Inside: Republicans. Outside: Protests.
Inside: Republicans. Outside: Protests. Nate Gowdy

The Bellevue Hyatt is like most high-end hotels: Lots of marble, a soaring atrium, white people. But last night, at the Washington Policy Center dinner, there were also security personnel in all-black uniforms striding through the lobby carrying riot helmets and duffle bags. Hotel guests seemed nonplussed.

Most of the attendees heeded the advice to get there early and milled and chatted for about two hours before the doors opened to the massive party room. Republicans like to make you work for pleasure, so the alcohol was at the end of a long reception area. The music didn’t even start until five.

In the lobby, I talked with the Baumgartners of Tacoma—Lucy and Sal (also fictitious names). Both were in their late ‘70s. I asked them about Trump and Lucy shook her head furiously. “We didn’t vote for him,” she said. Sal snorted, “He needs to go.” I asked if it was about his personality or his policies or both. They agreed Trump’s agenda was fine but that his personality was terrible and he needed to “shut up and get something done.” They said that, for the first time in their lives, they had not voted for president.

After milling around for about two hours, people were getting hungry.

The doors finally opened. Security had shrunk into the shadows of the enormous room and attendees got loud and lively. There was a huge flag behind the podium and TV screens, front and back, so attendees seated in any direction could see the speakers.

The event’s corporate sponsors included ATT, Wells Fargo, Chevron, Brown Bear Carwash, Silver Cloud Inns, Walmart, Boeing, Verizon, Kemper Freeman (the Bellevue developer would later get two shout-outs for providing the crowd with free parking). I also saw former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, state senator (and Congressional candidate) Dino Rossi, Tim Eyman and the Ackerley family (including two very bored little boys), who were being honored as Champions of Freedom.

But where was Starbucks? The coffee corporation is a donor to the Washington Policy Center. A spokesperson told me last week that the company was not sponsor of the dinner, but would have a table. If they did, it wasn’t labeled. (It’s odd for Starbucks to have an outward progressive face while behind-closed-doors supporting a right-wing group associated with the Koch Brothers and ALEC.)

I was seated in the back at a table with a woman from Vashon Island, her father, an elderly couple with hearing issues, and another elderly man with an NRA belt buckle. We had salad, but we couldn’t eat it because program right away, as DeVos had to leave right after her speech.

The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the national anthem.

The organizers did finally allow us to eat the salad, but then, made us wait until after DeVos spoke to get our entrées. The right makes you work for your $350 dinner.

Finally, DeVos. She received a standing ovation upon introduction. She was wearing a sober black suit with diamond earrings. She noted she now has a local connection as her son-in-law is from Mulkiteo.

DeVos’ main message on public education is simple: Choice. Not being an educator nor having gone to public schools, she may not know much about testing issues, the level of poverty for kids in public schools, Special Education needs, ELL needs, homeless student needs. No, let’s create a voucher program and put the money into the hands of parents, her thinking goes. Let them figure it out.

She also told stories of students who left traditional public schools and – spoiler alert! – did great things elsewhere. She mentioned one student leaving to go to a charter school called Excel. She did not say that the school had management problems and has since been folded into a large California charter group called Green Dot.

She then went into several analogies to help the crowd understand her point about choice. First, she tried food trucks. She said eating out doesn’t mean you don’t like supermarkets or cooking at home. “So, if you visit a food truck, does it mean you hate restaurants? Or are trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at the time.”

But choice is no choice if 1) the money you get doesn’t cover the costs for most private schools and 2) most of those schools don’t provide school lunch, transportation, Special Ed or ELL services. Your “choice” gets greatly diminished. And, in the end, you are allowing people who could pay their own private school bills to use public dollars and allowing public dollars into schools that are religious or may discriminate against some classes of children.

DeVos has consistently refused to state if schools that discriminate against gay and transgender students would face consequences for doing so.

She said that she didn’t want Congress to do this but that she wants to “assist” states in creating choice (meaning they pass voucher bills). She noted that 26 states and D.C. have school choice programs. However, the news on voucher programs is not good.

She then took a jab at the left:

There are too many politicians, celebrities and other elites who say no. What students and parents currently have is good enough. Then, those same politicians and celebrities turn around and write big checks to send their own children to prestigious private schools.

Oh pot, meet the kettle. DeVos and her husband sent their own children to private schools.

She did mention working with “President Trump” but that was the first and last time I heard that name during the entire dinner.

She left to a standing ovation and we finally got dinner (Ora King Salmon & Peppercorn Kobe Top Sirloin Duet, smashed purple potatoes, fried Brussel sprouts with red wine beet puree). After dinner, we had an invocation by a black woman whereupon the hard-of-hearing guy at my table loudly said, “Who the hell is that?”

There was also an announcement that the Washington Policy Center is receiving a $330K grant to fight to make Washington the next right-to-work state. Big applause. There were also jabs at Seattle’s attempt to create an income tax. It was noted that WPC had gotten 50 bills thru the Washington Legislature, “That’s clout and influence.”

Then came Neil Cavuto from FOX News. (The Seattle Times reported that press were asked to leave after DeVos spoke.)

If DeVos was the good-for-you oatmeal part of the evening, Cavuto was the clog-up-your-arteries red meat.

Cavuto was genial and entertaining. He was also a world-class asshole. He made rueful fun of his daughter who he called “kinda liberal” and that “she misses Obama” which brought probably the loudest booing of the night.

He said that he told Sean Hannity that his viewers are the ones “who own the trailer parks.”

He told the audience that, with him being half Italian and half Irish, he had been natural for him to be considering being a priest. At which, my near-deaf tablemate yelled to his wife, “I’m not getting a lot out of this.”

He sounded what seemed to be the biggest divide between conservatives and liberals today – the notion that that some people in this country work hard and pay taxes and others don’t work so hard, don’t pay taxes and yet want more and more from the government.

He said those people “need to have skin in the game” before making demands. He did not say who those people were.

He then said Republicans are afraid of speaking out on issues – “They’re afraid of being called callous SOBs.” He called them “gun-shy” on healthcare and said the GOP should play defense, not offense.

He then launched into a defense of Columbus Day, saying “his people” were upset. He said the statue of Columbus in NYC is on 24-hour watch because people want to defile it.

He claimed to not understand why people where upset with Columbus,

“Hell, he didn’t know if he was in India or Brooklyn.” Loud cackling laughter behind me.

“Native Americans got sick and all but’s not like he came here to deliberately kill people.” More laughter.

He urged the crowd to “embrace who you are” and “keep loyalty to the team.”
He said liberals were “emotionally constipated.”

He said that if Jesus had walked on water, the New York Times would say, “Look who got his feet wet.” A roar of laughter and applause.

I met some pleasant and nice people Friday night. I was pleased Donnie the Libertarian recognized nothing was really getting done in Washington, D.C. as did the couple from Tacoma.

But most of the people in that room seemed really divorced from seeing and understanding what the depth and breath of life experience is for entire populations in this country.

‘Work hard and you’ll be fine’ seems to be their mantra and, if you’re not, you did something wrong and don’t expect a handout from this government.