One candidate for Washington State Republican Party (WSRP) Chair has thus far responded to the public questions I've posed, Luke Esser. Below are his answers; they're definitely worth a read.
On the whole, I think Esser's answers are quite good. Personally, I'd like to see more of an emphasis on specific issues, but then again, such matters are really more for candidates and office holders to sort out, not the Chair. I also note he is questioning the fundraising that did or did not occur in 2006. That's worth digging into I think. Esser has a very public record as a legislator by which members of the State Committee voting in the Chair's race, and other interested parties, can evaluate him. With Diane Tebelius, absent potential answers I might receive in the future from her, it's not as easy to reach a judgment.
Here are the answers (note the first five questions were directed to Esser and Tebelius, the last three only to Esser):
1) What do you see as the preeminent issue for the WSRP Chair in 2007? How do you plan to address it?
The preeminent challenge in 2007 is presenting a positive, unified vision of the Republican Party and of our principled solutions for the problems facing our state. Candidates here in Washington were some of the hardest hit in the entire nation because we failed to provide an optimistic and comprehensive vision of the Republican Party in our state that was separate from the negative perceptions of Republicans in Washington, D.C.
All of the individual tasks that we need to accomplish will only happen if we inspire people to become involved with the Republican Party and to support our party because of the power of our ideas. We have done so before, and we can do so again. Such a vision will inspire grassroots volunteers, donors, potential candidates and the voters.
We relied on the national party too much to do the work of providing that vision. Then, when events in Washington, D.C. damaged our party's reputation, we had no separate vision to offer the voters in our state. To start winning again here in Washington, we've got to work with everyone in the party - from the grassroots to party officials to our candidates and elected officials - to present a unified vision that will inspire citizens throughout our state. I'm thoroughly convinced that the optimism Ronald Reagan embodied is the spirit we must capture again, and that if we don't we will continue to see the kind of election results that occurred in 2006.
2) The GOP got clobbered in suburban legislative districts in 2006, setting aside assorted national issues influencing the election, what state and local dynamics contributed to such results?
That's really the key question. We fared far worse in Washington than in all but a handful of states, so why was the national wave so much more powerful here? The problem spread beyond the "suburban crescent" around Seattle, too - just look at the losses we suffered on the Olympic Peninsula and in Spokane. I believe the wave hit us harder because of a combination of two factors at the state level; 1) the lack of a strong, unified message that I addressed above and 2) not enough resources devoted to organizing the party at the grassroots level.
Republican candidates in our state desperately needed to have a positive statewide vision presented to the voters to counteract the negative perceptions that were coming out of Washington, D.C. Other states did a far better job of protecting their Republican candidates from the effects of the national tide, so we know it can be done. Unfortunately, we didn't. The problem wasn't that individual candidates didn't have strong messages, it was that none of those messages were coordinated. Because we weren't unified and united, our message didn't have a chance to resonate with the voters.
The second problem was an organizational failure. We were going to have a tough year no matter what, but our inadequate organization made the problem a lot worse. Nationally, a number of Republicans in suburban legislative districts held on to win close races because of the superior organization that was assisting them. Such wasn't the case here. Clearly we need to a better job of providing grassroots Republicans with the tools they need to be successful, and this needs to be done everywhere in the state - and not just in a few spots.
3) How as Chair would you make the WSRP organization stronger and more effective?
Right now, our party is suffering from low morale. We'll continue to have a tough time recruiting activists and raising money if we can't inspire people with an optimistic vision. Building that vision and creating enthusiasm is our first job. The next step is to translate that enthusiasm into dollars raised and activists recruited. Last year, the WSRP didn't raise nearly as much money as it should have, and that had a direct impact on the Party's ability organize and turn out the Republican vote. Depending on the situations in individual counties, that means providing resources to county party recruitment efforts, hiring conservative students right out of college to help organize local party activities and making state-of-the-art tools and techniques easily available to activists.
4) What issues should the GOP be focusing on at the state level and why?
Fortunately, the Republican Party is a party of enduring values - limited government, fiscal responsibility, traditional values, individual responsibility, free markets. We don't need to take polls or hold focus groups to find out what we believe in.
