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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Westneat: GOP vowing fealty to a crook

Washington has a law against felons on ballot; will Republicans care?

By Danny Westneat
Published: June 8, 2024, 6:01am

If Washington Republicans knew what was good for them, they would now move to drop Donald Trump from the state’s fall ballot.

I know, they won’t. They’re in too deep. Trump won 76 percent of our state’s GOP presidential primary vote. It’s become like a cult, as the party seems eager to debase itself by shedding all its long-standing talk about the rule of law and personal responsibility to sink ever deeper into the muck of Trump.

So here’s another reason to dump Trump from the Washington ballot. If Republicans don’t do it, somebody else may try it for them. It turns out Washington has a law against convicted felons running for office.

It was first established back when Washington was a territory, in 1865, that anyone convicted of “infamous crimes” could be blocked from holding elected office. That was modified in 1959, and then again more recently, to the scheme we have today.

Any registered voter can “challenge the right of a candidate to appear on the general election ballot” for any of five causes, state law says. One of those causes is flashing in bold neon lights today: “Because the person whose right is being contested was, previous to the election, convicted of a felony by a court of competent jurisdiction, the conviction not having been reversed nor the person’s civil rights restored after the conviction.”

How about 34 felonies?

I asked the Secretary of State’s Office if this provision allowing ballot challenges against convicted felons might not apply in this case. For example, is it only for state and local candidates, not federal?

The office answered: “Whether that provision applies would be a question for courts to decide.”

Regardless of what happens with the ballot, why not change course out of basic decency and political expediency? There’s been plenty of talk urging Democrats to drop Biden and pick another candidate at their convention. And all he’s guilty of is having bad poll numbers and being old.

Why aren’t Republicans at least considering a different candidate now that theirs is a convicted criminal?

The reaction from local Republicans last week, though, was either misdirection or groveling. Like how mob underlings sound when the boss gets sent to Rikers Island.

The state GOP chairman, Jim Walsh, attacked the trial as a “clown show.” Congressional candidate Michael Baumgartner called the charges “flimsy” (though at that point they had become solid convictions). Congressional candidate Leslie Lewallen, who is supposedly a sensible moderate in the party, breezily said the verdict “does nothing to disqualify President Trump from holding office, and I look forward to casting my ballot for him in November.”

One thing conspicuously missing? Nobody said: “He didn’t do it.” Nobody said: “He’s a good man, he’s innocent.” Even his staunchest defenders know he did it.

What happened to you, Republicans?

Your standard-bearer tried to overturn the 2020 election, and now has been convicted of illegally influencing the 2016 election. His company was convicted of 17 felonies for tax fraud. He also has been found civilly liable for sexual abuse and corporate fraud, and now joins his former campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, national security adviser, multiple former election law attorneys, and a personal lawyer as a felon.

Sensing a pattern here?

The courtroom is different from the campaign trail and the social media spin ecosystem. Facts and evidence still seem to matter there. Ordinary people, the kind who serve on juries, still care.

It’s embarrassing that even in Washington, no Republican seems to have the courage or the character of those ordinary people. The real story of this era isn’t so much about this one flawed, narcissistic figure, as it is the spinelessness of the sycophants along the way. It’s not too late to pick a different name, to run under a less toxic, now criminal, brand.

I’ll leave you with this: Of all states to have a law that can kick convicted felons off the ballot, it’s ironic that it’s Washington, no? You’d think our progressive state might have been more reform-minded. That the ballot rules might have been recast at some point to extend more mercy to those who broke bad and got caught in the jaws of the justice system.

Instead, the script has flipped. It’s now the old law-and-order party looking for leniency. As it continues to shed its principles — its entire identity — to follow this one man further into the mire.