Washington state GOP chair defends handling of state convention


Hurt feelings may be lingering for some Republicans following the GOP party convention in Spokane last weekend, but the state party chair tells The Center Square that the media coverage of the event was unfair.

Multiple news organizations reported the three-day gathering of candidates and delegates as “chaotic” with “rules being broken” to support certain candidates.

But Jim Walsh, chair of the Washington state Republican Party, says that was not at all the case.

“I was telling people in the media for months, it’s going to be a real convention, it’s going to be unscripted and not a coronation,” said Walsh, who also serves as a state representative from Aberdeen.

“We did have our convention rules and we have Robert's Rules as we always do, and we never broke any of our rules, so this narrative that we somehow broke rules is false,” Walsh said.

Walsh was referring to some controversy surrounding GOP gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird, who ultimately won the support of the party’s endorsement over Dave Reichert.

Bird’s candidacy has been called into question over transgressions that occurred about 30 years ago.

In 1993, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of bank larceny for lying on a credit application by using his father’s name and Social Security number.

Under the plea agreement, Bird was sentenced to two years of probation and agreed to pay restitution and a $500 fine.

Party Vice Chair Lisa Evans said Bird had not been forthcoming about the matter during candidate vetting and she motioned for the convention to not endorse any candidate for governor. 

That did not go over well with the majority crowd of Bird supporters. 

GOP officials ultimately changed the rules to a 15-year lookback for any candidate's history, but Walsh says that’s entirely on the up and up.

“This idea that we broke our rules, those are talking points,” he said. “The report was amended from the floor, which is following the rules, both our convention and Robert's Rules.”

Republican candidate Reichert didn’t see it the same way, telling other media outlets the inner-workings of the party were “deceitful and deceptive.”

He was reportedly in town prepared to attend the convention, but ended up leaving before delegates voted 72% in favor of Bird receiving the party’s endorsement.

Reichert told McClatchy News there was an anticipation that the convention would turn “chaotic by a few that have taken over the party,” influencing his decision to not attend.

Asked if he has spoken to Reichert since the convention, Walsh said, “No, I sent him a very short text message and thanked him for participating as long as he did, and told him I look forward to talking with him in the future, but I have not spoken to him”

If Reichert wins the August primary — he's ahead in the polls — the question becomes, will Bird supporters get in behind the former King County sheriff?

“My job is to unite people behind common sense conservative candidates, and I will do that, I always do that,” Walsh said. “I can’t predict what will happen and I’ve said all along winning in November is our ultimate goal.”

Assuming Bob Ferguson is the Democratic nominee and candidate Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, does not advance after the primary, will Mullet’s supporters get behind Ferguson or support the Republican?

Mullet is a true centrist, according to Walsh.

“There aren’t many of those left in Washington," he said. "I think his supporters, if they are also true centrists, that they will be more inclined to vote for the common sense conservative, than an extreme left candidate like Bob Ferguson.”

Other convention priorities included initiatives, those already on the ballot this November and those that could be on the ballot.

Walsh said he heard plenty of discussion and enthusiasm for the initiatives during the convention.

“There was uniform, darn near 100% enthusiastic support for the three that are going to be on the ballot," he said. "Those are I-2117, I-2109 and I-2124. And there was more general support for the three new ones too, especially to repeal HB 1589; the sort of ban on natural gas in Washington is clearly the strongest of those three.”

Walsh told The Center Square that getting enough signatures on all three new initiatives by July 5 may be an uphill battle, so they are likely to focus on the initiative to repeal House Bill 1589.

The Center Square did reach out to the Reichert campaign for comment, but did not receive a reply.