State Rep. Steve Fuhrman had his eye on the governor’s mansion when he announced two weeks ago that he wouldn’t seek re-election next fall.
Not for himself, but for House Majority Leader Dale Foreman, a fellow Republican from Wenatchee.
“I made a decision in about January to back Dale Foreman, and that’s the time that I decided I wouldn’t run again,” Fuhrman said last week at his Kettle Falls farm.
Fuhrman, 49, said employees of his feed store in Colville were rightfully skeptical when they heard he was getting out of politics for a while at least.
“Politics is in your blood,” they told him.
Besides, Fuhrman finally had made it into Olympia’s inner circle and was gaining respect as a legislator who knew how to accomplish things. He had spent a dozen years taking lumps as one of the state’s most conservative members of the former minority.
When 30 new Republicans - many of them young conservative firebrands - swept into the House last year, Fuhrman became a sort of elder statesman. He helped pass a budget that had deadlocked on the issue of public abortion funding by using his conservative credentials to reason with the newcomers.
Fuhrman thinks his hard-earned experience won’t be wasted if he can help make Foreman the next governor. Besides, he wants to help replace himself with another Republican in next fall’s elections before Washington’s term limits initiative law retires him at the end of 1998.
Although he has concerns that career bureaucrats may gain an advantage over inexperienced legislators, Fuhrman said he would step down even if the law is overturned.
“The people voted and passed it, so I would feel very much bound by that,” he said.
Foreman said if he runs for governor Fuhrman would be one of his “key advisers and helpers.”
But Foreman is wary of the difficulties of electing a governor who isn’t from Western Washington.
“I think it is possible, but it is going to be quite an effort,” Foreman said. “I don’t want tp put my family through that unless I think it is realistic.”
So Foreman will spend the summer stumping around the state to assess his support. “I think I should decide by the fall, by the first of September,” he said.
In addition to being a conservative orchardist, Foreman is a Harvard-trained attorney who prides himself on being able to work with Democrats as well as Republicans.
Fuhrman said he was especially impressed with Foreman’s performance as the House’s chief budget writer in the session that ended last month.
“He stands where I do on moral issues, but for some reason he has a better way of saying those things,” Fuhrman said. “He’s not as inflammatory as I tend to be.”
Fuhrman stands foursquare against abortion and euthanasia, but is comfortable with what he said is Foreman’s intention to build a platform without such controversial planks.
“He would be the governor of the entire state. He can’t be leading on those issues,” Fuhrman said, sounding like the voice of moderation some say he is starting to become.
Always congenial, Fuhrman laughs off the idea that he has grown in skill and maturity.
“I’ve been no different than ever,” he said. “It’s just being in the majority versus the minority. It makes all the difference in the world, and it’s a whole lot more fun.”
He can concentrate on getting bills passed now instead of poking holes in somebody else’s legislation.
While Fuhrman undoubtedly has profited from experience, there is much to be said for the idea that a shift to the right in the political spectrum has left him closer to the center.
His conservative Christian values and John Birch Society philosophy are indeed moderate in comparison with the militant extremists who now define the outer edges of America’s right wing.
Fuhrman likes to call himself a “constitutional conservative.” He believes in limited government, controlled by strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and operating under the principles of the Ten Commandments. He is an unyielding opponent of gun control and thinks proposed bans on paramilitary training are too vague.
However, when racists tried to exploit Fuhrman, he denounced them. He shows no greater desire to be caught up with those who now advocate killing abortion doctors or taking up arms against the federal government.
Militias, he said, need to be under the control of county sheriffs, governors or other elected officials.
“I feel that’s as far as it should go,” Fuhrman said. “You don’t want militias out there trying to take things into their own hands….
“We are not under a dictatorship, and we can change things by working in a campaign.”
A faded bumper sticker on his pickup says the U.S. should pull out of the United Nations, but Fuhrman doesn’t fear a takeover by “One World Government” forces plying the region in mysterious black helicopters.
As commander of the local National Guard unit, Fuhrman knows exactly who’s in those dark helicopters.
He said even the staunchly anti-Communist John Birch Society’s New American magazine has reported there is no evidence to support militia groups’ claims about invading helicopters.
Fuhrman is so passionately opposed to abortion that he joined a Spokane protest even though it got him arrested for violating a court order.
But even on that issue, he said, violent confrontation is wrong.
“You don’t win in the end if you become as vicious as the perpetrator,” he said.
Such simple wisdom might have been taken for granted a few years ago. Today it’s the voice of moderation.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo