I only have 25 guns, which is a starter kit according to most of my friends, is a fun sort of joke Joshua Freed has definitely not practiced in the mirror several times.
"I only have 25 guns, which is a starter-kit according to most of my friends," is a fun sort of joke Joshua Freed definitely does not practice in the mirror every morning. Screengrab

The "serious" Republican challengers to Governor Jay Inslee's seat include a bunch of freaky blowhards who so far have failed to crack double-digit support in recent polls, but the GOP establishment's pick increasingly appears to be former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed.

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Freed helped lead the failed initiative campaign against safe injection sites, and he's currently working on a referendum of the state's comprehensive sexual health education law. On Tuesday he picked up an endorsement from the King County Republicans, and he's also gathered a few endorsements from Republican elected officials.

To increase his support, Freed will need to bridge the east-west divide that obtains even in Washington's Republican politics. At the Kittitas County Governor's Forum on Monday afternoon, Freed got that chance when someone in the crowd asked him if he stood behind former Rep. Matt Shea, who declined to run for re-election this year after an independent investigator concluded that he'd planned acts of domestic terrorism.

Freed's stance on the controversial topic of whether to support a guy who promoted training child soldiers for the holy war will not surprise you.

First Freed described the issue as a divide between Shea and House Republican Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, who helped block Shea's expulsion from the legislature if not the caucus. He then blamed Democrats for blowing up the issue in a purely political effort to divide Republicans, suggested the matter would have been better handled "behind closed doors," and then issued a call for unity: "What I want to see is J.T. and Matt come together and find a way that they could quietly move through this and find a greater understanding. I don't think that it was properly handled in such a way to be able to move forward," Freed said. "So for me, I'll stand with both in the sense that we need to be Republicans standing up for conservative values, for fiscal responsible issues."

Freed's call for intraparty unity, however, seemed a little hollow. Earlier in the forum he happily introduced some divisiveness in the crowded primary race with an admirably brutal subtweet of another GOP candidate, Loren Culp, a small-town police chief who has technically raised more money than Freed if you cut from his total the nearly $700,000 Freed donated to his own campaign.

"You would never hear me stand up to defend a sexual predator and say that some people just admit guilt because they want to get a lighter sentence," Freed said, referring to a Seattle Times report on a lawsuit accusing Culp of "botching a child sexual-abuse investigation and intimidating the victim with threats of a false-claims charge." Culp suggested to the Times that he thought Roy A. Moore Jr., who "signed a statement declaring he had touched the victim’s vagina on two separate occasions 'with sexual motivation, when she was under 12 years old,'" had taken a plea deal to avoid a longer sentence. Quoting from Culp's own police report of the incident, the Times also noted that Culp "believed Moore and thought the allegations by the 17-year-old were 'made up.'"

Freed also appeared eager to scoop up Washington's small but loud anti-vaxxer coalition. When asked if the government should mandate a COVID-19 vaccine or give everyone "the right to choose if they want it or not," Freed took the bait and lobbed a non sequitur at abortion supporters.

"People should have the right to choose whether they want [it]," Freed said. "I hear from the other side of the aisle that it's my body, my choice. If that's true, it's so interesting that they're pushing for mandatory vaccination."

Let's set aside the fact that no one is seriously talking about forcing people to take a coronavirus vaccine—though if people were seriously talking about that it would be Trump and his ghouls, who need the vaccine in order to fully reopen the economy. It would not be "interesting" to observe that someone who supports abortion also supports forced vaccination against a deadly respiratory virus. Aborting a fetus directly affects exactly one person, while refusing a vaccine directly endangers the lives of entire communities—especially, in this case, kids and the elderly. Abortion is "my body, my choice;" anti-vaccination is my body, your consequences.

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In any event, in case there was any confusion, Freed blew his anti-vaxxer dog whistle moments later, after being asked how he'd "roll back" requirements to vaccinate kids if they want to attend public schools. "Well, again, I think we should not require forced vaccinations," he said.

At other points during the afternoon, Freed vowed to "immediately" repeal Washington's sanctuary state status, which he cannot do, and, of course, declared that "all lives matter."

So what passes for mainstream conservative politics in Washington includes support for a man credibly accused of domestic terrorism, courtship of the anti-vaxxer movement in the middle of a pandemic, gun stockpiling contests, and bad jokes. Very normal, very cool.