Author: Bryan Myrick

For Democrats, the worst is yet to come

There’s more to replacement than one word can define

Before this week, you had to watch a drag race to witness anything accelerate as fast, careen as recklessly, and burst into flame as catastrophically as did the first Republican effort to replace the Affordable Care Act during Pres. Trump’s term in office.

Clearly, Republican leadership was not ready. Clearly, they felt pressure to fulfill the one promise that had been pounded in ad infinitum to voters in hundreds of congressional districts over four consecutive election cycles.

Promises are funny things, though. The promisor – in this case, the politicians – and the promisee – voters – should have a common understanding of the terms. The absence of mutual understanding often leads to promisees reacting to the promisor’s actions as a breach.

“Behold, promisees! We are repealing! And replacing!” proclaims the promisor, beaming with pride.

“Umm, not so much repealing by our account,” say the promisees. “And that’s not even close to how we envisioned the replacing. I think we’d call that revising, but replacing… not so much.”

“Oh,” says the promisor. “Oops.”

I don’t mean to suggest that agreeing on a complex idea such as health care reform is easy. It’s an unavoidable limitation that in a representative democracy we’re not going to get the fine print on the social contract we’re asked to extend, modify and renew at each election.

Campaign slogans are useful tool for harvesting votes, but worthless when it comes to understanding what specific policies those votes may have supported. Governing, it seems, requires more communication to get it right. It’s critical for elected representatives to check back in with the public prior to diving into the creation of a broad, sweeping policy like the AHCA.

The late Mario Cuomo’s dictum (“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”) comes to mind. Republicans have campaigned successfully in poetry since 2009. Last year’s devolution into a kind of right-wing beat poetry – MAGA rally chants and random thoughts of no more than 140 characters – resulted in even greater success. Transitioning to a mode of communication that embraced their new role as the governing party was never going to be easy. Decisions by many Republicans not to hold town halls during their mid-winter recess, though understandable, foreclosed opportunities to broaden understanding with constituents about the ACHA and other issues that lay ahead. The chaos generated by liberal action groups shut down the best chance for Republican members and their constituents to sync up on what the repeal and replace promise really did mean.

Not having the public forums was a rational decision where and when those choices were made, but it’s hard not to recognize that it was a choice that may have kept Republicans out of touch.

The same choice will present itself again and Republicans will need to find a way to push through. The use of technology, more meetings with smaller groups of constituents, or partnering with local media to host (and manage) town halls could be crucial ways of keeping communication active and open.

So, with all of that non-communication happening against the helpful backdrop of a daily White House circus show, it was unsurprising that the Quinnipiac poll released Thursday read like a stern note from estranged constituents: “We’re getting the feeling that we’re not on the same page anymore. Is there something you’d like to tell us?”

The poll found Republicans were predictably the most supportive of the now-decommissioned AHCA, though registering less than majority (41%) approval for the proposal. That’s an anemic lack of support from your own base on a keystone issue. Even more concerning, independent voters registered 14% approve/58% disapprove. That’s not anemic; that’s a femoral artery gashed and bleeding out if you’re a Republican in a purplish district. These are the shifting electoral shoals on which an otherwise great campaign can find itself wrecked in suburban districts across the country.

Now, there remains a promise on the table. A non-vote on an unpopular bill does not nullify that fact. Even if Trump does elect to blame Democrats and move on, that isn’t the deal the rest of the Republicans made with their voters.

Nothing should stop Republicans from discussing proposals and slowly building support through prosaic dialogue — not poetic soundbites – with constituents. Persuasion takes time, but I have a feeling that voters are ready to spend the time to get this right.

[Featured image credit: Adobe Stock]

Missing The Big Wave: Washington State Republicans Are Left Hanging Zero

If last Tuesday’s election was a key moment in American history, a surge of political evolution, Washington State – frequently credited as a citadel of innovation – now has the distinction of being a throwback. Of the groups responsible for empowering Washington voters to continue clinging to their buggy whips, the Washington State Republican Party and chairman Luke Esser must accept a large share of the blame for missing a 100-year opportunity.

