The Pearson Air Museum was abuzz with hundreds of Republican delegates from across the state Thursday as the biggest state convention the party has ever held in a non-presidential election year kicked off with a casual reception beneath the museum’s antique airplanes and inflatable craft.
“Republican Resurgence” is the theme of the three-day gathering, and the mood was definitely upbeat.
“We have the point of view that resonates with the American people,” declared radio talk show host Mike Siegel, addressing the crowd. “We’re going to win because of all the energy that’s here tonight. I think there’s no question that there’s a change in midstream.”
The red wine and the Glenlivet single-malt scotch were selling well, said bartender Brandon Fox.
Legislative candidate Brian Peck, however, was sipping bottled water. “When I’m in public, I’m working,” he said.
U.S. Senate candidate and former Washington Redskins tight end Clint Didier showed up and posed with fans, but fellow Republican Dino Rossi was absent from the opening-day festivities.
Both Rossi and Didier have tentatively agreed to take part in a non-convention candidate forum sponsored by Tea Party and other patriot groups today at the Red Lion Inn at the Quay. Candidates also will be interviewed by conservative talk radio hosts Victoria Taft and Kirby Wilbur today during a party hosted by the GOP at Esther Short Park.
On Saturday, candidates for federal office will address delegates during the convention’s formal business meeting.
More than 300 delegates and alternates packed an afternoon tutorial at the Hilton Vancouver Washington for a refresher course on the U.S. Constitution and its importance as the philosophical framework for the Republican Party.
“This is a topic that unites conservatives of all stripes,” said state GOP Chairman Luke Esser.
At a session that felt like a continuing legal seminar with attitude, political scientists offered a provocative critique of the Constitution’s role in American politics and government.
“If you look to the history of the GOP, it has always been to preserve the meaning of the Constitution,” said Trent England, an attorney who directs constitutional studies at the Evergreen Foundation.
But the Constitution without the Declaration of Independence is like an empty frame, he said: “The Constitution exists to uphold the principles in the Declaration of Independence,” including the principle that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.
The authors of the Constitution deliberately designed a government with 17 “numerated” or specific powers, leaving all other powers to the states, said Matt Manweller, a political science professor at Central Washington University.
Beginning with the New Deal, he said, progressive Democrats used the interstate commerce clause of the 10th Amendment to extend the arm of the federal government to areas of public life never intended by the nation’s founders, such as labor and education.
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats went too far when they passed a health reform bill requiring Americans to buy health insurance, Manweller said — an argument that’s at the heart of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s decision to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the law.
Alex Hays, executive director of Mainstream Republicans of Washington and a watchdog on judicial candidates, argued that judicial activism has eroded constitutional principles over time .
“We are obliged to be defenders of the Constitution, because the courts alone and our rivals in the Democratic Party can’t be trusted to do so,” he said.
In another workshop, practitioners of “citizen journalism” promoted the use of blogs, YouTube videos and other social media to deliver a message — in this case, the conservative message — unfiltered by the mass media.
“The mainstream media is dying,” said Erik Telford, executive director of RightOnline, the website of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. “They aren’t reporting on statehouses anymore,” he said, and many local government bodies also go uncovered. “You have to show up and tell the people what is happening.”
To illustrate the power of citizen journalism, Telford cited the abrupt retirement of veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas this week after a video showing her making explosive comments about Israel went viral.
Today, more candidates and elected officials are expected to descend on the city for workshops, the convention banquet and a speech by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin.
At Thursday’s party, convention delegate Karl Pasten of Yakima attributed the GOP’s enthusiasm to “fear of the present administration, fear of what they have done to our country.”
“It’s good to see so much enthusiasm in a non-presidential year,” Pasten said. “It shows the urgency of what’s happening.”
Patrick and Claudia Dickinson, delegates from Renton, said they’re looking forward to hearing the candidates speak, especially Rossi.
They admitted they’re not lifelong Republicans, though.
“We were Democrats in the 1960s,” Patrick Dickinson said. “In California.”
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.