Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Jayne: GOP growth is good for state

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

The latest insight from Seattle-based pollster Stuart Elway is good news for Republicans in Washington. While it stands to reason that the equal and opposite reaction is bad news for Democrats, that would be to miss the point.

No, the point about an increasing number of the state’s residents identifying as Republican is that it is encouraging news for Washingtonians and for those who long for competent government.

Let’s start with the numbers. Elway, who has been taking the pulse of Washington voters for decades, finds that 36 percent of Washington residents self-identify as being Democratic; 29 percent identify as being Republican.

That leaves a whole lot of room in the undeclared middle, but in a state where voters do not register by party, it is meaningful. This is the best possible measure of the zeitgeist in the state.

In July, Elway says, 18 percent of Washingtonians identified as Republican, and the increase since then echoes national polls. “In the 30 years I have been measuring party identification in the state, it has been rare to see so large a shift,” Elway wrote in an article for

Despite that shift, it must be noted, the Democratic Party is still dominant in Washington. We haven’t elected a Republican governor since 1980, or preferred a Republican for president since 1984, or elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1998. In recent years, Democrats have taken control of the state Senate and increased their advantage in the state House to 58-41.

What not long ago was a somewhat purple-ish state (remember Democrat Chris Gregoire winning the gubernatorial race by 133 votes in 2004?) is now midnight blue.

That has not always served the people of the state well. Not because red states are better run than blue states (on average, they aren’t), but because no state benefits from one-party rule. And one of the reasons for that is a lack of qualified candidates representing the party that is relegated to second-class status.

As I wrote in a column prior to the 2020 election, “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.”

Take the Republican who advanced to the general election for insurance commissioner two years ago. In the Voters’ Pamphlet, he wrote, “This would be my first elected position as I am of age to hold office now.” He also wrote: “I have found 168 Honorable Insurance Agents all of whom are more qualified then myself to each serve in 1 hour increments as Internal Insurance Commissioners of Washington state.”

In most statewide elections two years ago, Republicans weren’t simply defeated; they didn’t show up, with the best and the brightest of their party finding more productive things to do rather than fight an unwinnable battle.

Now, as polling shows, reports of the death of the Republican Party have been greatly exaggerated, and Democrats have themselves to blame for that. Democrats in the Legislature have spent the early days of this year’s session trying to dig themselves out of a hole by rethinking a long-term care act and police reform measures and talking briefly about reducing penalties for drive-by shootings.

Those wounds have been self-inflicted, and Republicans are taking advantage. If that helps the party attract outstanding candidates for statewide office, the voters of Washington will be the winners.