On the federal level, with only a handful of races yet to be called, Republican gains stand at six seats in the Senate and 60 in the House, with an additional three races leaning red. In contrast, Washington’s congressional delegation of 11 (two senators and nine representatives) is now poised to grow by… one.

The GOP’s weak performance in Washington looks even less impressive when the results of state legislative races are considered. Although voters across the state enthusiastically rejected a state income tax, and reinstated the two-thirds majority requirement for tax increases (a voter-approved condition that was pushed aside by Democrats in Olympia), Republicans could only achieve small gains in either legislative body. Although ballots are still being counted, the Democrats will likely continue to have an advantage of three seats in the State Senate and a 16 seats in the House.

It is no surprise that since the ballot counting began to reveal disappointing results as early as the day after election night, damage control seems to have been the order of the day for Washington’s Republican establishment. Although polling before the election clearly predicted close finishes in key races – Dino Rossi’s campaign to remove Sen. Patty Murray and John Koster’s campaign to unseat Rep. Rick Larsen in the Second Congressional District – the call to GOP volunteers to help with ballot rehabilitation was laced with desperation, causing some to wonder if the urgency stemmed from a failure to have the rehab effort operating from sunrise on November 3rd.

Exacerbating the reality that dreams of a Red Washington were of the pie-in-the-sky variety, with Democratic margins in all contested races continuing to widen through Friday, the response from the Republican leadership was… silence.

On Friday morning, Esser broke the calm and spoke with radio talk show host Bryan Suits on KVI 570 AM. His explanation to Suits for why Washington had not followed the national trends for Republican gains: Washington State’s economy was just not quite as bad as the rest of the country. According to Esser, a serious but comparatively mild recession in the Northwest was to blame for dashed Republican hopes. Esser’s rationalization was as hopeless, demoralizing and misplaced as if Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had blamed the team’s monumental loss this past Sunday on better-than-average weather.

The same day, Esser repeated the analysis to David Boze on KTTH 770 AM, confirming amazingly low expectations for the Republican message and implying that GOP wins in Washington can only come against Democrats who have been handicapped by desperately poor economic conditions.

In Washington, for a variety of reasons, the Republican Party seems to have abandoned its role in this regard to friendly media in the form of talk radio and right-wing blogs, but it must make greater efforts to reach out to the public through these channels.

Despite Esser’s belief in the values of the free market, individualism, and smaller government, a malaise of sorts has persisted within the party during his tenure, one that lives by a self-sustaining doctrine of non-confrontation. Having predicted failure – as Esser implies by defining such narrow conditions for GOP victories – it is not only permissible but rational to avoid risks, play defense, and celebrate holding ground as if one were gaining it.

The new message of weakness brought out by Esser in the wake of the election brings into clearer perspective why the WSRP committed attention and resources to races that polling showed would probably not be nail biters – Rep. Dave Reichert’s Eight District re-election bid and Jaime Herrera’s run for Rep. Brian Baird’s vacated seat in the Third – while neglecting contest that needed TLC in the First, Second and Ninth.

Republican strategists had known since the August primary that John Koster was mounting a serious challenge to knock an incumbent Democrat off his perch. Instead, energy flowed into the efforts to protect Rep. Dave Reichert in the Eighth and boost Jaime Herrera in her Third District run, despite the polling in both races that showed the Republicans as likely first-place finishers. In the First District challenge to überliberal Rep. Jay Inslee, James Watkins worked hard to overcome a virtual media blackout and starvation for resources and won more of the vote than Larry Ishmael did in the previous two elections.

This should not be read as a snub of Reichert or Herrera. As Washington’s second congresswoman (both female House representatives are Republicans), Herrera will make a stellar addition to the state delegation, and Reichert’s return to Congress cements a foothold for Republicans in the heart of blue territory. Nevertheless, losing races in which more should have been done is a difficult pill to swallow.

Even more important in elections than dollars and communications support, however, is the ability of the political parties to inspire and motivate its base and persuade converters into the fold. The process of persuasion transcends pragmatic decisions about candidate viability and media buys, it is the subtle conversation about ideology. It leverages intersections of events and political philosophy to describe the advantage of a particular point of view, and it has the power to change minds.

