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Posted on Jan 28, 2019

Republicans face choices after losses in state: Column

By Rich Elfers

“In two years, the GOP in King County has lost four Senate seats, five state House seats and a congressional seat, the 8th.” (Danny Westneat. “Local GOP Doing an Autopsy on Itself but Hasn’t Quite Isolated the Real Disease”: Seattle Times, December 15, 2018).
As of the 2018 election, Republicans now hold none of the 14 state legislative seats predominately in King County. They were wiped out, but, according to Westneat, “They haven’t quite come to grips with what really ails them: Donald Trump.”
The same disaster occurred in California, where the Republicans lost 47 of 54 of the state’s congressional seats. The debate with the Republicans is with the leadership at the top of the Republican Party. The problems are clear: Republicans are seen as the “white” party. The reality is that the national racial demographics are changing, and the GOP is coping by ignoring that reality. If major changes aren’t made, it’s likely that not only will the Republican Party lose the cities which are predominantly Democratic, but also the suburbs, leaving only the rural areas of the state in GOP control.
Since the majority of the population resides in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties, this state will continue to be blue for the foreseeable future. The “red” regions of the state will continue to suffer minority status in both the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Both U.S. senators are long-serving Democrats.
Chris Vance, former Washington state GOP chairman, lamented, “Parties usually analyze why they lost, and make adjustments. Not TrumpGOP,” talking about the national party. “They know they lost because of Trump and will keep losing because of Trump. And yet they do nothing. Mass insanity.”
Republicans have a stark choice: Embrace Trump, or distance themselves from him. In some blue states, distancing themselves has helped Republicans. New England is an example.
That’s not happening in King County. During the 2018 election cycle, they tried a third alternative, ignoring Trump, but that didn’t work well either. That was the approach Republican Dino Rossi took in the 8th congressional race against rookie Democrat pediatrician Kim Schrier and lost with Schrier gaining 58.07 percent of the King County vote and 52.4 percent statewide.
The state GOP has sent out approving tweets to rural county sheriffs in red counties in the state, approving their non-enforcement of Initiative 1639, the gun-control bill that won by 19 points state-wide and 52 points in King County. This type of doubling down approach won’t help the Republicans in future elections as they become more and more isolated. Conservative pro-gun state legislators blocked more moderate bills in the recent session, only to find a tougher version successfully winning through the initiative process. That’s not smart politics.
The solution for the King County GOP is to face reality and work toward bipartisan areas of agreement like prison reform, where President Trump has been helpful with recent legislation. Republicans have worked with Democrats to undo some of the harsh mandatory minimum sentencing that occurred in the 1990s. The art of compromise needs to be revived.
Some steps have been taken to deal with the negative image. The new vice-chair of the state GOP is 47-year-old African-American pastor Curtis Harmon, of Des Moines. He understands the need for the local Republicans to change their image. That’s going to take a great deal of work.
The Democrats have controlled the governorship since 1985, and again, they control both houses of the legislature after the 2018 elections. It’s not healthy to have such lopsided control. Both parties have something to offer the voters. Changing of the guard in Olympia is way past due.
Westneat used the term “autopsy” in his article title. That term is used only for the dead. A resurrection is possible for the Republican Party in Washington state by facing and curing the cause of the “ GOP death.” That doesn’t look to be happening as long as President Trump remains in office. GOP leaders will continue to be caught between a rock and a hard place with no way out of “TrumpGOP.”

Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor. He can be contacted at richelfers@gmail.com.