GOP platform proves vexing in Spokane County
Many candidates sign, but some worry it could backfire
Much of the county Republican Party’s platform reflects longtime GOP values: Limited government. Gun rights. Lower taxes. An end to abortion.
But some of the platform’s 120 policy statements make more-surprising calls, for, among other things: An end to no-fault divorce. A return to the gold standard. Tax incentives for the shoe and textile industry. U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.
And some Republicans worry the platform – which they’re asked to pledge to support when they seek party endorsement – diverges from their values and opens the door to attacks from Democrats.
Earlier this month, Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr highlighted his opponent’s promise to support the county Republican platform. He said it’s proof that Republican Michael Baumgartner is “out of touch with his constituency.”
GOP officials responded that candidates, including Baumgartner, who pledged to support the platform weren’t necessarily saying they backed its nearly 120 policy statements.
“We know that no candidate is going to agree 100 percent with what’s in the platform,” county GOP Chairwoman Cindy Zapotocky said. “We require the candidates to read it and consider it.”
The platform, which also calls for an end to the Patriot Act, privatization of Social Security and for the federal government to deed back most federal lands to the states, originated from the grass roots of the party and was approved at the county convention earlier this year, Zapotocky said. As candidates have requested official party endorsements, they’ve been asked to sign a pledge that includes a box where they check if they “promise” to “support the Constitution of the United States of America, the Washington State Constitution and the Spokane County Republican Party Platform.”
Zapotocky said so far, the party has endorsed only candidates who have checked the box — though three candidates on the November ballot (Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, state Rep. Matt Shea and former state Rep. John Ahern) won backing before the party created the vetting process that includes the platform promise. Judicial candidates are not asked to pledge.
The Spokane County Democratic Party also has a long platform, but it doesn’t ask candidates to pledge to support it.
“We’re not the purity party,” county Democratic Party Chairwoman Amy Biviano said. “I don’t think we have a single candidate who is 100 percent supportive of the platform, and that’s OK. We have stronger candidates because we do disagree.”
The biggest concern cited by many Republican candidates is that the platform forces candidates on the record on issues they likely will never have to consider.
Republican county commissioner candidate Al French said he signed the pledge but inserted a phrase qualifying some items that he felt were state or national issues. He didn’t win an endorsement for the primary, but he recently got the party’s nod for the November race.
“I support the platform as it relates to the county commission,” French said.
Morgan Oyler, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic state Rep. Timm Ormsby in the heavily Democratic 3rd Legislative District, didn’t sign the pledge and was turned down by the GOP twice when he requested an endorsement. He said the platform pledge makes it more difficult for the party to win in the central Spokane district because it drives away potential candidates like him who are fiscally conservative but have moderate stances on social issues.
“I would like to see (the platform) be more general and more philosophical and more focused on limited government, freedom and personal responsibility than just going issue by issue,” Oyler said. “I think it drives people away from the party.”
Baumgartner, the candidate for state senator, was one of those who made the pledge. In an interview on Aug. 31, he said he disagreed with some of the items and had not formed opinions on others.
For instance, the platform calls for the repeal of the state’s Growth Management Act. But when asked about that law, Baumgartner said he didn’t know what it was.
“I’d have to be briefed up on it,” Baumgartner said.
The growth act – a cornerstone of the state’s land and environmental policy – aims to prevent sprawl by limiting urban development to cities or to land adjacent to already developed places. Critics say it infringes on private property rights. Supporters say it saves local governments money by concentrating services.
In a subsequent interview, Baumgartner said he believes the growth law should be revised, but not repealed.
“The problem with the Growth Management Act is you have too many decisions made in Olympia instead of it being a local discussion,” Baumgartner said.
In the August interview, Baumgartner also said he wasn’t prepared to take a stance on no-fault divorce – even though the repeal of no-fault divorce is in the platform. No-fault divorce allows couples to divorce without assigning blame to one of the spouses.
“I haven’t looked at that one,” he said. Last week, Baumgartner said he “is not in favor of the Legislature changing divorce laws.”
Baumgartner said he also didn’t have an opinion about repealing the law, approved by voters in 2007, that lowered the threshold needed to raise property taxes for school levies from 60 percent to more than 50 percent. The platform calls for returning to a supermajority requirement to pass school levies.
Marr said he supports the Growth Management Act, though he believes some of it should be revised.
He also said he supports the state’s current no-fault divorce law.
The GOP’s position, he said, is “incredibly intrusive, and quite frankly I don’t see how any thoughtful dialogue could have resulted in that getting in anyone’s platform.”
Marr also said school operation and maintenance levies should be approved if they receive more than 50 percent support.
Marr’s campaign last weekend released a chart comparing candidates’ stances on women’s issues. It cited Baumgartner’s promise to support the platform when alleging that Baumgartner supported the repeal of no-fault divorce.
Baumgartner said he supports the “core principles” of the platform but had a “pretty frank discussion” with party leaders about items that he thought were “out of scope of a state legislator.”
“I also support the Cougs,” Baumgartner said in the August interview. “I don’t always agree with who the coach puts in at tight end.”
But Marr said Baumgartner seems to be changing his mind on issues now that he’s past the primary and needs support from moderates and independents.
“Clearly what he’s doing is he’s attempting to make his positions on the issues be vague,” Marr said.
Ahern, the former state representative challenging Democrat state Rep. John Driscoll in a rematch of the 2008 election, said he generally agrees with much of the platform. One item he diverges on, he said, is the call to withdraw from the United Nations.
Ahern said that he supports repealing the Growth Management Act and that school districts should have to win a supermajority to pass property tax levies. He said he agrees that no-fault divorce should be repealed.
“That’s a cause of a breakdown of society,” Ahern said.
The platform, he said, benefits the party and the voters.
“The voters want to know exactly where you stand,” Ahern said. “They don’t want you to be wishy-washy.”
Driscoll said he doesn’t plan to make Ahern’s support of the platform a campaign issue.
“I don’t want to debate the Republican Party platform,” Driscoll said. “My message will be about what I have to offer.”