Esser is an admirable speaker who capably communicates Republican ideals, but what the lackluster results in this last election may force party insiders to admit is that he may lack the critical element for achieving substantial gains in 2012 and beyond. If Esser lacks the vision to conceive of Washington as a red state, that failure could affect more than the political fortunes of Republican office-seekers.

Washington cannot ignore the consequences of years of runaway spending. Furthermore, an increasingly business-averse economic and regulatory climate, creeping efforts to institute oppressive environmental policies, and an incestuous and costly relationship between public employee unions and their government paymasters are on-the-horizon issues that only Republicans can be expected to oppose. On these issues, there must be a leader to prime the conversation, and Washington is fortunate to have a deep bench of passionate and experienced political operatives who might be able to fill that role. Luke Esser should give serious consideration to stepping aside and making room for a fresh voice.

[Cross-posted at Red State by author.]

Did Patty Murray’s Campaign Ask A State Worker To Use Gov’t Resources For Political Organizing?

WorkSource employee felt that veterans blew her political email “way out of proportion”

Eighteen pages of emails obtained from the Washington Employment Security Department contain communication suggesting that Sen. Patty Murray’s re-election campaign met with a state worker with the purpose of asking for campaign work to be done using state resources.

On August 12th of this year, WorkSource employee Sally Garcia sent an email using her official state account and computer to a list of military veteran clients of Employment Security, with the purpose of motivating support for Murray’s campaign in the Vancouver, Wash. area. Almost immediately, responses trickled in from annoyed and infuriated vets and Garcia opened a line of communication with management.

In one email sent by Garcia to WorkSource business services manager Patrick Williams on the same day her political email was sent, Garcia implied that the idea for sending a state-sponsored email to solicit veterans to get out and vote for Patty Murray came via an August 11th meeting with the Murray campaign. Garcia also suggests that she should have had the foresight to know that veterans would “blow it way out of proportion.”

Kerala Hise — the individual named as a point of contact on Murray’s campaign in Garcia’s original email to veterans — is identified as a field organizer for People for Patty Murray in a separate email sent from Hise’s pattymurray.com email address to Garcia’s official Employment Security account. To date, all requests for comment sent to Murray spokeswoman Julie Edwards have failed to receive any reply.

On August 12th, as the seriousness of Garcia’s actions became evident, she included her union representative in the chain of communication, forwarding nearly every email sent and received during what must have been a frazzling summer afternoon.

Meanwhile, Williams went up the ladder to Employment Security southwest Washington area director Robert Brown. Brown subsequently directed Garcia by email to “cease communication on this or other matters using your veterans email list until further notice.” Other emails imply that an order to recall the original email was given, and a meeting was called for the morning of August 13th at which Garcia, Williams, Brown and the union representative were to be present.

Although the details of the August 13th meeting and any subsequent disciplinary actions are a confidential personnel matter, Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison confirmed earlier this month by email that the department “takes this matter very, very seriously, and the disciplinary process is under way and moving rapidly.”

In that same email, dated Sept. 13th, Hutchison also stated for the first time that the entire matter had been referred to the State Executive Ethics Board for review. The news of the ethics complaint filing came nearly a month after Employment Security officials had met with Garcia, a local manager and a union representative to discuss what had transpired. Hutchison defends the interval as a period during which the agency was conducting its own inquiry.

“In the early going, the WorkSource managers and our H.R. Office were focused on investigating the potential violations of our agency policies and activating our internal disciplinary process,” Hutchison told me by email this afternoon. “Once the bulk of our investigation was completed, we then had the necessary information to craft an ethics complaint that contained the details needed by the Ethics Commission.”

Although the Board officially neither denies nor confirms the existence of a complaint, a source close to the Board has confirmed receipt of the complaint. If the Board takes up the matter for investigation, the results of their work may not be available for months, possibly until after the November 2 election.

