The Spokane County Republican Party formally rejected the Iraq policy of their current president and their party’s likely nominee, saying American troops shouldn’t be on overseas missions for more than six months without a formal declaration of war.
At a county convention Saturday that some party leaders said may have set an attendance record for Republicans in Spokane, supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul handily defeated an attempt to scale back the platform’s stringent limitation on using American troops on foreign soil.
They beat back an attempt by delegate Ritajane Boyce, of Spokane, to swap the platform’s position on the use of American troops for a simple statement of support for American troops. The platform plank’s limit of 180 days for peacekeeping or combat missions without a declaration of war was irresponsible, she said.
“Democrats are quick to want to pull our troops out in the face of problems,” said Boyce, whose son has served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. “I want to see our troops 100 percent supported by us.”
But others argued that presidents should stick to the U.S. Constitution, which requires a vote of Congress to declare war.
“I have a deep regard for our military and support them 100 percent,” said Jeff Whiteside, one of Paul’s organizers. “I don’t believe we should be able to declare war on any country.”
Boyce’s proposed amendment failed on a count of 170 to 280.
The fight on war policy was one of the few debates over the county platform, a statement of principles that shows where activists stand on issues but is not binding on candidates. Planks that oppose abortion, euthanasia and gay rights; call for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations and the North American Free Trade Agreement; seek to eliminate the state Business and Occupation and inheritance taxes; and aim to get rid of Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests passed without debate.
The platform statement on the use of troops didn’t specifically name Iraq, but County Chairman Curt Fackler and representatives of the campaign of Sen. John McCain agreed it was essentially a repudiation of current war policy and the course McCain has said he would take if elected.
Jon Wyss, McCain coordinator for Eastern Washington, said the vote wasn’t surprising because of strong county support for Paul.
“That’s what today’s all about … people who are passionate who want to make a difference,” Wyss said.
McCain and his policies have more support among rank-and-file Republicans and independents, he said. The campaign was more interested in unifying the supporters of other candidates than continuing to “pick fights and battle back and forth.”
Spokane is one of 39 counties in the state, and Chris Fidler, the state McCain campaign coordinator, said he didn’t know of another county that has passed a platform with similar language.
“We’ve had overwhelming success, statewide,” Fidler said. Rob Chase, a Paul activist, said the platform statement on war was developed locally. Supporters of the Texas congressman have been shut out in some counties, Chase said, but have found kindred spirits in Spokane County among traditional Goldwater conservatives.
McCain supporters said election of delegates to the state convention was more important than the platform fight, but on that score, too, Paul forces had the upper hand. Of the 114 county delegates elected to the state convention, about 100 are supporters of Paul.
“It does surprise me,” Fackler said. “But they were well organized.”
Nationally, McCain has more than enough national delegates to secure the nomination and Paul has only a handful. Paul has told supporters that “victory in the conventional sense is not possible” and is spending most of his time serving in Congress and running for re-election to his House seat in Texas. But Chase said Paul supporters hope their candidate will have a chance to address the state convention when it meets in Spokane in May, and they want to send some Paul delegates to the national convention in Minneapolis.
Saturday’s convention brought 540 party activists to the Lewis and Clark High School Field House. When Fackler asked how many were attending their first convention, far more than half the delegates raised their hands.
Delegates heard from gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi, who predicted a different outcome than four years ago when he finished 129 votes behind Democrat Chris Gregoire in the second recount of ballots. He’s not starting out as an unknown, Gregoire has a record as an incumbent and the state has cleaned its voter registration rolls of thousands of people not eligible to vote, he said.
“Rarely in life do we ever get a second chance at things that are truly important,” he said. “With this race for governor, Washington gets a second chance.”
He called for tougher sentences for criminals, lower government spending and an end to the inheritance tax, which Rossi and many Republicans call the “death tax.”
“I want Washington state to be the worst place in America to be a criminal and the best place in America to start a business,” he said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is seeking a third term in Congress, told the crowd that Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 because too many of their members were more concerned with keeping power than doing what was right.
“The Democrats didn’t win that election; the Republicans lost it,” McMorris Rodgers said.
The party has to return to policies of fiscal responsibility by cutting taxes and keeping them low, she said.