ABERDEEN — Local Republican Jim Walsh is making a play for the state's top GOP position, and he's gained the support of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Washington. Kirby Wilbur, the former Washington State Republican Party chairman, resigned his post July 29, and the party is currently being run by Interim Chairwoman Luanne Van Werven.
Walsh, who lives in Aberdeen, is one of four people seeking the job. Along with Van Werven are former KIRO newscaster Susan Hutchison, Lloyd Becker of Benton County and Christian Berrigan of Clark County. The party's state committee will take a vote Aug. 24 in Spokane to pick the new party leader.
"It's a quick race taking place in a small time window," Walsh said. "Kirby left about two weeks ago and we're already getting going."
Walsh has been a member of the Grays Harbor Republican Party for about five years and became one of the county's Washington State Republican Party committee members two years ago. His wife Jamie serves as the other committee member.
Walsh owns and manages Silver Lake Publishing, which specializes in publishing technical manuals for professionals in the insurance, risk management and finance industries. The company's website says Silver Lake publishes four to seven books per year. Jamie Walsh manages the SouthShore Mall.
The Walshes have lived in Aberdeen for about 10 years with their five children. The couple met while attending Emerson College in Massachusetts and graduated in 1986.
Beth DeVaul, chairwoman of the Grays Harbor Republican Party, said Jim Walsh is well suited to run the state party.
"He's definitely qualified for the job," De Vaul said. "I think he's very good at bringing folks together. The state Republican party has been really fractured, and I think he can help."
Walsh said helping candidates win elections is his strong suit - and it's something the state needs.
He pointed to the success of County Commissioners Herb Welch and Wes Cormier in the November 2012 election.
"I think we did a pretty good job of supporting those two guys," Walsh said. "That's the message I'm taking to the state. Even in a Democratic county, we ran two practical-minded Republicans and they succeeded."
"We need to work on finding people who are focused on fixing problems," he added.
Sandi Belzar Brendale, chairwoman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Washington, said Walsh's campaigning and fundraising experience are what prompted the caucus to endorse him.
"We're so excited to have such an exceptional candidate to support," Brendale said in a press release. "Jim Walsh is an accomplished businessman, knows marketing and fundraising, and knows how to energize the grassroots around a common goal."
The Liberty Caucus stresses personal liberties and some have called it the libertarian wing of the party. A post on the state organization's Facebook page says "Our new State Chair should have a proven track record of leadership, and the proven ability to work with party members from across the political spectrum. He or she should be an experienced fundraiser and campaigner, who is able to clearly articulate our message of liberty, limited government and free markets."
Walsh said he doesn't have plans to turn the party upside down if elected. He's running on what he calls "traditional" Republican values, such as individual liberty and limited government. He's also focusing on fiscal responsibility.
"We really need to keep an eye on how much governments are borrowing," Walsh said. "I'm worried about how badly we're indebting the country. I don't have a solution, but I think we need to move the state and the country to a more fiscally responsible place."
He expressed concerns over some high-cost bills passed by the state Legislature during the 2013 session - but he wouldn't point to specific bills.
"There were a few things that troubled me greatly in the legislative session, projects that we can't afford," Walsh said. "Just look at the big bills from the last legislative session and you'll know what I mean."
Walsh said he's also concerned with the amount of money allotted to K-12 education in the state's $33.6 billion operating budget passed in late June. Legislators increased K-12 education funding by $1 billion this biennium in response to a 2012 Washington Supreme Court decision, known as the McCleary Decision, that stated the Legislature was underfunding education.
While he said he believes that education is one of the most important components of the state budget, Walsh called the Legislature's decision, "an angry response to the order."
"I don't think the court intended that we go deeper and deeper into debt to fund the order," Walsh said.