After the Nov. 3 election, I believe that we, as Republicans, need to take an in-depth look at our standing in Washington state.
On Election Day, we got our clocks cleaned. But before we discuss the full implications of the elections, I think it is important to understand a bit of history.
The founding fathers of this state were wary of the power of political parties. They designed a system where you can vote for anybody you want to in the primary or the general election: a Democratic governor, a Republican for lieutenant governor, a Democrat for secretary of state. Make whatever choices you want.
What this type of system does is force political parties to stay in the middle. If the parties follow an extremist path, they are not successful very long. Both parties have made that mistake in the past. For example, during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, Democrats chased after Jesse Jackson and other liberal leaders in their party. They lost consistently. It was not until Ron Brown and Bill Clinton brought them back into the mainstream middle that they began to win elections again.
Over the past few years, our Republican Party has gone way too far to the right. Instead of broadening our base, we have been narrowing our base. On Nov. 3, the voting public here and across America tried to pull us back to the middle. At least, I hope they did. If we don’t return to the middle, we will be beaten again.
On Wednesday morning after the election, Randy Tate, deputy chairman of the Christian Coalition, said, “Our message was not clear enough. We need to focus our message more.”
Well, I’m sorry, Randy. It is my belief that the conservative Republican message was quite clear to the American public. And they sent us an equally clear message: Get back in line.
All of us should refer to the cartoon that appeared in the Post-Intelligencer the morning of Nov. 5.
It shows the Republican Headquarters. The elephant is badly beaten. He is receiving a lecture from a man who is identified as the “religious right.” The message from the religious right in the cartoon is, “Next time we need a clearer message . . . ban all abortions, stop flag burning, gut the U.N., put prayer back in the schools, and put the homos back in the closet.” The elephant replies, “I might do better if I put you back in the closet.” The cartoon hits the nail right square on the head.
— First, the subject of abortion. Our state has now voted more times than any other jurisdiction in the world on the subject of abortion. This is our fourth vote on this subject. The outcome is always the same. True conservatives do not want the government intervening between a woman, her body and her God. Moderates and liberals agree. It is time we dropped the issue.
— Second subject: education. I started work at the Capitol Building in 1966. From that time forward, every poll I have seen, whether it was done by the Democrats, the Republicans, the liberals, the business community or the labor community, public education ranks the highest. Not private education, public education. We must be supportive of public education and determine ways to assist local public schools.
The vast majority of the American public doesn’t give a hoot about private schools. That is not where our concentration should be. Each of us needs to become involved with the public schools of our state. On the subject of higher education, we Republicans have a stronger record in the Legislature than do the Democrats. We have funded higher education better over the past several bienniums. But, frankly, it is embarrassing when Richard McCormick and Sam Smith, the presidents of our two leading universities, come to sit at the witness table. You would think the first question would be about advancements in biotechnology, or improvements at the veterinary school in Pullman. Instead the first question from the Republican side of the aisle is something like, “How many lesbians received scholarships?” and, “Why do you have a gay rights student office in your student union building?” Absurd.
— We all know the United Nations is not a perfect world organization, but the average American knows and understands that it is the best forum for peace that we have now or will have in the foreseeable future.
— We should also consider the financial support for our party. It is no surprise that The Boeing Co. is starting to redirect its political contributions to the Democratic side of the aisle. Look at the new leaders at Boeing. Almost all of them are strong supporters of arts programs in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and communities throughout Washington. When Congress spends all its time trying to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, what do you expect Boeing leaders to do?
This past week, I found a very interesting quote from political consultant Brett Bader in the Seattle Times:
“Bader, a longtime Republican activist and political consultant, says Republicans must reclaim their nominating process from the right wing of the party.
” ‘Our biggest problem is you can’t have a top of the ticket that gets only 41 percent of the vote,’ said Bader, a conservative, anti-abortion Republican. ‘In ’88 it was (gubernatorial candidate) Bob Williams. In ’96 it was Ellen Craswell and in ’98 it was Linda Smith.’
” ‘Republican candidates running for lower-profile offices shouldn’t have to get 20 percent more votes than the top-ticket candidates to win,’ Bader said. ‘We have to nominate Republicans to statewide office who are competitive and that’s a real problem,’ he said. ‘It’s absolutely vital that Republicans field mainstream candidates who can run winning campaigns. We’ve got to do that.’ “
— Initiative 200 was designed to bring out Republican voters to help us win, just like the minimum-wage initiative was formulated by the Democrats to help bring their voters to the polls.
In the short term, this strategy didn’t work. People voted for Initiative 200 and then turned around and voted against all Republican candidates.
In the long term, it can be absolutely disastrous.
Two years ago, California Gov. Pete Wilson and Ward Connerly started the anti-affirmative action effort in Sacramento with Initiative 209. It passed. Ethnic minorities, women’s groups and many similar organizations were infuriated.
In the California governor’s race Nov. 3, it was Republican Dan Lundgren vs. Democrat Gray Davis. If there was ever a mediocre candidate, it is Davis. Pollsters estimated that Lundgren needed between 27 percent and 41 percent of the Latino-Hispanic vote to win. Latino and Hispanic families tend to be conservative. Often they are Catholic, and they have been voting with the GOP in growing numbers. They considered Initiative 209 to be a slap in the face. Lundgren ended up with 17 percent of the Latino and Hispanic vote. The mainstream minority voters bolted and voted with the Democrats.
In Texas and Florida, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush won big. Jeb, a fluent Spanish speaker and George, who has spoken out in favor of bilingual education, criticized Initiative 209. George got 69 percent of the Hispanic and Latino vote in his race for governor.
Meanwhile, the phone has been ringing off the hook as the ethnic minorities call me – people who had supported the Republican candidates, been involved with the Republican campaigns or had served as Republican elected officials themselves. All of them thanked me for coming out against Initiative 200, and then went on to say it looked like it was time to turn back to the Democratic side of the aisle.
Rather than a slap in the face, they considered Initiative 200 a kick in the teeth. That’s a very real problem that we face in this state. If Republicans ever expect to consistently win majorities, we have to take some urban seats in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane. We need those minority votes and we must not abandon the cities. We must broaden our base, not narrow our base. Initiative 200 was a blow to all the ethnic minorities who have moved to the Republican side of the aisle in the past few years. I think many of them will move back and vote with the Democrats two years from now. They certainly did that Nov. 3.
We lost big. We got creamed. What we need to do is take the Republican Party back to the mainstream and start talking and working on issues that people care
about: better public schools, a strong job base for our state, traffic problems, a clean and productive environment, better cross-Sound transportation.
Is our future a bright one? Of course it is, if we learned the lesson.
I want to thank my fellow Republicans for hearing me out on this issue. Am I correct on all these issues? Maybe not. But we, as Republicans, certainly have a lot to think about. We need to do better, much better, if we expect to win in the future.
If you are convinced that I am totally wrong, then please remember that I am currently the last statewide Republican elected official here in Olympia.
Ralph Munro, Republican, has served as Washington’s secretary of state since 1980. He also served as a special assistant to former Gov. Dan Evans. Munro presented the above speech Nov. 7 to the Republican Club of Whidbey Island.