Other messages within the eighteen pages of emails sent and received by Garcia on her state computer on August 12 make it clear that before she and her managers moved to mitigate the damage, several veterans voiced their disapproval regarding the political communiqué. Three of the four replies from veterans contained in the department’s public document release register condemnation ranging from light finger-wagging to outrage.

“I do believe there is a conflict of interest for you to endorse a particular candidate,” one veteran politely wrote in reply. “You may want to rethink your position before you send out emails such as this one in the future.”

Although there is no evidence suggesting that the Murray campaign requested the email be sent, other infuriated recipients saw it as an open door to voice indignation for the incumbent Senator.

“I queried [Murray] long ago about the problems with the rewording of the Vietnam-era GI Bill,” another vet explained, asserting that a change in verbiage narrowed the window of time in which veteran’s could use certain benefits. “I received a nice letter from her… which amounted to not wanting to do anything about this matter… I had to drop out of school because my benefits ran out when the wording was rewritten and she didn’t care.”

I learned that one particularly acute reply — devoid of any nuance that might have distracted from its message — came from candidate for state representative in the 49th district Bill Cismar who wrote, “My oath to defend the constitution and this country has not expired and is not so cheaply held that this charlatan should offer me a trifle so that I sit quietly while she destroys my beloved nation.”

An early takeaway for Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi might be in recognizing that 75 percent disapproval – even from a focus group of four – is a poor indicator that Murray’s battle to win the hearts of minds of servicemen and women is a winning one.

State Worker’s Email Asking Vets To Support Patty Murray Prompts Ethics Investigation

An email sent by a Washington State employee to veterans that urged support for Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) re-election effort are now the focus of an official complaint before the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, the five-person nonpartisan commission charged with investigating accusations of unethical behavior by state employees and officials.

According to a source close to the Ethics Board, a complaint was referred by the Washington Employment Security Department concerning WorkSource employees – Employment Security’s partner agency – using state resources to campaign for Patty Murray. Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison confirmed by email that her agency was the source of the referral, although she could not provide any further details about the complaint.

Until the complaint is made public, it will not be known if it focuses only on the actions of the one employee currently known to have been involved in sending out the emails, or if other parties will also subjects of the investigation.

Although chalking the entire matter up to a single state worker acting alone may be tempting, emails already released by Employment Security offer a reason to believe that her actions were not independent.

Released documents show that the WorkSource employee forwarded one interested veteran’s response to a third party, writing to that person, “This is the first one I received.” It would not be hasty to assume that the purpose of the communication was to provide a progress report, however informal. As more information about the identity of the third party becomes available, questions about the possible sharing of private information outside of state agencies, or the more insidious possibility that WorkSource employees were coordinating their actions with outside parties, may be resolved.

The Ethics Board is scheduled to meet Friday morning in Olympia. It is unclear whether this matter will be on the agenda.

Doc Release Confirms Patty Murray Campaign Materials Sent To Vets By State Employee

The Washington Employment Security Department has released the email sent by a WorkSource employee who used government resources to organize support for Sen. Patty Murray’s campaign. In the email, WorkSource employee Sally Garcia asks veterans to contact Kerala Hise, either by telephone or at a pattymurray.com address, to get involved in a ‘”walk and knock” to remind people to vote” for Murray’s re-election.

Garcia’s email also suggested that recipients “[t]ake a look at the attachments I”—Garcia—“have included.” Employment Security unequivocally stated that no attachments were sent with the message but that Garcia did send a file to recipients who responded with interest. The file contains three People for Patty Murray flyers (click to download the file), an advertisement for a get out the vote event, a bulleted list of Murray’s awards from veterans organizations, and a promotion for Murray’s campaign kickoff rally in Vancouver.

Last week, Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison confirmed that the email represented a breach of agency policies and suggested it might potential violations of state and federal law. Hutchison indicated at that time that disciplinary steps would be taken.

Attempts to call the phone number listed in the email for Hise were not answered and there was no opportunity to leave voicemail. The Murray campaign has not responded to repeated requests for comment about Hise’s role with the campaign and her involvement with the sending of the email.

A request for records of communications between Garcia and the Murray campaign, and between the Murray campaign and Employment Security, is still being researched.

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