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More on the relationship between Rob McKenna and Kirby Wilbur (or, can the new GOP chair and his likely candidate for governor get along?)

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Jan. 28, 2011 at 9:59 am with 7 Comments »
January 28, 2011 10:17 am

Last weekend, former talk radio host Kirby Wilbur defeated incumbent state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser. It was a bit of a surprise to those outside the party machinery because Esser doesn’t appear to have done anything that would anger the state committee, other than not winning as many races in November.

But what might just be an internal preference by the 117 state committee members has been expanded into a litmus test of the future of the party, the role of the tea party and the 2012 campaign for governor.

Like by Chris Grygiel at seattlepi.com, John Carlson at Crosscut, and Joni Balter at the Seattle Times.

Kirby Wilbur

The gist of the speculation is whether it signals a feud between Wilbur and state Attorney General Rob McKenna who favored Esser or whether Wilbur will try to take attention from McKenna or force the party to right when McKenna needs to run from the middle to have a chance.

Without reaching a conclusion on such big issues, I do think it all raises some interesting issues. For example, Wilbur remains under investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission for his failure to report the activities of Americans for Prosperity Washington.

I think the violations are serious, maybe not on par with the more-talked about Moxie Media case, but at least in the same file folder. They involve a failure to disclose contributions and expenditures until after the election as well as months and months of late files rather than a week.

Even now, Wilbur has not filed as a political committee which his group likely became when he started mailings against incumbent Democratic candidates. He says it was inadvertent, but so did Moxie Media’s Lisa MacLean until private e-mails were revealed by the PDC investigation.

Rob McKenna

The PDC will likely feel pressured to do what they did with Moxie – turn the case over to the attorney general who can seek much-higher fines than the PDC. McKenna would have to file suit against the state GOP chair or risk the accusation that he handled Kirby more gently than Moxie for partisan purposes. That wouldn’t reflect well on his moderate reputation.

But, should he decide to file suit, can he do it without accusations that he is retaliating for the defeat of his longtime friend and former employee Luke Esser? Would he then have to hire an outside special attorney general at at a time when state spending is always an issue?

I don’t think there’s that much difference between Esser and Wilbur politically. And I don’t see Wilbur as a bomb thrower but instead as a longtime GOP loyalist. But even if he doesn’t act in ways that harm McKenna’s chances, his presence as state chair raises awkward issues for the likely GOP nominee.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. tacomajoe says:

    McKenna is a decent and capable man, a great candidate for any post. Wilbur, on the other hand, is a windbag better at attracting arthritis advertisers than votes. This may prove to big a hurdle for the state GOP to overcome.

  2. JudasEscargot says:

    McKenna even tried to look like a TEA Party member and lost this Democrat’s vote. That worked, didn’t it, Rob?

    Personally, I hope Wilbur and friends are successful. The last time an ultra Conservative tried to take the Governor’s office – well, we know what happened…..twice. And then there was Ellen Craswell who got 42% of the vote.

  3. Proconsul8 says:

    Premature speculation, Peter. The state party could use a leader who has been adept at gathering funds and is popular with a large segment of the middle-class populations that live outside of the Seattle-Bellevue-Olympia axis. If what is at stake for the Republicans is a governership and a presidency, Wilbur is politically astute enough not to make the state party into a Tea Party. The state party will need lots of money and lots of workers to do the job and Wilbur is a good bet to get both. McKenna wants election and he is smart enough not to make this investigation into some kind of grudge-match that the Dems can luridly exploit.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    Ah, yes…The Craswell debacle. That’s when ‘Crats were told to throw votes in the primary to Ellen, to defeat the front runner in the Republician camp. Until The Queen won by finding votes the the trunks of cars, as needed, that was the most shameful theft of a state contest that I can remember.

  5. Peter Callaghan says:

    Ah yes, the myth of the crossover voter. Here’s what i wrote about that shortly after the 1996 primary. I think it holds up.

    Sunday,September 29, 1996
    , Section: Insight, Page G1

    Dearly beloved:

    We are gathered here today to lay to rest one of the more intriguing but groundless theories of the recently completed Washington state primary election.

    Based on anecdotal testimony from a relative handful of voters, believers in this version of events have concluded that Democrats sabotaged the Republican gubernatorial primary by crossing over and voting for Ellen Craswell. Craswell was considered by many Democrats to be the GOP candidate most easily beaten in November because her base was rock solid but comparatively small.

    “If Ellen Craswell wins the nomination, it’ll prove the power of prayer,” said Democratic candidate Jay Inslee in the early days of the campaign. “Because her prayers would have been answered, and ours would have been, too.”

    But while it remains to be seen if Craswell is what Democrats hoped – an easy mark – it isn’t hard to see through the notion that her nomination is the result of game-playing by Democrats. There simply are too many votes separating her and the No. 2 Republican Dale Foreman to support the idea that her victory was due to crossover voting.

    When the final vote count is in, the former state senator will have a 25,000-plus lead over Foreman. To think that 25,000 Democrats were that Machiavellian is a stretch, even for the most cynical imagination. But a look at the total vote makes it even more unlikely.

    For instance, the Democratic candidates for governor captured just over 53 percent of the overall vote on Sept. 17 compared to 47 percent for all of the Republicans. If Craswell’s 2 percentage point edge over Foreman was due to Democrats leaving their primary to vote for Craswell, the overall Democratic vote would really have been 55 percent.

    But if you total up the percentage of votes captured by Democrats running for Congress, it is just 53.5 percent – nearly identical to the Democrats’ cumulative vote for governor.

    That’s not to say there weren’t any Democrats crossing over to vote for Craswell. It’s only to say that not enough of them did so to come anywhere near changing the results between Craswell and Foreman.

  6. wyecoyote says:

    If the PDC does turn it over to Mckenna then Mckenna should higher a special attorney general. To avoid any apperance of improprity wether real or perceived. Similar to me I don’t do work that has any potential perception a problem. Be it relative or friend or friend of a relatvie. Don’t want the perception real or not.

  7. drugfree says:

    republicans don’t get along, they never have and never will, they are controll freaks and if they don’t get there way they will lie cheat and do what newt grinrich said they would do, do what ever it takes to take controll of this country.

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