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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Reichert emphasizes law-and-order agenda at Yakima GOP conference

Former congressman and King County sheriff Dave Reichert speaks to attendees at the Mainstream Republicans of Washington Cascade Conference Saturday, June 1, 2024 in Yakima, Wash.    (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times/TNS)
By Jim Brunner The Seattle Times

YAKIMA, Wash. — Campaigning to end four decades of Democratic grasp on the governor’s office, Republican candidate Dave Reichert told a GOP crowd over the weekend that voters are ready for “a government that serves the people — not the other way around.”

Speaking at the Mainstream Republicans of Washington Cascade Conference, Reichert, the former King County sheriff and congressman, emphasized a law-and-order agenda that would hold lawbreakers accountable.

“We live in an upside-down world. We’re in a world where we blame victims and we excuse criminals,” he said, vowing to “make history for the country” by winning the gubernatorial race this fall.

Reichert’s Saturday-night speech at the mainstream GOP group, which has endorsed him, was a chance to make the sort of case he didn’t get to at the state Republican convention in April. He withdrew from that event after a clash with delegates who handed the official state GOP endorsement to former Richland School Board member Semi Bird.

While he didn’t announce new policy proposals, Reichert on Saturday leaned into his decades of experience in law enforcement, as a deputy and homicide detective who went on to serve as the King County sheriff for eight years.

He said his time as a hostage negotiator and SWAT team commander had come in handy in politics. “It’s always good to have a SWAT team guy … because you have got to kick that door down. And it’s time to kick the governor’s door,” he said, drawing a loud round of applause and cheers.

“There’s already a crack in it. We’ve already got our foot in the door,” he added.

With Gov. Jay Inslee bowing out after three terms, the governor’s seat is open this year for the first time since 2012. Reichert has proved the leading Republican candidate in early polling against Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the leading Democrat and top fundraiser in the race.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, is also running with financial backing from business groups, trying to find a lane as a more moderate alternative to Ferguson and the Republicans.

They’ll all appear on the Aug. 6 primary ballot, along with two dozen lesser known candidates. The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the November general election.

Reichert in his public-safety-themed weekend speech pointed to protesters who have blocked airports and freeways, the daily rash of car thefts, and to burgeoning homelessness he said was really a crisis of addiction and mental illness.

Protesters have the right to express themselves, he said, but “you do not have the right to stomp on the rights of other people.”

Reichert said he thought of the thousands trapped on roads, some who might have been on the way to a medical appointment, or a family funeral. While hinting he’d crack down on such protests more quickly, Reichert didn’t specify what actions he’d take as governor. (Dozens of road-blocking demonstrators have been arrested and charged with misdemeanors.)

Giving a capsule version of his life story, Reichert repeatedly referred to himself as “just a guy from the Renton Highlands.” He grew up the oldest of seven children in a home beset with domestic abuse. Between that rough home life and dyslexia, he barely graduated from high school. But he could play some football and got a tuition waiver to attend a small Lutheran college, where he got an associate degree.

Reichert was hired by the King County Sheriff’s Office in 1972, going on to a long career that included being the first detective assigned to the case of the Green River Killer, who was finally arrested in 2001 when Reichert was sheriff. Elected in 2004 as U.S. representative in the suburban 8th Congressional District, Reichert served until he decided to forgo reelection in 2018.

In his speech Saturday, Reichert didn’t mention Ferguson.

But Reichert did criticize him in an interview before the event, saying his own record and long emphasis on public safety would stand in contrast to Ferguson, who has served as attorney general since 2013.

“Where have you been for 12 years, Bob Ferguson, as the lead law enforcement officer in the state of Washington? Nowhere,” he said, pointing to people he’s met around the state who consistently say they’re fed up with crime and a shortage of police.

While campaigning for governor, Ferguson has pledged to hire more Washington State Patrol troopers and to propose a $100 million grant program to help local police agencies recruit more officers.

But Reichert said merely pouring money into grants won’t make a difference if potential recruits don’t feel supported in their work — including the life-or-death decisions they have to make in an instant.

The next governor needs “to create an environment where cops can make those tough decisions and feel comfortable that the community’s got their back,” he said. “Otherwise, you are not going to get police officers working here in the state of Washington.”

For example, Reichert said he wants police officers to retain qualified immunity, which protects them from personal liability in lawsuits, and would push back at proposals to make .

At the same time, Reichert said officers who truly violate the community’s trust should be held accountable. He pointed to a deputy he fired for misconduct during Seattle’s 1999 WTO protests, including pepper-spraying two women in their car.

Despite the GOP’s long losing streak in gubernatorial races, Reichert said he sees an opportunity to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters this year.

“I’m not an ideologue,” Reichert said. To the left, he said he’s viewed as “a MAGA,” while on the right he’s seen as “a RINO.”

“I think people are tired of the extreme political factions of both parties. And what I am finding as I travel around the state is that there is still a silent majority and that’s who we’re appealing to,” he said.

As he has throughout the year, Reichert declined in the interview to say who he’ll vote for in the looming rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, calling it irrelevant to the governor’s race.

“I am not going to let the national politics divide the state further than they’re already divided. I am going to focus on the problems here in Washington state,” Reichert said.