Gizzi on Politics, December 14, 2009

Washington State Update

“When I came to the state legislature in 1992, one of the first Republican lawmakers I met was Darwin Nealey,” recalled State Sen. Mark Schoesler of Washington State, a stalwart conservative, during a recent talk with me. “Darwin told all the incoming legislators that the first two things they had to do was subscribe to HUMAN EVENTS and join ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national conservative association of state legislators]. I did both immediately. Darwin was hard-core, all right.”  

Schoesler, who chairs the Republican campaign committee in the state senate, was reminiscing about “hard-core” conservative Nealey as a lead-in to telling one of the most intriguing election stories from the Evergreen State last November. The year before, longtime Democratic State Rep. Bill Grant had died suddenly after 22 years in the state legislature. Under Washington State law, when there is a vacancy in the legislature, lawmakers get to appoint an interim successor from the party of the previous holder of the seat. So it was no surprise that Democrats (who control the Washington State House of Representatives with a handsome majority) gave the seat to Laura Grant, daughter of the deceased incumbent.  

Enter another heir to a famous political name: Terry Nealey, one of Darwin’s twin sons and a former prosecutor in Columbia County. In a classic story of a political battle royal among second-generation figures, the conservative Nealey easily unseated the liberal Grant by 59% to 41%.

The victory means that the makeup of the state house will be 37 Republicans and 62 Democrats. As enthusiastic as Washington State GOPers were about Nealey’s win, few believe they can gain enough seats to give them control of the House in 2010. Schoesler, however, said that “at least eight senate seats are in play and that means we do have a chance at taking the senate, currently consisting of 18 Republicans and 31 Democrats, next year.”  

Schoesler believes that the Obama administration’s left-of-center record on issues from stimulus packages to health care “reform” to cap and trade is angering moderate Democrats who are increasingly upset with their party and turning to us.” At the state level, he noted, voters very nearly passed an initiative last month to overturn a measure passed by the legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire that gave gays full legal status except same-sex marriage. Although the initiative finally fell short, Schoesler noted, “it carried Eastern and Southwestern Washington and Pierce County [which includes Tacoma and is the third largest county in the state]. The results of the initiative laid the groundwork for some important Republican campaigns in 2010.”  

In discussing Democrats who have grown disgusted with the leftward trend of their party in both Washingtons, Schoesler offered the example of one of the most famous of all: Wes Uhlman, who became mayor of Seattle in 1969 at age 34 and was considered a major force in making his city attractive to business and commercial development over the next eight years. Uhlman, who lost the Democratic primary for governor in 1976, was considered one of his party’s brightest stars.  

So where is Wes Uhlman politically at age 74? As Mark Schoesler proudly told me, “Wes is a ‘Dino-crat’ — a Democrat who supported [conservative Republican] Dino Rossi in his two races against Gregoire in ’04 and ’08. And he has supported other Republican candidates.”  

Death of the “Maitland Housewife”

She was a proud housewife and mother who became involved in politics as a conservative Republican at the local level. She won lower office and, in a quicksilver political rise, won statewide office and was then in the national spotlight. The liberal media knew they had a tough customer on their hands and set out to finish her, playing up off-hand comments and suggestions of not being up to the job. But conservatives never failed to rally to her with passion.  

Before there was Sarah Palin, there was Paula Hawkins, who went from local Republican volunteer and Republican national committeewoman from Florida to becoming the first woman to win a full term in the Senate without following a husband or father who had been in elective office. When she died on December 4 at age 82 from complications following a stroke and a fall, this remarkable, very combative politician was remembered warmly by conservatives.  

A former model and devout Mormon, she had attended Utah State University and, with businessman-husband Gene, moved to Florida in 1955. The young Hawkins became involved in Republican politics as a “Goldwater Girl” in 1964. Eight years later, the self-styled “housewife from Maitland” waged a campaign meshing fiscal conservatism with consumer advocacy and won a seat on the state Public Service Commission.   

After losing bids for the Republican U. S. Senate nomination in 1974 and lieutenant governor in ’78, Hawkins in 1980 topped three opponents in the primary and then won a run-off to take the nomination for U.S. senator. That year, with liberal former Democratic Rep. (1972-74) Bill Gunter defeating one-term Democratic Sen. Richard Stone for renomination, Democrats were bitterly divided. Running on a platform of opposing abortion and supporting tax cuts, Hawkins won with 51% of the vote and promised voters that, when she went to Washington, “You’ll know I’m there.”

They did. The feisty Floridian carried the political ball to launch Radio Marti, which would broadcast messages of freedom to Castro’s Cuba 14 hours a day. As a member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, she took a leading role in the replacement of Great Society-style make-work programs contained in CETA with the genuine employment of the Job Training Act. Hawkins also chaired the Senate Alcohol and Drug Abuse Committee, and helped expose the involvement of Nicaragua’s pro-Communist government in drug trafficking in the U.S.

But Hawkins also had her problems. High staff turnover and unflattering articles that noted things such as her Senate speech quoting a cabdriver who had taken her to work that morning did not help. In 1986, Hawkins was unseated by two-term Democratic Gov. Bob Graham.  

I first met Hawkins at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit that nominated Ronald Reagan for President and have many memories of her fighting spirit and tart tongue. After she won the Senate race that year, a TV reporter asked Hawkins who would now do the laundry in her home. Without missing a beat, the senator-elect replied: “I don’t really think you need to worry about my laundry. OK?” That spoke volumes about Paula Hawkins’ style.  
Will He Or Won’t He?  

That’s the question they’re asking in Minnesota these days. Six months after he was finally counted out in the intensely disputed, oft-recounted Senate race in the Gopher State, will former one-term GOP Sen. Norm Coleman (lifetime ACU rating: 85%) try for a political comeback in 2010 by running for governor?  

With two-term Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty stepping down, Coleman enthusiasts point out, the former senator and onetime St. Paul mayor would be by far the best-known GOPer in the race. In addition, they note that Coleman has made no secret of the fact he has long wanted to be governor and was the losing GOP nominee for the office in 1998. A just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed that, among likely Republican voters, Coleman defeats the best known of the announced gubernatorial candidates, State Sen. Marty Seifert, a fellow moderate-to-conservative by 50% to 11%.  

Among Democrats, a serious battle is brewing between Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and former Sen. (2000-06) Mark Dayton, both arch-leftists.  

Coleman, who has been almost silent since he was counted out in favor of Democrat Al Franken last year, has just begun to make appearances at Republican functions. With precinct caucuses to choose delegates to the state convention beginning in a few months, a decision on whether he runs in 2010 is likely to come sooner rather than later.