It's the mirror image of the other Washington: Republicans in this state are out of power, while Democrats are firmly in control of the house, the senate, and the governor's office. Searching for a message that will help them regain control of some part of Washington's government, Republicans are tinkering with their leadership ranks, and that's brought a change to the top office in the state Republican Party.
Gone is Chris Vance, the quotable chairman who led his conservative troops into defeat in a Wenatchee courtroom last year while trying to challenge Governor Christine Gregoire's election, and into defeat again at the polls last November when trying to repeal the state's gas tax. And replacing him is Diane Tebelius, a tough Republican lawyer who wants to be called chairman.
Stranger: Everyone is wondering how you're going to differentiate yourself from Chris Vance. Except the new Democratic party chair, Dwight Pelz, who called you "Chris Vance in a skirt."
Tebelius: It's not true. I have much better legs than Chris Vance.
Do you also have much better ideas?
[Laughing] All I'm worried about is my skirts and legs right now. That's all that matters.
Seriously, what are you going to do differently? It seemed many of Vance's goals involved trying to make your party seem more moderate. Are you going to continue down that path?
I really didn't know if that's what his goals were, but that's fair enough. What we are going to focus on is what every chairman would focus on, which is finding viable candidates who fit their districts, and trying to increase the number of seats we have in the house and senate so that we can be in a position to take control of them.
Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in the state senate (26–23) and also in the house (55–43). What's your goal for the November elections in terms of the number of seats you'd like to pick up?
We're looking at races and getting candidates right now... I don't focus on a number and I never would. I intend to be the eternal optimist, and I believe that every candidate can win, so on that basis I would say Republicans could take control.
A big issue leading up to November is likely to be gay rights. Does your party support Tim Eyman's attempts to repeal the gay civil rights bill?
The party is taking no position publicly on any of the initiatives right now.
Do you see a way in which the Republican Party would come out against Eyman's repeal measures?
I don't see a way that they would come out against them. But I don't know that they would come out for them.
How much debt is the party still in from last year's trial over the governor's race?
Well, we have a lot of debt. I don't know if I'm prepared to even give you the latest numbers.
Someone told me the debt was $800,000 to $1 million.
It's not $800,000 to $1 million. That's all I can say.
Well, is it greater or lesser?
It's not $800,000 to $1 million... It's obviously less than $800,000. And we have to pay that off... That's something that was put in my lap, and I knew it was going to be there, and we're just finding ways of working on it.
As you're dealing with that, do you start to feel that maybe the lawsuit was a mistake?
No, quite the contrary. I don't know of one Republican who would argue that the lawsuit was a mistake... It exposed many of the problems with election laws throughout the state, and we hope that those get straightened out. It had to be done. Nobody is sorry about that.
You were involved in defending those disputed Republican voter challenges in King County last November. Are the Republicans going to be aggressively challenging voters here again this November?
I don't know what we're going to do. But we're certainly going to keep King County's feet to the fire on this firstname.lastname@example.org