Amid a national discussion of the Republican Party’s future following election losses, the conservative wing of the party in Washington state appears undeterred and as staunchly uncompromising as ever.
About 160 right-of-mainstream Republicans gathered Saturday in Yakima, representing the newly formed Washington chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Their rhetoric showed no inclination toward sacrificing principle for political gain — not on abortion, not on the economy and not on guns, despite calls for increased gun control following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Speaking to the crowd before lunch, state Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, voiced that philosophy in an anecdote about another representative asking whether Taylor might soften on the issue of gun control.
“I said, ‘Let me break it down for you: You take my rights, I stand on your neck,’” Taylor said, to loud applause.
Taylor was not the only elected official at the daylong fundraising and organizational meeting for the Liberty Caucus. Republican state Reps. Matt Shea of Spokane, Jason Overstreet of Blaine, Jeff Holy of Spokane and Elizabeth Scott of Monroe all spoke at the event, demonstrating that, despite the group’s discontent with the powers that be in the Republican Party, the Liberty Caucus is intent to work within the system. Indeed, when caucus state Chairwoman Sandra Belzer-Brendale asked for the Republican precinct committee officers in attendance to stand, about two dozen people stood.
“We are within the Republican Party,” said Belzer-Brendale a longtime conservative activist in Yakima. “They don’t have to like us, but they can’t ignore us.”
The Washington chapter of the caucus was founded last year, but the national organization dates to 1991. It has chapters in 43 states. It is a libertarian-leaning, small-government faction that endorsed Ron Paul for president last year. It has no official stance on abortion rights, except that the procedure should not be paid for with tax dollars. It supports minimal taxation and the repeal of inheritance and corporate taxes. And it opposes restrictions on the right to bear arms.
The crowd at Saturday’s meeting, which represented 28 of Washington’s 39 counties, was in tune with those principles, if a bit more conservative on abortion. Shea, who last week had a road-rage gun charge against him in Spokane dropped after complying with terms of a plea bargain, went so far as to suggest that conservative social and economic principles cannot be separated.
There would be no Social Security funding crisis, Shea said, if not for abortion, because 50 million aborted fetuses would have grown into members of the workforce. Moving to the political middle on social issues would alienate the Republican base, he said.
“We have a pro-life majority in this country. ... This crisis of identity makes the whole party look foolish,” Shea said, despite a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week showing that for the first time a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Shea was not alone in emphasizing a return to the Republican Party’s core conservative values. Matt Dubin, chairman of the King County chapter of the Liberty Caucus, said he had become disillusioned with the party because of the war on drugs, the Patriot Act and the economic policies under presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. But, after a dalliance with the Libertarian Party, he returned to the GOP as a Ron Paul supporter. Now he believes it is up to grass-roots conservative activism to return the Republican Party to its former principles.
“It became clear to me that meaningful change could only be accomplished from within the two-party system,” Dubin said. “Let’s face it, they’ve got it rigged. You’ve got to play their game. So let’s play.”
Toward that end, he encouraged those in attendance Saturday to start attending party meetings, to get involved on the local level — not to take over, he said, but to work side by side with other Republicans and “win their hearts and minds.”
“If we want the party to reflect our values once again, we must BE the party,” he said.
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.