For some Republican lawmakers, serving in the Legislature isn’t just a matter of passing bills and getting re-elected. They are defending traditional values and Biblical principles.
“I am a Christian who believes in God’s word in the Bible,” said Rep. Barney Beeksma, R-Oak Harbor. “I am not concerned about political consequences. I didn’t come here because I need a job. I’m not a good politician. For me, it is a matter of principle.”
These powerful convictions voiced by Beeksma and other Christian-conservative lawmakers are shaking things up in the Capitol.
House Democrats complain that religion is creeping into the legislative process. Questions are being raised about everything from the content of the morning prayer from the House rostrum to lawmakers calling for spiritual warfare from the Capitol steps.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee, is running interference between Christian-conservative and moderate members of the GOP, while still keeping peace with Democrats and decorum in the House.
On Ballard’s desk one recent morning, there was a button with a color picture of a fetus, and a gay political activists’ handbook on securing the right to gay marriage.
“I go home tired,” Ballard said. “You try to find a balance. You respect people. Moral issues are very important to me personally.”
By most counts, there are 18 to 20 Christian-conservative legislators in the 98-member House. Most were elected in the 1994 Republican landslide.
Ballard said the spectrum of views in the GOP caucus is “a slice of life, no different than out there in the real world.”
But the religious conservatives are redefining what it means to be a lawmaker.
“I’m straight-forward about it,” said Beeksma. “If I can’t accomplish things and keep my principles I don’t want to be here. And a large majority of the freshmen who came here in 1994 feel the same way. These are people you normally do not find in a Legislature.”
Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Spanaway, sees religion as integral to politics.
“Our Christian beliefs are how we are raised and what we think is best for society. We campaigned on them, and we’re going to act on them and that’s the way it is,” Campbell said.
“That’s why they are having such a hard time with us. We really have to do what’s right. Everyone has to go along to get along here. But we don’t.”
Campbell raised a furor among Democrats with his remarks during an anti-abortion rally on the Capitol steps on Jan. 26.
“We have an amoral group of people that have been seeded throughout this government,” Campbell told the crowd. “We must root them out, ruthlessly … They must be eliminated from this government.
“We must get back to God. And we have to get back to pro-family values or we’re doomed. We will not let that happen,” he continued. “We are here on a mission. Send us a governor that will clean out this den of snakes. Please. Please.”
Some House Democrats also complained after a prayer Beeksma delivered in the House the same day as the abortion rally.
He praised the abortion protesters and prayed that God would “give us the wisdom to discern your will and be obedient to your will.”
Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, the House minority leader, takes the GOP’s religious conservatives to task with gusto.
“I feel like we have to do it because if these people come to dominate, they are going to be dangerous,” he said.
Where religious conservatives see long-awaited legislation in the making as they introduce their bills, Appelwick sees campaign fodder.
“You come in in the morning and read this stuff and think, ‘How could it be any better? They are making it easy.”’
He is convinced most people do not support the religious conservatives’ agenda, from rolling back abortion rights to outlawing same-sex marriage.
Indeed, religious conservatives so far have been largely frustrated in achieving their legislative goals.
Of 12 bills introduced to restrict abortion rights, only one is going to the floor. Other bills, including a ban on adoption by gay people, also didn’t make it.
Lonnie Johns Brown, lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, said religion doesn’t belong in the political process.
“If you start off saying that is where you take your direction from there’s no point in much discussion. Maybe that is the idea. But this is supposed to be a body of debate and discussion,” Brown said.
Conservatives counter that all laws have moral content. It’s just a question of whose.
“Every person brings their values to politics,” said Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Gig Harbor, a mother of five and former schoolteacher. “The fact I am a Christian is not a minus, it’s a plus.
“I don’t think we can go by leaps and bounds back to the ‘40s, the ‘50s, whenever the Golden Age was in our country. But we have to at least take steps to go back.”
McMahan said she is willing to compromise on some things, but not on her principles. “I have a clear conscience now, and I want to have a clear-conscience when I leave. That’s more important than re-election.”
Rep. Steve Hargrove, R-Poulsbo, son of a North Carolina share cropper, agreed. “But we are not talking about imposing some state religion. We would fight that to the death. We have to protect other people’s religious freedoms to protect our own.”
Rep. Steve Fuhrman, R-Kettle Falls, said: “Christians have a duty to step forward. It is my duty to stand out there.”
Fuhrman decided to run for the House after he had a vision in which he felt called to serve as a Christian legislator, battling abortion.
Rep. Mike Sherstad, R-Bothell, a father of two and building contractor, assesses legislation with a simple formula: “The role of government is to protect life, liberty and property.
“I don’t think it’s government’s role to heal the culture. That has to be done by changing the hearts and minds of America.”
But faith forms the bedrock of Sherstad’s views.
“To me, the Bible is infallible. I know what’s in the Bible is good and if we can implement what’s in there in government we are going to have good laws.”
Rep. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata, said she evaluates each bill using a three prong test: how it plays with her caucus, her constituents and her conscience.
“I made it no secret when I campaigned for the job. I bring strong Christian values to it, and I try hard to live my faith rather than preach it. I’m an activist, and not ashamed of it.”
Mulliken worships daily, no matter how busy the calendar gets in Olympia.
There is an active prayer community in Olympia of legislators and their spouses, lobbyists and legislative staff, including a daily Bible reading group at 7:30 a.m., a weekly noontime rosary, and several prayer groups.
“I never realized my need for God so much as when I’m here,” Mulliken said. “I wouldn’t want to be doing this without Him.”
Most religious conservatives say they are merely trying to address what they believe are the excesses of a secular culture.
“I want to bring the pendulum back to the middle,” said Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. He relies on the Bible for his own spiritual compass, and sees wisdom in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes for everyone.
That doesn’t mean he would, or wants to impose those religious beliefs on others, Crouse said.
“But we don’t want government restricting us from doing things we think are correct, like prayer in schools. To acknowledge there is a God, and the blessings He has given us.
“What is wrong with that? The pendulum has gone too far.”
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