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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington state Republican Party endorses 6 candidates as races for statewide offices heat up

Washington gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird, second from left, stands up and watches as hundreds of delegates raise his signs Friday at the Spokane Convention Center.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A life-sized cardboard cutout of a grinning Donald Trump greeted hundreds of Washingtonians who made a three-day pilgrimage late last week to attend the state Republican Party Convention in Spokane.

Campaign workers festooned the Spokane Convention Center with political signs and passed out flyers in support of candidates for state and Congressional elected offices. Roughly 1,800 Republican delegates showed up to the event to endorse candidates on behalf of the state party. People wore red Trump campaign hats and shirts displaying the former president’s campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.”

While much of the attention at the convention was on the debate about who to endorse for governor, the party selected their top choices for many offices.

The candidates who managed to clinch a party endorsement are not guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot come November. However, an endorsement earns them free publicity and fundraising help from the party in the coming months. Delegates endorsed two congressional candidates along with candidates for six statewide offices, including governor, secretary of state and commissioner of public lands.

Out of the several endorsements up for grabs, the main event was the party’s seal of approval for a gubernatorial candidate. Delegates overwhelmingly favored candidate Semi Bird, endorsing him with 72% of the vote. Dave Reichert, another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, dropped out of the endorsement race and skipped the convention altogether after raucous drama broke out and caused organizational hiccups at the event.

The state Republican Party gave Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel its endorsement in the 5th Congressional District race to replace Cathy McMorris Rogers, who announced earlier this year that she won’t seek re-election for her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Delegates also endorsed candidate Raul Garcia, who is vying for the seat held by incumbent Maria Cantwell in the U.S. Senate.

Spokane resident Dale Whitaker picked up the Republicans’ endorsement for secretary of state. Whitaker is the executive director of We Believe, We Vote, a conservative Christian nonprofit that puts together surveys and sends them out to local political candidates.

In his campaign speech at the convention Friday, Whitaker told a cheering crowd that he will fight for same-day, in-person voting in Washington. That same day, it took party officials hours to hand-count ballots with votes for which delegates the Republican Party will send to the national Republican convention in July.

Whitaker also held a presidential primary ballot return envelope up above the podium and pointed to the party declaration on the front of the envelope right next to the blank space where voters fill out their legal name and home address.

“This is a violation of your right to privacy,” Whitaker said. “This will not happen when I am secretary of state.”

Right now, state law mandates that voters declare a political party on the outside of their presidential primary ballots and select one candidate from the corresponding party for their vote to count.

The party voters selected in the March primary did not bind them to vote for that party in future elections. But the party a voter selects will be held in public record and accessible to anyone for 60 days after the primary election results are certified, said Derrick Nunnally, the spokesperson for the Washington Secretary of State’s office.

Even if the party a voter selected was not displayed on the front of their ballot, their selection would be held in public record and accessible to anyone for 60 days after the primary election results.

In the four-way Republican Party race for the superintendent of public instruction, Peninsula School District board member David Olson came out on top.

Olson, who has served in Peninsula School District leadership since 2013, said he would encourage every school district in Washington to consider banning cellphones and social media in their classrooms like his district did.

“Our students have reported back to us that they feel less stressed; they feel more engaged,” Olson said.

Olson also said he supports manning schools with armed security guards and does not support students who identify as trans being allowed to play in girls’ sports leagues.

He said he thinks all high school graduates in the state would be better off if they attended two-year community and technical colleges instead of four-year universities.

Sue Kuehl Pederson picked up 86% of the convention votes and secured the party’s nomination for commissioner of public lands.

Kuehl Pederson wants to make logging a more prominent part of the state’s economy.

“Unfortunately, our timber industry, which was the backbone of our economy for at least a century … it went down the tubes,” Kuehl Pederson said in a speech Friday.

Kuel Pederson, a former senior environmental analyst at Seattle City Light, said the state needs to get its power from a mix of resources. She said the state will experience power blackouts if it transitions completely away from hydroelectric power produced by dams.

“You know, wind and solar are fine,” she said. “They make you feel good about, you know, clean air, but you can’t live off of it.”

The state Republican Party showed unanimous support and endorsed Pasco Mayor Pete Serrano for attorney general. Spokane GOP state committeeman Matt Hawkins picked up unanimous support and the endorsement for auditor.

Washington’s primary elections for state offices will be held Aug. 6. The general election this year will take place Nov. 5 for the state offices, along with the Congressional seats and U.S. presidential race.