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

Mainstream Washington Republicans talk policy, not Trump

YAKIMA – Republicans, some passed over by the official state GOP, gathered over the weekend and talked policy and strategy at a Mainstream Republicans of Washington campaign event.

Compared to the state Republican Party convention held in April in Spokane, this event was decidedly smaller and calmer.

The political group met at the Yakima Convention Center for its three-day Cascade Conference that featured a keynote speech from leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert and discussion panels about issues in the state.

Tickets for the event cost more than $150 per person, with a discount for veterans and students. The crowd who showed up for the convention comprised largely elected officials and candidates – the majority of whom attended were over 50.

Chris Ferguson, an accountant who lives on Bainbridge Island, drove three hours to attend the conference. He said he thought the crowd at the Yakima event was more well behaved than the crowd that gathered in Spokane for the chaotic Washington State Republican Party Convention in April.

“When I walked into that Spokane convention, it was a borderline riot,” Ferguson said.

The Mainstream Republicans is a 40-year-old Washington political organization that self-describes with a mission to provide a voice for moderate Republicans within the state GOP. Compared to the Spokane event, the Yakima conference drew a smaller, less raucous crowd.

At the Yakima conference, there was virtually zero public discussion of former President Donald Trump or his recent felony convictions – a stark contrast when compared to the Spokane conference that was riddled with red Trump campaign hats, T-shirts and signs.

When asked, Ferguson said he doesn’t like or support Trump.

“You can put that on the record,” he said with a laugh, “that a Republican said that out loud. Can you believe it?”

When gubernatorial hopeful Dave Reichert took the stage at the convention after dinner, he was welcomed with cheers and a standing ovation. Reichert, a former U.S. representative and King County sheriff, is vying for the top office in the state in Washington’s first incumbent-free race for governor since 2012.

In his speech, Reichert said he wanted to revamp sympathy for crime victims in the state Capitol and make the state more tough on crime.

“I remember when we had a victims unit in the sheriff’s office, a victims unit in the prosecutor’s office, a victims advocacy unit within state government that actually cared about the victims – that actually cared about the people that were victimized by crime,” Reichert said. “We have 100 cars a day stolen in King and Pierce County. Are any of you wondering why your car insurance is going up? That’s one reason.”

In August, Reichert will face off with the other Republican Party front-runner for governor, Semi Bird.

Bird secured the state Republican Party nomination in April, an event that Reichert skipped and dismissed as “twisted” and “deceitful.”

Reichert carries the support of the Mainstream Republicans and leads Bird in terms of his fundraising efforts so far. As of Sunday, Reichert’s campaign had raised more than $3 million to-date. Bird’s campaign had raised more than $550,000 so far.

Whoever clinches the Republican victory in the August primary will have a long road ahead in what will likely be a faceoff with Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Bob Ferguson, the longtime attorney general of the state who’s raked in more than $7 million in campaign donations so far.

The last two times there was an open race for governor in Washington, the Democrat won by razor-thin margins. If history repeats itself, this year’s race for governor could be close.

In 2004, Christine Gregoire’s victory over Republican Dino Rossi went down in the books as the closest gubernatorial battle in U.S. history. And in 2012, Gov. Jay Inslee beat his Republican opponent Rob McKenna by 3% of the vote.

On Friday evening, the event kicked off with a panel of congressional candidates from across Washington moderated by state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who chairs the state Republican Party. The forum featured Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner who is running to represent Washington’s 5th Congressional District along with congressional candidates Leslie Lewallen, Drew MacEwen and Carmen Goers. 5th District candidate and state Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, submitted a video to be played at the end of the panel because she could not attend in person. The state Republican Party endorsed Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel for the Eastern Washington congressional seat for which Baumgartner and Maycumber are running.

The candidates talked about their backgrounds and game plans to pick up political support in the next few months.

