeach Trump.  Later they endorsed her lands commissioner competitor Sue Kuehl Pederson with 86%.

Establishment candidates for national committeewoman and national committeeman narrowly defeated America-First challengers, 61-51 and 61-50, respectively, during a state committee meeting Thursday afternoon. 

Saturday morning, Bird entered the convention to thunderous applause and hoo-rahs from delegates and gave an energetic speech without notes.

He admitted fault for falsifying his credit application in 1993 by using his father’s credit. 

“I was wrong. I was bitter,” he said. “My father was an alcoholic, and yes, he abused. No excuse for what I did. … I will apologize but I will not live in shame all of my life for sins of my past.” 

Following his Saturday morning speech, delegates endorsed Bird by 72% of votes cast on paper ballots. Reichert’s name remained on the ballot. 

Later, delegates backed Bird and its other endorsed candidates with a vote of acclamation.

Some said the fix was in for Reichert months before the campaign started. Early on big donors told party leaders they wanted Reichert. Early on Bird was asked by a prominent Eastern Washington GOP office holder to join the team and to switch to running for lieutenant governor because Reichert had been patiently waiting his turn to run for a long time. He did not want to run against his friend Gov. Jay Inslee.

Bird declined and the estabishment started its smear campaign, digging up all it could and repeating accusations even after Bird refuted them. 

Their most compelling point was that he could not win. While containing a certain logic, it might not be true. He could be the state’s first black governor and claims to be making inroads with blacks in Seattle.

Bird worked hard, gathering the support of 17 of 39 county GOP organizations prior to the state convention.

On the opening Thursday, Bird supporters lined an Interstate 90 overpass on the west edge of Spokane, waving flags, banners and signs at thousands of vehicles passing underneath. 

Another group formed every morning on the busy U.S. Highway 2 intersection in front of the Spokane Convention Center, waving signs and prompting motorists to honk in apparent support. Dozen of Bird signs lined the entry to the center with a few Reichert signs intermingled. 

Convention Chairman and State Rep. Jim Walsh called it an “experiment” in that for its first time in its 135-year history the party sought to endorse candidates before the primary election. The intent was to avoid crowded primaries that can result in two Democrats and no Republican reaching the November general election ballot. 

To that end, GOP candidates were asked to sign a pledge to drop out of their races and back their opponent if their opponent won the party endorsement. Reichert didn’t sign the pledge. Bird did. 

The experiment of pre-primary endorsement seems fraught with danger and the pledge seems unworkable as candidates have invested time and money in campaigns prior to the convention. 

Washington has long had open primary elections where anyone can vote for any candidate regardless of party. However, it used to be that the top Republican vote-getter and the top Democrat advanced to general election.

Several years ago, the Legislature changed the law allowing the top two vote-getters, regardless of party to advance. It diminishes the relevancy of parties.

The prior way was better. 

Dan Wheat was a Douglas County delegate to the state GOP convention. He is a retired, award-winning Pacific Northwest journalist. His 45-year career was heavy in coverage of politics, government and agriculture. He was a public information officer for the Washington State House Republican Caucus in 1984-85.


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