Washington governor candidate Semi Bird clinches state GOP nomination after a party backlash


After getting off to a raucous start, delegates returned Saturday for the final day of the state Republican Party convention and endorsed gubernatorial hopeful Semi Bird, a day after party leadership's attempt to skip making an endorsement in the race altogether.

The three-day political gathering drew about 1,800 delegates from across Washington, the majority of whom showed outspoken support for Bird. Bird picked up 72% of the vote and clinched the party endorsement.

Conflict and surprise erupted Friday afternoon when party leaders announced they did not plan to endorse a candidate for governor at this year's conference, saying Bird had not been "forthcoming" about a decades-old misdemeanor conviction for lying on a credit card application that came into the public eye earlier this week.

Bird's supporters stood in the auditorium of the Spokane Convention Center, screaming profanities in unison and waving campaign signs as party chairman Jim Walsh attempted to quell the angry crowd. The delegate body ended up overturning the GOP leadership's decision and voted to put the governor's race back on the ballot.

Party chairman and state Rep. Jim Walsh on Saturday decried media coverage of the previous day's events, pointing out how several local outlets used the word "chaos" in describing what transpired. Moments later, he urged the convention crowd to "stay in good composure."

Susan Messinger traveled from Whitman County to attend the convention. She said the crowd's aggressive energy on Friday made her feel uncomfortable, and that people were rude and uncivilized.

"It was out of control," she said. "It was chaos. It was disrespectful. I don't think Republicans should treat other Republicans that way. We shouldn't treat other people that way."

The convention crowd appeared much more mellow on Saturday. Things got tense at one point when a lengthy debate broke out that afternoon over whether the delegates should take a 20-minute lunch break.

In his endorsement acceptance speech, Bird praised Walsh's leadership throughout the convention.

The candidate told the crowd he "sinned" in 1993 when he used his father's credit to get a credit line of $1,800.

"That was wrong," Bird said. "I was bitter. My father was an alcoholic, and yes, he abused. No excuse for what I did. I take full accountability, and I say it again now: If you want me to disclose, I will disclose."

Amid the drama Friday, gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert announced he would withdraw his name from consideration for the party's endorsement.

"Some in the Washington State Republican Party are in such disarray that they're considering making no endorsement for governor," Reichert wrote in a statement. "This, after they continually changed rules, broke rules, and twisted the process to accomplish their desired outcome."

Reichert, who didn't show up at the convention, described the party event later that night in a phone interview as "unorganized, deceitful and deceptive."

He initially had planned to attend, he said, but changed his mind when he learned party leadership initially didn't plan to make an endorsement in his race.

"They had a choice between a cop and a crook," Reichert said. "The party's been taken hostage by a group of people. You can see that happening across the state."

Reichert on Saturday called Bird a "snake oil salesman" after he heard news of his opponent's endorsement.

Bird, the first Black gubernatorial candidate  endorsed by the Washington State Republican Party, told a group of reporters on Saturday afternoon that he was "surprised and disappointed" to hear Reichert's comment.

"Leaders don't speak that way," Bird said, "and so I've always referred to Dave Reichert as a gentleman. The other gentleman. ... Although that statement was not gentlemanlike, I will not lower myself."

Bird went on to say he doesn't believe the state Republican Party is in "disarray."

"People are here because they're excited about something new," Bird said. "About a new direction for Washington state. And that's what they voiced to me."

Washington's primary elections for state offices will be held Aug. 6. The general election this year will take place Nov. 5. Along with state offices, seats in the Washington Legislature and U.S. Congress will also be up for grabs.


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