On Saturday morning, the Mainstream Republicans reconvened for panel discussions about natural gas, the lower four Snake River dams, the statewide fentanyl and opioid epidemic, political redistricting and political outreach.

Panelists agreed that they don’t want to remove the Snake River dams or ban natural gas in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents Washington’s 4th District that covers Yakima, the Tri-Cities and much of central Washington, said the state’s demand for electric power will continue to rise.

“We as a state are going to grow by over a million people in the next decade,” Newhouse said. “I’m sorry to say, solar and wind are not base-load sources of power. As you know, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine.”

Raul Garcia, an emergency room doctor running to represent Washington in the U.S. Senate, spoke on the fentanyl panel. At the Toppenish hospital, he said he sees between two and five overdoses over the course of every 12-hour shift he works.

Science shows if a person begins using fentanyl today, they are likely to die from an overdose within five years, he told the crowd.

“This is the worst killer I have seen in 26 years of emergency medicine,” he said. “I was in the Bronx when we had the crack epidemic in New York City. Fentanyl is worse. It is readily available. It is cheap.”

Garcia and the other panelists agreed that the state needs to build more inpatient rehabilitation clinics and medically assisted treatment clinics.

Panelist Alisha Tobin is the executive director of Safe Yakima Valley, a nonprofit that specializes in substance use disorder prevention and education. She said the state needs to invest in real-time overdose-mapping technology. In Yakima County, officials estimated more than 6,000 drug overdoses occurred in 2023 alone. Tobin said people need to realize that the fentanyl epidemic is more dire than it seems when people only count overdose deaths.

The state of Texas currently uses overdose mapping, Tobin said, and the technology recently helped authorities track a bad batch of fentanyl in Austin and save lives.

“They get spike alerts, so you get notified when you have three or more overdoses in a certain region within a 24-hour period,” she said. “Authorities are notified. So they were able to get crisis responders out to do outreach and announce there was a bad batch.”

Terry Heemsah was among the crowd who attended the conference Saturday. Heemsah, a member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, said he wished the panelists had focused their discussions more on improvements that could be made.

“We can sit here and trade drug overdose numbers back and forth, but they need to work on getting a facility to help these people,” he said.

Heemsah said the Yakama Nation would like politicians in the state to work harder to protect fish populations and improve the conditions of fish ladders and hatcheries. He added that there’s a lot of work to be done with sustainable water usage.

“Anything that has to do with water usage can be improved,” Heemsah said. “They take water out of the river for irrigation when it’s clean, and when it returns to the river, it’s not clean. It has pesticides and chemicals.”

After conference attendees broke for lunch Saturday, former U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and candidate for state commissioner of public lands took the stage and addressed the crowd. She lost a bid for the state Republican Party’s endorsement to Sue Kuehl Pederson.

If elected, Herrera Beutler would manage the Washington Department of Natural Resources and thousands of acres of state-owned forest land that are growing increasingly susceptible to wildfires in the wake of a warming climate bringing hotter, dryer and longer summers to the Evergreen State.

“The DNR has been led by extremist ideology for too long,” she said. “I’ll be a leader who will give those foresters the tools they need to do their jobs.”

Michael Schmidt, a lifelong Eastern Washington resident and cattle rancher, attended the weekend conference to get the word out about his campaign to represent Washington’s 4th District in the state House of Representatives. Schmidt, who self-describes as the “commonsense cowboy candidate” was easy to spot at the convention thanks to his black cowboy hat.

“On the ranch, we have to get things done,” Schmidt said. “I will bring that energy to Olympia. I don’t think we need to create new laws. We already have enough laws.”

Schmidt, a first-time candidate for office, said one of his main goals if he’s elected would be to help inspire children in the state and support K-12 education.

“I hear so many young people who feel like there’s no point to anything anymore,” he said. “They think they’ll never be able to afford a house or find a good job. I want to help them find opportunities.”

Washington’s primary elections for statewide offices will be held on Aug. 6. The general election will be Nov. 5.