Jayne: Clark County Republicans may be picking wrong fight

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

I sure hope they know what they're doing.

When Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, voted recently in favor of an agreement that halted the partial shutdown of the federal government, she was chastised by the Clark County Republican Board of Directors.

"As elected representatives of the grass roots and the local Republican Party, our perception regarding the so-called 'Affordable Healthcare Act' and 'Debt Ceiling' appears to differ significantly from your perspective in Washington D.C.," the letter said. "As we see it, this is no longer about how to spend the citizen's tax dollars, but rather now it has become an issue of distributing pain through debt to our children and grandchildren."

That makes a lot of sense. The national debt recently lurched over $17 trillion, a milestone that didn't exactly call for streamers and balloons, and that debt has risen about $6.4 trillion since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The debt is a huge issue, and the federal government long has engaged in fiscal policies that are not sustainable. But after Herrera Beutler opted for the only logical solution in the face of an unwinnable fight, I'm not sure how much sense it made for the local Republican Party to cannibalize one of its own.

"This health care law should be replaced with a better solution," Herrera Beutler said. "At some point, you have to separate what you want from what you can actually achieve. No government shutdown or debt default is going to change the fact that until at least 2015, the majority of the Senate and the president strongly support the health care law."

And that points out the trouble. The Republican Party appears to be disjointed on just what it wants to achieve, devolving into a party within a party and seeking the spot on the space-time continuum where ideology collides with pragmatism.

Changes in local GOP

Locally, the Clark County GOP underwent a sweeping change last December. With the libertarian and Tea Party wing of the party making inroads at the precinct committee officer level, they revamped the makeup of the organization's board of directors.

Nothing wrong with that. You find like-minded people and work at the grass-roots level and foment change. That's how politics works, and it's a tactic that has led to sharp divisions and internal battles for the party in many parts of the country.

But I'm worried that Republicans are alienating the vast population of mainstream voters. Take three platform points passed by Clark County Republicans:

• Support Second Amendment rights. No problem here; I'm guessing most Republicans agree.

• Oppose the Columbia River Crossing. No problem here; I'm guessing most Clark County residents agree.

• Oppose the federal income tax and demand that the Internal Revenue Service be abolished. Wait … what? Um, that's not going to happen, nor should it happen. And that creates a problem for the party. Just when Republicans start sounding reasonable and in tune with mainstream voters, they go off the rails on a crazy train.

Republicans, in general, have a lot going for them. Despite the fiscal excesses of the Bush administration, Republicans are our only hope for some semblance of federal fiscal sanity; Democrats can't get over the fact the public isn't outraged about sequestration cuts. Plus, many people find kindred spirits among Republicans when it comes to social issues.

But the fact is that in the 2012 national election, Democrats received more votes in races for the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and the presidency. And I'm worried that the more strident members of the Republican Party are turning off the moderate voters who actually determine elections.

All of which brings us back to Jaime Herrera Beutler and the Clark County GOP. Herrera Beutler received more than 60 percent of the vote last year in being re-elected to the House; she made a pragmatic decision in voting to end the partial shutdown; and, frankly, she made the right decision. If the local arm of the GOP wants to pick a fight with that, well, I hope they know what they're doing.