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Conservatives Ready To Move Beyond Contract Bolstered By Successes, House Republicans Plan And Pray About Next Year’s Political Agenda

First, there was the Republican “Contract With Washington State,” with its focus on economic issues.

Now, some of the House GOP’s most conservative members want to turn their attention to family issues.

They’ve formed a group of about 20 members to tackle social issues in coming years.

The group hasn’t staked out a collective legislative agenda yet. But individual members are full of ideas, including teaching creationism in the public schools; requiring parental notification for any medical procedure, including abortion; enabling parents to spend their tax dollars on private schools; and rolling back the state’s no-fault divorce laws.

“Our mission statement is very simple: to preserve, protect and promote Judeo-Christian values. We meet as a group to define what issues are family-related,” said Rep. Mike Sherstad, R-Kenmore.

“The ‘Contract with Washington’ was a great way to unite people and get bills passed, but that’s it; it’s done. We need a way to coordinate and work on ideas for next year.”

Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane, was selected as the group’s coordinator this month, charged with keeping members informed and in touch by fax and phone until the next legislative session.

The group’s core principles are simple, said Rep. Barney Beeksma, R-Oak Harbor: “Those who are students of history realize our government was founded on Judeo-Christian principles - the Ten Commandments and the law of God.

“We hold there is a higher law and higher principles that transcend man’s law, and we need to be sensitive to what those are. To say there is no God, no higher moral law, that law is only what man makes it, you lose your rudder.

“It really boils down to whether you acknowledge there is a God or not. Whether you govern from a fundamental foundation. That’s where I and this group are coming from. We are not trying to take over, but it helps when people of common purpose work together.”

It’s an informal working group that doesn’t even have a name yet. But critics have already derisively nicknamed it The Rigid Right.

“This is something I was afraid would happen,” said Rep. Denny Dellwo, D-Spokane.

“The Republicans came into power using the well-received promise of getting government off our backs. But once they got here they have seen fit to get into our private lives. That is not what the people of the state of Washington expected or wanted.”

The group took shape this session as freshmen House members gathered with conservative veterans for prayer and support.

“We’d meet and have our prayer time, and we realized when we put our heads together we can really do something,” Crouse said.

“Common sense” legislation on family issues is sorely needed, he said.

Rep. Scott Smith, R-Graham, said parents’ rights need strengthening, especially in the public schools where “we have gotten away from basic academics and into a lot of other things.”

Smith cited a gym teacher in the Orting School District he said “is aggressively pushing the gay agenda to students.

“If someone’s going to be gay, let them be gay, but keep it to yourself. Just like you don’t want them teaching Catholicism in schools, I don’t want this kind of thing. If someone was doing that with family values or a religious belief, they would get kicked out.”

Smith has contacted the superintendent in the school district to ask the gym teacher to remove a poster from her office door entitled “How to be a Fabulous Feminist.”

Rep. Steve Fuhrman, R-Kettle Falls, said the group also can be a school for new members to pass the torch to when veterans like himself have to leave because of term limits.

Some predicted the group will wield great power in the House, because its numbers include about a third of the GOP caucus.

“I’m sad for the mainstream Republicans, because it takes over their authority and hands it to this rump caucus,” Dellwo said.

Not likely, some House leaders said.

“It’s a sharing group. There are issues they feel strongly about that they pray about,” said House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee.

“I discourage any part of the caucus from having a totally different agenda from our caucus, but Larry tells me they don’t. I just keep reminding everyone that we are all part of the same team. I believe strongly in that.”

So does Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “Unity is very important. It’s about being a team, a coalition, moving in the same direction.

“If unity is jeopardized, the entire majority is jeopardized.”

The focus among some GOP members on social issues comes as no surprise, said Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “It was always clear to me that the GOP agenda was more than the contract.

“This will take them into stormier waters than they sailed in their contract days. It will be a good test of what the voters were really saying in the last election.”


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