Thursday, October 29, 2020
Oct. 29, 2020

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Jayne: Republicans in state outgunned

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

In trying to make sense of politics, trying to cut through the noise and the propaganda, it’s always a good idea to talk with David Nierenberg.

So I did.

“I actually think having a healthy second party that is a real contender would be beneficial for this state,” Nierenberg said. “Continued one-party rule is not a good thing — I don’t care which party it is.”

Nierenberg knows about these things. The Camas resident — president of the Nierenberg Investment Management Company and member of the Washington State Investment Board — is one of the most astute political observers around. He is a Republican at heart and is friends with Mitt Romney, but he will support a candidate from either party. Good government, after all, knows no partisan boundaries.

And that is a problem for Washington. There are drawbacks to being essentially a one-party state.

For one, neither major political party has a monopoly on good ideas. For another, neither party has a monopoly on nut cases.

But there is another drawback, and it has been evident as The Columbian Editorial Board has interviewed candidates for statewide and local offices. When one party has little hope for winning a statewide election, it becomes difficult to recruit qualified, dynamic candidates.

Which brings us to the Washington State Republican Party.

No, Republicans are not irrelevant in Washington. Democrats have a 57-41 majority in the House of Representatives and a 27-22 advantage in the state Senate. That’s not quite Hawaii’s 70-6 split for Democrats in the Legislature or Missouri’s 140-57 advantage for Republicans.

But when it comes to statewide elections, when the deep-blue Seattle metro area accounts for about 52 percent of the statewide vote, it can be an uphill battle for Republicans. Seven of the nine state executive offices are held by Democrats; so are both U.S. Senate seats. And in the most high-profile statewide positions, we haven’t had a Republican governor since 1985 or a Republican senator since 2000.

Currently, Washington has two Republican statewide elected officials — Secretary of State Kim Wyman and State Treasurer Duane Davidson. Both have performed well and deserve reelection.

But in the other statewide races, Republicans are struggling. Their candidate for governor, Loren Culp, is a one-person police department in the tiny town of Republic. Culp seems like a good man; he was likeable in an interview with our editorial board. But there is a cavernous gulf between running a one-person police department and running a state of 7.6 million people.

Let’s just say that Culp is not qualified and leave it at that. The same can be said of Republican challengers for attorney general, public lands commissioner and state auditor. Good people all, and the courage it takes to mount a statewide campaign is admirable. But each of them were overmatched in joint interviews with Democratic incumbents who have decades of experience and training.

It is noble to seek public office. But statewide office is not the place for on-the-job training.

Indeed, there are talented, reasonable candidates in the state who would run as Republicans. But you can’t blame them for avoiding the cauldron of a campaign that is almost certain to end in defeat. Therein lies the problem.

“Locally,” Nierenberg said, “there are some excellent candidates.” But at the state level? “It’s hard because good people find more productive and interesting things to do with their lives.”

In the long run, Nierenberg sees President Donald Trump as an albatross for the Republican Party: “The orientation of downwardly mobile, mostly white, mostly men — demographically is a doomed strategy. Trump is a bully and he has driven many moderate Rs into early retirement.” And he sees intraparty quarreling, like the Clark County Republican Party likes to engage in, as further alienating moderate Republicans.

All of which is likely seen by Trump supporters as a feature and not a bug. But when it comes to statewide races, it’s a problem for Republicans in Washington.

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