THE MASSIVE Overlake Christian Church building in Redmond is separated from the road by almost a half mile of parking lot, which, today, is packed with some 2,000 cars. Overlake is playing host to the King County Republican Convention: 2,014 precinct delegates are meeting to send representatives to the state and national party conventions, and to debate the party's platform. On this sunny early April weekend afternoon, not a single pedestrian or cyclist is on the streets (though Redmond is touted as "The Bicycle Capital of the Northwest"), and there is only one bike chained to the rack outside the church entrance. This is the Eastside, after all -- bastion of moneyed people who seem to prefer office parks, mini-malls, mega stores, freeways, and giant housing developments accessible only by automobile to streams with fish in them or wooded areas. In fact, with the Cold War far behind us and an electorate that's overwhelmingly pro-choice, this state's Republicans seem to have focused the full force of their energy on encouraging urban sprawl.

I head into the church, outdated credentials in hand (I was a McCain delegate at my Capitol Hill precinct caucus last month, but alas, McCain is out of the race), only to be stopped by the sergeant at arms. He tells me it's too late to sign up and that I can't enter the meeting. I'm disappointed, until I realize I can sneak in through an upstairs entrance. The crowd inside is predominantly middle-aged to elderly, and aside from that, can only be generalized in one way: They are all wearing snug clothing.

The hall itself is huge and fraught with symbols: Two massive TV screens display the happenings onstage for those in back. Flanking the large cross behind the pulpit is a map of the world and the legend, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." It occurs to me that these particular Republicans are not living in the same world as the rest of us. When I was a Young Republican, in high school on a military base that was one of the primary Soviet nuclear targets in Europe, my politics were a response to a contest of faith, a psychic war. Returning to real America at age 16 -- the America of sprawl and minimum-wage jobs and dead-end towns -- I ceased to be a Republican.

A woman of 60 or so makes her way to the podium, voice trembling as soon as she starts to talk, to announce that a book of POW stories, including one about her husband ("my hero," she says, choking up and suddenly moving me deeply), is available in the church lobby. Once the woman leaves the stage, I find it very difficult to feel any affinity for the crowd. Take State Representative Kathy Lambert of Woodinville's 45th District, for example -- a severe talking head out of a John Waters movie, who takes the mic and lets loose a ridiculous diatribe about seat belts: "I'm the parent," she lectures. "I will decide how my child is put into a seat belt and in what position. How dare they... these are the little ways the government creeps into our lives. How we enter our car.... I feel like I'm at war!"

Once Lambert winds up, the action gets sparse, so I move out to look at the weirdoes in the lobby: A natty young man in a blazer and tie sits in front of a Young Americans for Freedom banner with a petition in support of Elian Gonzalez' Florida relatives; the John Carlson for Governor campaign is offering up a ton of stickers and literature. In my estimation, Carlson will crush contender Harold Hochstatter, whose signs awkwardly read, "Take back Washington (R) for Gov."

Those who prefer tract housing to forests and farms are most strongly represented here by a well-funded outfit called Citizens for a Sound Economy. Its platform, essentially, is anti-salmon and pro-Microsoft, yet its table is backdropped by a big cardboard panoramic picture of mountains, blue sky, and trees -- basically, everything the group is bucking to spoil. It's giving away T-shirts that read, "Save Salmon -- Can Government Regulation" and "Washington's Next Endangered Species: The Economy," as well as bumper stickers with slogans like "Al Gore Invented Global Warming" and "Government Sprawl -- The Real Danger." The literature that Citizens for a Sound Economy is distributing is pure science fiction: It explains that the disappearance of the salmon is only temporary, and that a "20-year oceanic temperature shift" will soon bring the fish back up to their 1970s levels.

But that's the kind of stuff you expect from think tanks paid to do the bidding of their corporate backers. Less expected is that the fight for urban sprawl is being headed by a man who has somehow managed to disguise developers' dreams as a populist uprising: Tim Eyman. As I-695 proved, Eyman is a brilliant tactician, and Public Enemy #1 is in the house today. A fan approaches Eyman, who is tall and, like the salesman he is, more impressive in person than on TV. In person, he can go at you with a dictionary of persuasive body language. "You should run for governor!" fawns the fan. "No," Eyman responds with a sly grin, "you can be so much more mischievous with an initiative."

The old, pre-stock-option Eastside Republicans were mostly Washington natives and California refugees; people who understood the mistakes made in L.A. and the Bay Area and supported efforts to stop sprawl. Eyman's new state initiatives are I-722, which reinforces the parts of I-695 that were ruled unconstitutional, and I-711, which would put 90 percent of the state's transportation funds into the construction of new highways. The best way to turn forests into parking lots is to subsidize high-capacity services (roads, utilities, and water) in rural areas, and I-711 would go a long way toward doing just that.

Developers (and their spokespeople, like Eyman), it seems, will not be satisfied until the Puget Sound area resembles the Los Angeles basin. Former Republican King County Council Member Brian Derdowski says disparagingly, "The developers' agenda and the GOP's are one and the same." Derdowski fought sprawl while on the county council for 12 years. Pro-development forces in his own party overthrew him in the 1999 primary, electing David Irons in his place on a platform promising more roads and services.

King County's Urban Growth Boundary -- which is supposed to restrict development -- looks reassuring on a map (or alarming, depending on how long you've lived here). But it only puts restrictions on areas zoned for 'urban' development -- over four dwellings per acre. Outside that boundary, exceptions are made all the time, and suburban-style developments get built. (There's even a move afoot on the state level, by the development lobby, to weaken the Shoreline Protection Act, passed by a statewide initiative in 1971.) Though Republicans lead the pro- growth agenda, the state's Democrats, for the most part, haven't drawn a hard line against sprawl. Most recently, says Derdowski, a provision of the Historic Cities Bill, which Governor Locke ("not as bad as Carlson would be, but not great") signed into law, allowed pockets of urban growth in towns located outside the boundary.

When the convention starts to wind down for lunch, I head out. The drive across Lake Washington feels like I'm changing one world for another. I reach the Seattle shore, where SR-520 is surrounded by the empty on-ramps from the never-built R.H. Thomson Expressway. Planned in the 1960s, the highway would have eviscerated the Arboretum and Capitol Hill, but a fight by the public shut the project down. At the Montlake Cut, the bridge is open, waiting for a passing boat. As many bikes as cars are waiting, and one woman gets out of her car to pet another driver's dog. These are the remains of a city laid out almost a hundred years ago.

Republicans are aiming for a different sort of city, sitting right on the edge of what forest remains around here. Though their cities are conceived in a delirium of greed and bad ideas, they are real, and people will have to live in them for a long time.