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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Jayne: State GOP is in a hole and digging

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Bob Ferguson insists it will be close.

Sitting in a Vancouver coffee shop, dressed in his trademark blue blazer and open-collared shirt, Washington’s attorney general ponders the likelihood of becoming the state’s next governor.

“I think it will be decided by less than 3 points,” he says of the prospects for November.

That might seem far-fetched in a state where Democrats have a stranglehold. Ferguson’s party, after all, holds all nine state executive positions, both U.S. Senate seats and ever-growing majorities in the Legislature. In 2016, for example, Republicans had control of the state Senate and Democrats had a 50-48 majority in the House. Now the margins are 29-20 and 58-40, bathing the state in a bright shade of blue.

But from his seat as the front-runner in the gubernatorial race, Ferguson points to the most recent elections in which an incumbent was not running for the state’s highest office. In 2012, Democrat Jay Inslee defeated Rob Mc-Kenna by 3.1 percentage points; in 2004, Democrat Chris Gregoire beat Dino Rossi by 133 votes — or .005 percentage points.

That is enough to have Ferguson girding for a close race as he attempts to succeed Inslee. On the other hand, comparing modern Washington politics to 10 or 20 years ago is akin to comparing a Marvel epic to a silent film. It doesn’t take into consideration vast changes that have taken place.

For one thing, election dominance has given way to legislative complacency for Democrats. The party in charge has pursued progressive dreams with impunity, and has managed to pass most of them.

That includes broad (and necessary) efforts to combat climate change; a payroll tax to fund long-term health care; a tax on capital gains; and restrictions on police. For advocates, these are steps toward a government-designed utopia. For average Washingtonians, however, reality might be a little different.

Those average citizens will get to weigh in on the progressive measures with a series of initiatives on the November ballot. And at some point, it seems, voters will rebel against years of activist government anchored in Olympia.

Which brings up the other change in Washington politics and leads to the most pertinent question: Are Republicans positioned to foment a populist rebellion?

Because in Washington, the literal rebellion attempted by MAGA Republicans on Jan. 6, 2021, did not play well. In almost every case, voters in this state have rejected the lies of the Make America Great Again crowd, seeing through Trumpism for the con that it is.

And yet, Republican leadership continues to step on the rake. Or keep digging when they’re in a hole. Or become the embodiment of whatever hackneyed cliché means they can’t help themselves.

In a straw poll at Clark County Republican Party caucuses last week, 75 percent of attendees said they would vote for Semi Bird in the primary race for governor, rather than more-moderate, more-experienced Dave Reichert.

Bird last year was recalled by voters from the Richland School Board for his role in the district’s defiance of mask mandates at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some conservatives, such defiance is a feature and not a bug. For a majority of Washington voters, it is laughable.

Extremism in the defense of liberty might not be a vice, but it certainly is not a symbol of leadership. And it likely turns off moderate Republicans who are eager to end 40 years of Democratic residency in the governor’s mansion.

So, while Republicans gouge themselves in the eye, Ferguson focuses his campaign on public safety, with a proposal for the state to help jurisdictions fund the hiring of law enforcement officers. He talks about his vision for reducing homelessness. He speaks of his experience as attorney general, overseeing the state’s largest law firm and recovering billions of dollars for residents by holding corporations accountable for illegal actions.

And as he speaks, you can’t help but wonder whether Republicans can get their act together and make it a close race.