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Assessing the problem

Luke Esser
Luke Esser

After the vote which removed Diane Tebelius as chair of the Washington state Republicans and replaced her with former state Senator Luke Esser, the new chair issued a statement in which he remarked, “The first step towards recovering from our defeat in 2006 is recognizing that we have a problem, and today we did that.”

There are layers of meeting involved in that simple statement. The collected Republicans may indeed have recognized that they have a problem; but did they understand what it was? If they think the problem was Tebelius, then they have some more thinking to do.

That’s neither particular endorsement of Tebelius nor criticism of Esser, just recognition that party chairs – while a visible person on whom to take out frustrations – has only a limited amount to do with a political party’s larger fortunes. Several of the key arguments against Tebelius (the suggestion that she withheld state party money from candidates) seem to fall apart on examination. The party organization doesn’t seem mismanaged, which would be the logical argument against her if it were the case.

The Seattle Times‘ David Postman quotes Esser after the meeting saying that 2006 “It was a terrible year and people are looking for a way to make sure that never happens again.” What way would that be? One significant reason for the Democratic push was the national scene, not in control of the state party. Another was a continuation of the trend of Seattle suburbs edging Democratic; that had been a development underway for a decade. The Republican candidates were, in many cases, just the sort of strong candidates the party wanted to run; recruitment was not a big problem. (It could be tougher in some places in 2008.) Nor was 2006 fundraising all that bad, under the circumstances.

We’re not suggesting Esser doesn’t recognize all this; he well may. As one of the Republican state legislators who lost his seat to a Democrat last fall, Esser’s understanding of the party’s problems may be both painful and personal and well as detailed. Esser likely will be an aggressive chair, maybe more so than Tebelius was, so he may be the right choice for the time. But the problems facing the organization run a good deal deeper than simply whoever is running it.

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One Comment

  1. Chuck Butcher Chuck Butcher January 27, 2007

    I don’t know the procedures of WA RP but I have found that there is a tendency for some in Parties to think they have more effect on policy than they possibly could. I would wager that measured by meeting attendance that Party is composed of 0.5% of registered Republicans, I’d say they’re aiming in the wrong direction.

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