We do need to do a better job of addressing the issues that are most pressing in the minds of the voters, and take better advantage of current events that point out the shortcomings of the Democrats and their positions on the issues. Christine Gregoire's $30 billion dollar budget presents a perfect example.
As this legislative session progresses we should be aggressively and consistently denouncing the Democrat's wasteful spending and clearly presenting Washington voters with an alternative vision of our own. Ultimately, that's the only way we'll be able to hold the Democrats accountable next election.
5) How do you propose to help make GOP candidates relevant in the suburbs again?
It all starts with the vision. Just as it'll be easier to recruit donors and activists, it'll be easier to recruit candidates and gain the support of the independents populating the suburbs if we present a vision that's relevant to suburban voters.
We've also got put more effort into electing and nurturing a farm team of local officeholders. The most successful candidates are often folks who've been involved in local government before running for state office. That experience teaches them about their community's concerns and trains them to speak to the issues their neighbors care about.
Practically, that means the WSRP should work with county parties to offer support to promising local candidates. The key here is support, no micro-managing. Since we are the party that truly believes in local control, me must always remember that the WSRP exists to help the county and legislative district organizations, and not the other way around.
6) Apart from national level issues, why do you think you lost your campaign for re-election, and how will that inform your potential leadership as WSRP Chair?
First of all, I take responsibility for how my campaign was run and if there were any mistakes made along the way in my campaign, I accept all the fault. Some have suggested that I was too conservative for my district, though I'm not convinced that's the case and I certainly wouldn't have changed my core beliefs in any event.
My 2006 race had some very unique factors that make it difficult to draw statewide lessons. My opponent was not only an incumbent State Representative, he was in his fourth year as a Republican State Representative when he switched parties to run against me. No other candidate in the state faced that kind of scenario.
I have already spoken of the lack of a positive, unified message for Republicans in our state, and that certainly hurt all of our candidates.
Within my own district I know that all of the state legislative candidates suffered from an inconsistent get-out-the-vote program (which was well-funded and well-organized in some parts, and non-existent in others). We were also given misleading information by the state party (for example, we were told repeatedly in the two weeks leading up to the general election that Republicans were turning in their ballots at the same or better rates than Democrats, which turned out to be totally false). I can't say for sure that any of these factors led to my defeat, but they certainly made it much harder for me to have a chance to be successful.
My district is a true swing district (as are many suburban districts) and I believe we can eventually recapture it, but it'll take a lot of hard work, organization and effort.
7) What lessons do you take from your time in the Legislature on where the state GOP needs to go both organizationally and on an issue basis?
My time in the Legislature showed me just how little communication there is between the WSRP, the county organizations and both Houses of the Legislature. We need to develop structures that provide regular communication, so that we all can work together to promote Republican ideas and point out the shortcomings in what the Democrats are pushing in Olympia.
I don't believe that we suffer from a lack of good ideas. Our failure has been in communicating those ideas and in remaining committed to those ideas. I believe the Chairman of the WSRP has a tremendous statewide bully pulpit that can be used to help coordinate and deliver a unified Republican message that will help us at election time and also lead to a better government in our state.
8) After representing a changing suburban district for several years, what insight can you provide into Washington state's body politic and its view of Republican candidates?
I believe the view that many voters, and many Republicans, have of Republican candidates for the legislature has suffered from the lack of a consistent message and vision. Our vision needs to be communicated effectively by the WSRP, by grassroots activists, our county and legislative organizations and by our candidates and elected officials.Posted by Eric Earling at January 11, 2007 08:09 PM | Email This
Last year, in particular, voters became unclear about what Republicans stood for. Obviously, the more competitive the district (as is frequently the case in the suburbs) the more damaging this shortcoming becomes. For most of the 26 years I've been active in politics, Republicans were viewed as the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility, traditional values, individual responsibility and free markets. Over the last few years, that reputation has suffered at the national level and we failed to present a unique vision of Washington Republicans in our own state. If that doesn't change, our disappointing elections results won't change either.