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Chaos and division erupt at Washington Republican convention in Spokane

Washington State Republican Chairman Jim Walsh speaks to party delegates at the state GOP convention on April 19, 2024, during a raucous vote to allow consideration of gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird for the party's endorsement.

Washington State Republican Chairman Jim Walsh speaks to party delegates at the state GOP convention on April 19, 2024, during a raucous vote to allow consideration of gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird for the party’s endorsement.

Scott Greenstone / KUOW

On Friday, the Washington State Republican Party’s convention in Spokane erupted with moments of booing, chanting obscenities, and people turning their backs to the party’s own candidates.

Lorraine Blacklock, a precinct committee officer from King County, told the convention she’d never seen anything like this in her 30 years of involvement in the Republican Party.

“Civility has kind of disappeared,” she said. “Even in our party, and that’s sad.”

The convention drew delegates, precinct committee officers, and grassroots activists from across Washington for the weekend. The event is designed to develop the party’s platform, choose the party’s local leadership, and nominate candidates for statewide offices.

The most divisive question facing more than 1,800 Republican delegates from around the state: Who to endorse for governor? Former Congressman Dave Reichert is far ahead in polls and fundraising, but the delegates in Spokane seem more supportive of former Richland school board member Semi Bird.

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On Wednesday, The Seattle Times published an article in which Bird admitted to committing financial crimes 30 years ago. He did not disclose them to the party when he applied for the nomination. The report details a 1993 federal conviction for lying on a credit application with the “intent to steal,” according to court documents.

The party’s candidate committee announced Bird was disqualified from the endorsement process Friday — prompting the room to roar with boos and cries of “bullshit.” The delegates then voted to overturn the committee’s disqualification.

“I take full ownership of who I am in my past,” Bird told reporters afterward. “But what about human decency and civility, to say that a man can fall and falter and still get back up — still stand up? Are we not allowed to try anymore?”

In the midst of the chaos, Reichert announced he would withdraw his name from consideration for the endorsement, commenting that his party is in “disarray.” He added that he intends to continue campaigning for governor.

The gubernatorial endorsement is expected to come over the weekend. All candidates seeking endorsements were asked to sign pledges that they would drop out if they didn’t get endorsed. Reichert did not sign, however, according to sources in party leadership.

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Division among the state’s Republican Party was evident earlier in the day, when Jaime Herrera Beutler spoke as a candidate for public lands commissioner, a position that runs Washington’s Department of Natural Resources. Members of the crowd booed the candidate. Some stood up and turned their backs on her.

A former representative for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, Herrera Beutler notably voted to impeach President Donald Trump. It was a move that split GOP voters in her district. She lost the following primary in 2022, and in turn, her elected position in Congress.

Within hours of the the events unfolding in Spokane Friday, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad issued a statement:

“After January 6, we saw that GOP leaders didn’t care about the will of the people in our democracy. In Spokane this weekend we are seeing in real time that the GOP leaders in Washington don’t even care about the will of their own convention delegates. The GOP Convention chaos proves these are not serious people and they cannot be trusted to lead our state. Whichever candidate receives the GOP endorsement for Governor will still be a Mega MAGA, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQIA+ zealot who has no place in our state government. Washingtonians can rest assured that Democrats will be working around the clock to ensure our progress on equal rights, healthcare, and the environment aren’t rolled back by this clown show.”

KUOW’s Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.


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